Michael Garfield – How To Live in the Future: March 2010

30 March 2010

Painting Is Dangerous And Here Is Your Proof

The first thing, the big thing:

I'm proud to present my newest video, which marries timelapse live painting footage, acoustic guitar Live PA, and one of my finer essays into a multimedia assault on the uninspired mind.

"Painting Is Dangerous" is a word of caution to you creative types out there (and perhaps a relief to the less-creative)...a reminder of just how potent creativity is and how respectful we must be of it. This video is dedicated to Dennis McKenna and anyone else who ever burned themselves (even a little) on the Divine Flame:


There is a lot more information about it at youtube – which I encourage you to visit anyway so you can rate, favorite, and share this with your friends. (I can't say it about all of my work, but I'm pretty sure you have friends who will appreciate this.)

You can download both the music and the voiceover track for free here, for anyone who wants to mix it into their DJ sets – and the original essay is available to read in its entirety here, for anyone who thinks I talk too fast.

(I'm delighted to discover that this video is already getting a modest amount of exposure, coinciding with new features on me for my second residency at the Wakarusa Festival's Interstellar Meltdown and my developing relationship with the aya-heroes at Chimbre.)

The second thing, the not-so-big thing:

Put down that online poker subscription and invest your tax refund in something you'll admire for years! I'm having my Big Spring Cleaning, I'm-Going-On-Tour-And-Don't-Want-To-Haul-It-All ART SALE.

From now until I leave Boulder on the 7th of April, make me an offer on original artwork and I'll probably take it. (Every available painting, and its value according to an average hourly graphic design wage, is listed here: http://tinyurl.com/michaelgarfieldart – I'm happy to take as little as 50% of their market value, maybe even less if you can sell me on a good story).

So there you have it.

> Imagery

And now, the last exhibits of my recent infatuation with adding new dimensions to old work:

Before

After
Such A Noisy Room
2010 03 18 The Engine Room (EPROM, Mux Mool, Gladkill)
& 2008 10 29 Crosstown Station (Madahoochi, Brother Bagman)

My first gig in Tallahassee, Florida at The Engine Room was as low-key as it was loud. Everyone there was wondering where everyone else was...but not only did that mean an unusually intimate show (always a treat) but something tells me that subsequent trips out won't be quite so anonymous. The highlight for me was meeting Boris Gladkill, who in spite of his name is a kind and mellow guy (above and beyond being a wonderful DJ/producer). That, and getting to commend Mux Mool in person about his "A Glorious Dawn" remix.

This painting makes me feel like it's New Year's at 12:00 AM...or the full moon when all of the corals and anenomes release their sperm into the tides...or everyone in the traffic jam has their windows down and different radio stations blaring out of every window...blissful pandemonium, awkward angel orgies, a cacophony of color. (Unofficial official music for this painting: They Might Be Giants' "Man, It's So Loud In Here.")

Before

After
Drapes & Climbers
2010 03 19 The Maison
(Lazer Sword, Mux Mool, Gladkill, Unicorn Fukr, Rekanize)
& 2008 07 19 Owsley's (BLVD, Souleye, Jantsen, Chordata)
& 2008 07 09 The Fox Theatre (Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad)

This painting started as an exploration in partiality, incompleteness, and missing parts – so it's appropriate that a year and a half later, when I was on a layer-adding bender, I picked it back up and recorded what else I know now of these things. I had a chance to play with stroke (the yellow, somewhat ink-bamboo-looking drapery), metallic paint (they look like bubbles from one angle and coins from another), tentacles (I take every chance I get – soooo many permutations!), and the 2D version of one of my favorite aesthetic principles (another win for the Japanese): miegakure, or "hide and reveal," creating "a sense of vastness in a small space" by making it impossible to view the whole thing from any one angle.

This painting is dedicated to Donovan Fannon (aka Rekanize) for being such a photographic badass that almost 6% of his Facebook friends have one of his beautiful pics as their profile image. Thanks for the awesome snaps, Donovan!

