I have been trying to finish two large paintings for three months now, but it feels like years. I have finished other work in that time; Two murals, daily drawings, taco signage, and illustrations for Elle (really for Ruba, a Queen of Downtown I happily serve). I have also left a lot of work unfinished and it is pestering me with it’s unfinishedness. In my mind it is figuratively a lot, fenced off and cluttered with work. I would take a vacation to get my shit together but I can’t spare a second. Money is easy to get, time is too hard to find. I am healthy and the light is good, I better use the time we have now before it gets any darker.
Job #2 as an artist is to be awesome and inspire others to be awesome. By that measure, I am a successful artist; My influence reaches into art school classrooms and across mood boards in ad agencies throughout the land. I am fulfilled being that artist, but it means seeing work every day that looks like work I do, and every thing I do starts to look like the work I see every day. What to do? Do Job #1 as an artist; Manifest a new idea, or at least, manifest an old idea in a new way. By that measure, I am a broke dreamer, checking the coin return on the last payphone in Manhattan.
These unfinished paintings of mine have a lot of old ideas being expressed in new ways. It’s got me alternating between doubt and excitement every waking moment and a lot of my dream time. Right now I am doubting, so I will take a few minutes away from painting while I clean up one corner of that cluttered lot of unfinished work. Tommy Guererro’s 2003 album “Soul Food Taqueria” is getting a re-release and I have been asked to write a few words on the occasion. In the spring of 2002, I was riding my bicycle through Harlem, copping mixtapes ( as was the custom in those days), when Tommy called to offer me the gig. It was a job freighted with the extra tinge of despair of having to follow up Margaret Kilgallen’s iconic cover of Tommy’s previous record, “A Lil’ Bit Of Somethin'” not long after she passed and everybody was missing her. Tommy told me the title, and literally nothing else before I said, ” I got it” and hung up. I pushed my back across town to take photos of the place I just had lunch at, the M and G Diner.
Margaret Kilgallen was the best artist of my generation, she made paintings of word and image working in graceful harmony. She was interested in painted signs, and equally and just as importantly, in nature and language and humanity. Even if you knew her influences, she never betrayed them, she honored them by realizing new connections and possibilities for others to follow up on. I joke in all seriousness that Jenny Holzer cleared the land I work on, Barry McGee paved the roads and Margaret laid down the train tracks. The three of them all did artist jobs #1 and #2 perfectly for me. I have spent every day I’ve been an artist (since April 1, 1999, mas a menos) doing the jobs the best I can, I hope its half as well as my forbears.
So I found myself, inspired by Margaret, and confronted with producing an album cover that would be immediately compared to hers. I felt obligated to realize something that not only showed appreciation for her work, but also offered something for the next person to work with. The cover would evoke Margaret’s austere composition and restricted palette, but in very Uptown colors and my lovingly sardonic take on what was visually cooking in San Francisco. The painting would be testimony that I would live up to the ideals Margaret established in her too short lifetime. To do artist jobs #1 and #2, and maybe wear some cool shoes while I work.
The M and G diner was a soul food restaurant on 125th that, as you can see, had a glorious facade. The inside was a cramped lunch spot with overloaded plates of food and big squeeze bottles of hot sauce in arms reach. I still had a leaking bag of leftovers on my handlebars when I wheeled up to the corner to take some snapshots. I raised the camera to my face and right in the frame viewfinder popped up Richard and his poinsetta plant. Perhaps he had just seen me in the restaurant, more likely he knew he was a star in the Harlem firmament and also knew he looked great holding a florishing holiday flower months after the season melted in our memories. I was immediately grateful and introduced myself, and in turn learned he was Martha and George’s son, and he was running the diner. I promised to drop off a copy of the record and I did, but I wish I followed through and made a gold record for him, then maybe I would have made the wall next to Cam’ron and Big L. As it was, Tommy Guererro’s Soul Food Taqueria was propped up next to the register under the Choking Victim sign, and was covered in grease and hot sauce the last time I saw it. It looked amazing.
Richard and his poinsetta represent the influence of Margaret on me to see beauty in the daily unexpected miracles of the city. I faithfully drew him only to convincingly convey that smile that anchors us to whats good in the world. I painted myself as the payphone just behind him, spent beer next to my mouthpiece, hoping for a connection. Margaret is represented by a cluster of pigeons flying to the horizon, like atoms dispersing back to the essence. I aspired to be like Margaret and Tommy and Richard; Someone who holds the truth and is happy to share it with you. Thats job #3.
And with that I’m going back to work, but before I do, let me tell you a few things that we have popping on my favorite weekend of the year. We are hosting a performance at ESPO’s ART WORLD by the Beat Jams tomorrow night 11/27 at 6:45 pm sharp. On Saturday 11/28 1-5 PM we are holding a live screen printing event. This time Jake and Matt are printing two images: Toilet paper for the trickers and Up Waiting for the treaters. Bring a tshirt or another cloth item and we’ll screen print on it for free. Looking forward! Onward!