> Writing

This week brings another two entries for my Field Guide To Live Artists, a web-serialized collection of interviews with anyone I can find who performs as a visual artist (painter, sculptor, flower arranger...). Know anybody who isn't in there and should be? Tell them to email me! Eventually it'll be published in glorious coffee table book form. First, I have to find another 150 artists. For now, here are lovely-if-brief interviews with live painters Laura Sellers and Dylan Brooks:


17 March 2010

New Paintings & Videos From The Papadosio Tour (And Advice For An Aspiring Live Painter)

Oh, irony! The website hosting my old visionary music blog has been swallowed by a multinational yoga corporation and will soon be no more, so I've been porting old essays over to this blog for safekeeping. One of those essays, my ode to irony (ironically, a critique), apparently squeaked past my filters last night and made it to everyone's inbox. (My mailing list client publishes new blogs and I forgot to use the original date from 2008.) ...not my usual offering, and I hope it didn't bother anyone but the five people who unsubscribed (deconstructionists have no sense of humor).

(In related news, check the blog's archives for a growing refugee library of older writing, on topics from tantric listening to the ethics of funeral playlists, from engineering consciousness with sound to creating an enlightened music industry.)

Anyway, hope you enjoyed it; moving on!


I just spent three days roaming about the ski towns of Colorado with Athens, Ohio supergroup (oh they are, you just don't know it yet) Papadosio and producer/drummer/VJ Anthony Fugate (he does all three at the same time...for real). Not only excellent musicians, but excellent people. And I think you can tell I was in good company by the work that came through me:

Tactile
2010 03 04 & 03 06 Ghost Ranch Saloon & Ullr's Tavern
(Papadosio, Octopus Nebula, AFugate)
18"x36" - opaque pens on masonite

Got tired of merely updating old paintings, as well as working on surfaces with the same 3:2 ratio, so I shook things up a little (a very little) for this one. Someone said it looks like Alex Grey does The Grinch. Well, shucks - now I can't get that out of my head. Click on it for a better look.

Not really sure which way the hands are facing, here. This one goes out to the band, Papadosio...I'll be working with them a lot more for sure. Wonderful. And this one was sold the night of the show, but that guy disappeared (as is unfortunately often the case) so it's available again, if you're wondering.

Before

After
Harmonic Decomposition of a Square
2010 03 05 & 2009 06 05 Finnegan's Wake & Wakarusa
(Papadosio, AFugate & The Egg, Telepath,
Heavy Pets, Heavyweight Dub Champion)
24"x24" - opaque pens on masonite

Just cuz I once called it complete doesn't mean I can't change my mind; what is this, Deism? It needed some more of the feminine in there, it being a matrix and all. Plus, it was nice to have something I could more or less mindlessly just go hyper-intricate with. Not sure how appropriate it all was in the Irish pub, but that was a strange night all around.

This one goes out to Jess Van Antwerp for taking good care of my car while I'm out of town, and for having such hospitable friends and family (not to mention for being so passionate about building community around the arts).


The acoustic guitar tapping chronicled in video below is from my opening set for Papadosio at Ullr's Tavern in Winter Park, Colorado. Before recording my new studio album, I wanted to capture solid performances of all the old songs that never got a decent live recording (a kind of karmic reckoning or closure), so here are the fruits...





These videos are dedicated to Chris Romain, my buddy from the dorms, who by strange chance was able to catch my show that night.

(I'm no longer in the habit of sharing the painfully new with absolutely everyone, but if you're curious I have recordings from that night of unreleased tracks from the upcoming album, which you can hear in their early, messy state if you email me and ask.)

> Writing

"Advice To An Aspiring Live Artist" (d/visible magazine) is a direct response to my friend Liz Rathbone's question about the various factors that helped and hindered me when I got my start as a live painter, and how to navigate them. I get this question frequently enough that I decided to publish my first crack at "sage advice" somewhere everyone could find it...including myself, a few years down the road, when I'm ready for a good laugh. This article is dedicated to Liz and anyone else who finds it useful.

> Tour

Know anybody in Northern California? I'm booking private concerts, and just generally happy to meet people, during my trip out to the Bay Area in mid-April to perform and vend at the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies' Psychedelic Science in the 21st Century Conference. Not only do I have the humbling good fortune to contribute my music to this landmark event, but I'll be designing special event posters that will be sold in a very limited series...but I also want to spend a few days following synchronistic leads around the Bay, so I'm all ears to recommendations!

Here are just a few events from this year's swiftly growing schedule, including a few exciting gigs around Louisiana with local electronic jam juggernaut Gravity A:

Mar 19 2010 -
9:00P
live painting for Lazer Sword & Mux Mool @ The Maison
New Orleans, Louisiana

Mar 26 2010 -
9:00P
live painting & cyberguitar with Gravity A @ Luna Bar & Grill
Lake Charles, Louisiana (facebook event page here)

Mar 27 2010 - 9:00P
live painting & cyberguitar with Gravity A @ Artmosphere
Lafayette, Louisiana (facebook event page here)

Apr 2 2010 -
9:00P
cyberacoustic guitar @ HiPac w/ DVS & Jeff The Box
Denver, Colorado (facebook event page here)

Apr 3 2010 -
8:00P
guitar & art display at CaSH & Check (private event; email me for details)
Boulder, Colorado

Apr 15 - 19 2010
between-lecture music @ MAPS.org’s Psychedelic Science in the 21st Century Conference
San Jose, California (facebook event page here)

> Retroactive Blessings

Last newsletter I lapsed on my 2010 New Year's Resolution to dedicate every creative act to someone or something. Retroactive blessings go out to:

"Let A Hundred Flowers Bloom" is dedicated to Jeff The Box, whom I can't be more excited about working with...we're about to break the "gangster beauty sauce" all over 'em, Jeff.

"Molten Crystal Eggs" goes to Sage Persephone for her hard work putting together the Pathways Art show.

"Contemplating The Gem" goes to my friends at ActionPacker Pro for all their hard work, putting on consistently excellent shows in places that would never otherwise have them.

And my version of Peter Gabriel's "Washing of the Water" is dedicated to my mom.

15 March 2010

Music 4 Change Interviews MG

(Originally published in March 2010 at MusicForChanges.com)

First off, what were you like as a young artist in junior high and high school?

Growing up, I drew dinosaurs and H.R. Giger’s Alien all the time. Every day. I coped with boring classes, and distracted myself from interesting classes, with margin art. In middle school I had about five friends and one of them was always copying my art and trying to pass it off as his own. I spent a lot of time reading in solitude; my main social scene was playing Magic: The Gathering with other dorks (and I miss those days). My freshman year of high school, I met a guy who would bring his guitar to classes with him and play it at any available free moment…that was pretty inspiring and I started playing guitar at that time. I suppose it was only a matter of time before my compulsive dot-connecting tendencies brought music and art together in my life.

What was it that really turned you onto art? Was there anyone special that got you into it?

I don’t think I ever really considered myself an artist, growing up. I was an amateur paleontologist with aspirations of a PhD and professorship, touring the world digging up dinosaurs and lecturing to people about them. My biggest role model was a dinosaur hunter by the name of Robert Bakker, who was instrumental in teaching the public to understand dinosaurs as active, lively, complex creatures instead of the slow and stupid beasts they’d taught my parents about. He used butcher paper and markers during his lectures and augmented his presentations with very rapid, lively dinosaur sketches to illustrate specific points about anatomy and movement, etc. Looking back on this, I think it’s pretty funny that I ended up getting derailed from academia but still draw dinosaurs in front of crowds and give impromptu biology lectures to tripping hippies.

Bakker didn’t exactly turn me on to art; I was drawing since I had the fine motor control to hold a pen. But he did encourage me in a profound way, from the age of three, to be an artistic scientist and a scientific artist. And I think he’s probably had the greatest influence on my work of anyone, except more recently from Alex Grey and his whole philosophy of art as a sacred practice, connecting the human splinters of the divine mind.


What do you like about painting live versus in the studio?

I don’t actually do much studio work. Music and writing occupy most of my time at home, so live painting is a wonderful change of pace. Dividing my attention between three media in this way keeps me inspired, keeps me from getting stuck, and gives me the superpower of never, ever being bored.

The studio work I do, custom hats and album covers and the like, is usually in a small format and I don’t get any feedback until it’s completed. In that sense, I prefer live painting ninety percent of the time because it’s so interactive. You get immediate criticism from all kinds of people…sometimes they have great ideas I’m able to integrate into the piece, and sometimes they crash drunkenly into my gear, but it’s always more of an adventure than working at home. I take the boors and the jerks with good humor, and I relish the opportunity to inspire people with such immediacy.

How does the crowd energy and music affect your final product?

I wonder this all the time. Certainly if I think the music sucks, or if the crowd isn’t showing any interest in the painting, it interferes with my ability to get into the mood where I do my best work. And if there’s a strong positive vibe from the artists and audience, it really doesn’t seem to matter what kind of music it is. But I haven’t been able to find a one-for-one correlation between the kind of music and what I end up painting. The actual outcome on the gross scale of the whole painting seems to have more to do with invisible dimensions, the astrological transits of the day or something. The zeitgeist. On the fine scale, though, I can definitely tell a difference in the strokes I use based on the BPM of the music: if it’s too fast or slow, I spin off into my own world, but if it’s somewhere in between the act of painting and the beats of the house merge into a single phenomenon. You can definitely tell the difference, too, between a painting I made in the chill room and one I finished directly in front of the subwoofers.


What is the driving force behind your creativity?

God is my co-pilot. Seriously, it’s not “my” creativity. I am one instance of this unfathomably deep creative impulse that permeates and I believe precedes space and time…ideas, in a sense, own people, and not the other way around. Charles Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace released their theories of evolution by natural selection within weeks of each other. Elisha Gray and Alexander Graham Bell submitted patents for the telephone ON THE SAME DAY. When Joe Satriani sues Coldplay for stealing one of his riffs, I have to think, “Are you kidding me? You think that music BELONGS to you?”

In this respect, I guess I’m kind of on board with the Native Americans and their whole philosophy about belonging to the land. People identify with their ideas, devote their lives to them, work harder for those ideas than they ever would for another person. If you visualize, for a second, a view of Earth from space lit up by the electrical activity of everyone thinking about, say, atheism, then you have a picture of the body of an idea, its fingerprint in our four-dimensional consensus reality. We could watch the same view of everyone believing in the Jehovah as the two belief systems compete with one another for territory in the minds and hearts of the human race. I would argue that, like Daniel Pinchbeck suggested in his book Breaking Open The Head, there is a higher “dimension” of reality in which these patterns are entities in their own right, entities that require us to live, as we do them. That ideas are alive and distinct and in SOME sense deserve to be recognized in this way. Ancient cultures like Greece certainly did not give people credit for their ideas – they gave this credit to a person’s Genius (later, Genie), a kind of air elemental.

At the very least, I regard the tendency for people to try and capitalize on their ideas as an unfortunate side effect of the delusion of individuality. Buddhism teaches that thoughts bubble up from the void; modern cognitive neuroscience has pretty much proven beyond the shadow of a doubt that most of what we think happens before we are even aware of it, and that the ego just takes credit for all of these unconscious processes. So to summarize, the driving force behind MY creativity is THE creativity, the same experimental evolutionary playground craziness that is responsible for “my” body and yours, for this planet, for the night sky. I’m just playing my part in a much, much bigger production, and I don’t remember my lines.


Did you receive any formal training in painting or are you self-taught?

Well, I use markers because I didn’t get any formal training in fine art. I took a class in scientific illustration my senior year of college and was pretty much hired right out of that class to draw frogs, snakes, and lizards for the University of Kansas Department of Herpetology. I learned a lot of value from that class…and these days, to what degree can I legitimately say I’m “self-taught” when that often means using the wealth of knowledge online and carefully watching my friends and the artists I admire? Again, we’re getting into issues of “Is there even a self to teach?,” especially in the climate of this developing world-hive-mind that the internet is scaffolding right now. But yeah, I’m an idiot with brushes and formally trained with pens, so that’s what I use.

What does the role of "ARTIST" mean to you?

I think there’s something truly ugly about the way our society views artists and the arts…on the one hand, we exalt them, we imagine that they are somehow of a superior race, we wonder at their powers; on the other hand, we hold them in contempt for refusing to abide by the same rules as everyone, we have toxic stereotypes about self-destructive behaviors and craziness and poverty, we regard art as a luxury expenditure and the arts as the first expendable item when it comes time to cut school funding.

For me, as is probably apparent by now, I regard art as just one more thing the universe does, and artists as valuable in their own way but not necessarily any more or less than doctors or lawyers or engineers. Every task in the world can be suffused with artistry, for one, and a surgeon or a plumber is just as capable of fine art as a painter. And in fact, a lot of art is trite and repetitive, more craftwork than artistry per se. Every one of us is a cell in the tissue of the roles we play, coming together to form the human organ in the body of Earth. So the notion of artists as somehow special to a degree that other creative vocations are not is ridiculous to me. In fact, one of the most important things to me is demonstrating that everyone can enrich their lives by engaging whatever it is they do as an art form, connecting with that creative source.

That said, for a while I was on pretty shaky footing with my role as an artist. I started live painting about two years into my first real massive identity crisis, after my dreams of paleontology went up in a huge fireball after college. I had just been laid off from my horrible job at the local yuppie shoe store; my head was full of ideas about how art isn’t “real work” and how I wouldn’t “get away with it.” But after some time I came to really understand how important inspiration is to the well-being of a person or a culture. We NEED to be reminded of our place in a bigger context, a broader myth, a grander story in the same way we NEED to eat and sleep and breathe. Meaning is essential to human existence and in fact the search for meaning pretty much characterizes human nature, so artists are indispensable. Paleontologists regard the origin of art as the line in the sand between human beings and all other animals (which is crude, of course, because some other animals do exhibit creative play, but for the sake of distinguishing between human beings and chimps, cave paintings are a pretty reliable place to set the boundary). Eventually, the guilt of “not contributing” as an artist and musician like my friend the chef or my friend the construction worker evaporated. I found my worth, and it’s intimately tied to helping other people find theirs, in age of fear-mongering media and alienating social infrastructure.


Who are some of your favorite artists? Who should we be looking out for?

I think my fondness for both Alex Grey and Keith Haring should be fairly apparent. Also deeply in love with the work of Andy Goldsworthy, who uses only what he finds in nature and his own zenlike patience to create utterly astounding sculptural installations, like a hanging web of sticks connected by thorns, or intricate gravity-defying ice minarets made by gluing icicles together with body heat. Kris D was the one who inspired me to start live painting (you can read about that here
), and he and I have had some epic and truly inspirational conversations about what the hell exactly we think we are painting. I am a huge fan of the natural history illustration of Ernst Haeckel, as well as contemporary paleoartists like Russell Hawley, William Stout, and Gary Staab. H.R. Giger’s work haunted my dreams growing up and still does. Kris Kuksi belongs right up there in the pantheon of creepoid visionary artists with him. Andrew Jones is so talented it makes me want to give up.

As for more kids to put on the watch list:

My friend David Titterington is a positively luminous still-life and landscape painter in the tradition of the visionary realists like Vermeer and his teacher Robert Brawley. Utter, UTTER, dedication to mastery of the craft and realist depictions of the elegant simplicity of enlightened awareness. David is also largely responsible for turning me onto just about everything, back in the dorms.

My friend Sylys Schipper is not only an amazing painter but can kill it on the drums. We inspire each other, which is always amazing to experience, and I really look forward to the day we actually get our game together and collaborate.

Adam Scott Miller hardly needs my help becoming a world-renowned visionary badass, but I have to put him on the list here because it would be disingenuous not to. He is everything I’m not, as a painter – but we’re still grasping at the same ball of light, as it were. Beautiful, ludicrously detailed work.

What experiences have influenced your life and how has that manifested in your work?

Oh man. If this interview weren’t already a book, I’d answer that.

How long does it take you on average to complete a piece of work in the studio?

Thus far, my most time-consuming studio pieces have been music. The artwork takes about the same time at a show or at home because of certain limiting factors like the size of the media; but I’m going to attempt some much larger pieces and digital art projects with which I can work on the timescale of 100+ hours instead of five to ten.


Do you often work on several pieces at the same time?

I will occasionally decide that a painting needs more work and put it down for a while to let it germinate while I work on other projects. And sometimes I take another look at an old painting and decide I want to “open the case” again, so there are – unbeknownst to me – probably a few “unfinished” pieces lying around at any time. But the real multitasking in my life is BETWEEN media, between art and music and writing.

A little off topic but can you tell us who some of your favorite musical artists are right now? Maybe your favorites to paint to? Who are you listening to a lot right now?

Live painting has introduced me to a lot of music I might never have otherwise learned to enjoy, were I not occupying my analytical mind with creative work while at the show (eg, dubstep). Also, I have painted for artists that might never ordinarily get live artists at their shows because I play pretty consistent opening gigs for other acoustic artists and more intimate, soulful, thoughtful music. So that’s definitely two questions.

Favorite musical artists of all time include Peter Gabriel, Elbow (total heartbreakers), Andreas Kapsalis (AMAZING guitarist, major inspiration), Ratatat (also great for painting music), Jeff Buckley, Cat Stevens, Fiona Apple, Ween, Bobby McFerrin (would be good for studio painting), Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Boards of Canada…you know, profound stuff.

Right now, I’m way into Yeasayer’s new album, my friends Papadosio (fabulous jam band I just opened and painted for during a few of their ski town tour dates), and Bon Iver…but honestly, I don’t listen to a lot of music in my “off time.” Somewhere between going to shows for a living and valuing silence and balance, I spend a lot of time turning stereos OFF.

As far as painting to music goes, like I said, I will always delight in the opportunity to work during D Numbers, Daedelus, Everyone Orchestra, The Glitch Mob (I don’t care if their set is exactly the same as last time when I’m painting), The Heavy Pets, Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, Lotus, Ott, Random Rab, Toubab Krewe, and Vibesquad. I’ve painted for each of them a few times and they’re all so…there’s something throbbing and glorious and transcendental about the space their music takes me.

Tell the fans a couple reasons why they should check out your work? What are you doing that stands apart from everyone else?

To my knowledge, and I really do try to keep my ear to the ground about these things, I’m the only person in the live painting scene who:

1) uses paint pens almost exclusively;

2) has a background in biology and scientific illustration that strongly informs my work;

3) devotes equal time to my career as a performing songwriter and aspiring electronic musician, and understands the music I paint for from a technical perspective.

Although it’s not something I strive for, exactly, I do hear pretty frequently that my work is unique, that it’s a remarkable depiction of higher states of consciousness, and that I have inspired someone to make a significant change in their life (either by embracing their own creativity, or by taking a chance to live their dream). Those are good reasons, right?

Where can we check out your artwork right now?

I have a biweekly newsletter I archive online for anyone who doesn’t want it by email. Go there, and you can find links galore to my galleries and profiles at Facebook, Photobucket, Bandcamp, etc. as suits your social networking and web viewing preferences. I’m always happy to answer questions and engage in far-out conversations, so any interested parties are welcome to email me as well.

Thanks for taking the time to check out my work, and have a beautiful day!

14 March 2010

Painting While Dancing, Part 6: Advice To An Aspiring Live Painter


My motivation for performance painting developed over the last few years from “Jeez, I can do that!” to “I am in this to inspire people.” Consequently, it is evermore important to me that I share what I am learning through all of this. At the same time, repeatedly declaring this intention seems to attract a growing number of peers who seek guidance for living more harmoniously with their gifts and passions. Sometimes I am asked specific technical questions, but most of the time the yearning arrives something like this: “I really just want to know how to begin painting at shows and earning money doing it…”

Which really isn’t one question, but two. There’s an “and” in there. It’s the kind of question I might normally answer off the cuff in person, but since this whole game of mine is about living as a gift I figure it makes more sense to organize my thoughts somewhere they can be retrieved by other interested parties (both as a learning resource for other artists and so I can look back on this and laugh). So here is my own limited grasp of how to answer this twist on an ancient question: “How can I do what I want with my life?”

I got my start painting at concerts in Boulder, Colorado, which is positively saturated with live painters. This has good and bad consequences: on the one hand, it’s a recognized and enjoyed aspect of the culture; on the other hand (and I didn’t realize this for the first year or so), it means anybody who wants to make it with live art is on the wrong end of the supply/demand equation.


In some cities, I have found it is much easier to “brand” myself as something unique and exotic, desirable for my novelty and thus worthy of pay. Put me on a flyer and people will go, “Live painting, what? Oh really? That sounds awesome!” In Boulder and Denver, there was never that kind of mystique, and so getting paid there to do this work is pretty much out of the question. People like John Bukaty, who have been paid thousands of dollars to paint live for corporate audiences, often have to appeal to venue owners so they’re not required to purchase a ticket to get into the show. It’s a tricky situation, because as I am coming to understand more and more every day, you really do have to demonstrate your worth in ticket sales to the producers, no matter what kind of performer you are, and no matter how many people thank you personally during the show.

(Maybe getting people to sign some kind of statement at each show would help: “I loved having this painter here, and yes I’m willing to pay another dollar or two a show to support this person coming back.” I haven’t tried that. Yet. But I might give it a shot, especially in a busy scene like Colorado’s Front Range. Alternative payment ideas, ideas that sidestep event planners and venues to tap the appreciative audience directly, are worth some discussion between live painters and other fringe movements.)

Back on to the positive end of this, it was remarkably easy to get my start in a market like that because since I wasn’t initially trying to prove myself as a pay-worthy performance artist, I was generally free to show up and do my thing, so long as I had the good graces of either the artist or venue. Exactly whose permission you need depends on the show – it’s important to figure out which local venues are happy to have painters without prior notice, and which require that the artists include you in their production sheet. The first time I ever “painted” live, I was at a show with two more experienced live artists, borrowed an easel from one of them, worked with a headlamp I tied questionably to the easel’s top post, and worked with brush-tipped Faber-Castell markers on a sheet of white foamcore board with transparent glossy gridlines. Twenty inches across and thirty inches high was larger than any drawing I had ever made by a factor of at least four. And I had zero training in the fine art of painting. In other words, I was horrifically unprepared.


But it didn’t matter, because I was allowed to grow and learn in a low-pressure environment where I was “under the evolutionary radar” so to speak – I was not improving or worsening the “fitness” of the show by affecting ticket sales. I wouldn’t be there if I weren’t painting, so I wasn’t costing them anything to host; on the other hand, I wasn’t professional enough to really be considered an asset, exactly. It was a lovely place to be while I sorted out the basic features of my style, my equipment, my presentation, my conduct.

This all makes sense from an evolutionary perspective: radical new mutations usually emerge on islands or in other small populations, or on the fringes of larger populations, where there isn’t as much resistance from the “status quo.” (In biology, this is governed by the mechanics of genetic drift, where even a fabulously beneficial new mutation is likely to get lost in the noise. Likewise, it is a lot easier to get everyone on board your idea when you’re dealing with hundreds of people, instead of millions. And it’s why every big company has a “skunk works” where new ideas can be nurtured without interference from corporate boardroom inertia during their early, tender stages.)

So for getting started as a live painter, my recommendation would be to start with fairly small and inconsequential gigs where you are able to test new things without putting anybody’s reputation on the line. Experimentation is an eternal and definitive element of live art for most of its practitioners, but those first few shows are almost guaranteed to be sloppy, anxious, exciting, and kind of awkward as you get used to new issues like having an audience and time constraints. (It’s a bit like losing your virginity in this respect.) This is especially true if, like me, you dive right in not only with an alien context for your work but also unfamiliar media.


One of the best things about live art is that the artist gets real-time feedback during the show. Putting your work in front of a smaller audience and inviting people to talk to you while you work (especially other artists, if you’re lucky enough to have them around) is incalculably important, in terms of clarifying your own artistic intent, techniques, and direction. When I started in Boulder, the audience was more familiar with live painting than I was. They had many, many excellent suggestions and recommendations for bringing my work up to a more professional level while still cultivating my own personal style.

Individual and collective realities weave one another into being – it is obvious that individual realities gather to create a consensual “objective” truth; it is less obvious that these agreements create the environment out of which individual, “subjective” reality emerges. It’s easy to not give a damn what your critics think when you complete your work alone in the studio, and another thing entirely when people can just walk up to you and tell you what they think and feel about your work. After all, if you really don’t care about public opinion, then you probably don’t care whether your work has a positive effect on anyone, and you should probably examine your motives.

I’m not saying anyone should kill themselves trying to consistently integrate the competing commentaries of whosoever is brazen enough to walk up and speak their mind. Rather, that working in public creates a permeable boundary through which information can flow and the evolution of the work can proceed more rapidly, more responsively, more organically – all the while centered in as clear an artistic intent as possible. None of the live painters I know are above this, although many of them get away with only positive feedback. Which is kind of unfortunate, really, because knowing when to listen and when to ignore your critics is hugely important to cultivating a meaningful connection with your audience.

(Written for d/visible magazine.)

03 March 2010

Lost Worlds Discovered, Portals Traversed

> Imagery (full gallery here)

In the last few weeks I have continued to elaborate and reinterpret older work, throwing new layers and features into paintings I once considered complete and bringing them to deeper depths and shinier sheens. It's like opening up a time capsule and finding out that a jungle grew in there unbeknownst to anyone. I guess it's a little more like psychotherapy: going back into the fray, digging in, and making a humble but persistent effort until satisfying integration is achieved. Check out these lost worlds both after and before...

Now
Let A Hundred Futures Bloom
2008 11 14 The Granada
(Robert Randolph Family Band, Brody Buster Band
& Swashbuckler, Coult 45 with Echo DaFunk,
Royale, DMTree, and AnimalTek)
16"x24" - paint markers on masonite

Flowers blooming out of the TV screen, the birth of a fusion between the electronic crystal and photosynthetic fluid. A few different metallic paints give this one a crazy luminescent effect as you walk by. Another lovely night with my peeps in The Mile High Sound Movement (see below for video from my show that night). The original painting, from once upon a time:

Before

Once I got started re-vamping old work, I couldn't stop...

Now
Molten Crystal Eggs
2010 02 04 & 02 20 Plush & DCCS
(Ana Sia, BLVD & Mike Grab, Solomoon, The Brandon Brown)
20"x30" - paint markers on masonite

That plainish green background just wasn't cutting it for me. This one didn't rest long before I took that critical threshold look at it and had to pick it up again...and I had a fabulous opportunity at the most recent Pathways Art event in Denver, a beautiful, ephemeral gallery that featured awesome visionary work from all over the country. Not often I get to paint live at a gallery opening to great downtempo electronica, minimal psytrance, etc....I even played a set of my own. Not while painting, of course. Rainbow fills covered by copper grating, and suddenly the whole thing looks like it's slowly rising from beneath the surface of some molten metal flow. Exuded. This is what it was, for latecomers and the forgetful:

Before
Detail

And now for more snakes. :)
Now
Contemplating The Gem
2008 11 01 & 2010 02 26 Ogden Theatre & The Maison
(Zilla, EOTO, Vibesquad, Lynx and Janover & EPROM, R/D, DS@STR)
18"x24" - paint markers on masonite

Back in New Orleans with an old favorite I had just coated in silver paint, the original floral scape peeking out in bits and pieces, at odd angles, as if frozen beneath a sheet of ice. And what goes better with ice than flowers and cold-blooded reptiles, of course? Plus, I have simply not painted enough snakes. Strange fact about this painting I only noticed days later: everything in it is going up...the plants growing, the snakes uncoiling, the bubbles floating, and even the crystal is oriented with the point skyward. All ascendant masculine eroticism – anthers the pollen-bearing male tip of a plant, snakes and wheat famously phallic...just goes to show you, these things only avail themselves to interpretation after the fact, when things have stopped spinning so fast. Here is what it used to be:

Before
Detail
In honor of Peter Gabriel's recent release of Scratch My Back, an orchestral all-covers album, I finally went for it and learned one of his songs to include in my previously all-original setlist. "Washing of the Water" is one of the most beautiful and profoundly simple songs I know; it moves me so deeply that I wrote about this majestic number a while back in a series about songs I want played at my funeral. And I hold to that decision.

Check out this video of my performance from two weeks ago in Denver, playing the ukulele while the snow billowed down outside...as my wonderfully frank and even-handed friend Casey Meade put it, "You started off kind of shaky, but then you killed it!" (you can download the track for free here):

Meanwhile, deep underground, I'm hard at work on both my next studio solo album and a new, jazzy live electronic duo...I'm calling upon all my saints of patience to help me keep a lid on it until it's all done, but I can't wait to show you.


I am excited to announce the makings of a serious spring and summer tour. Here are a few of the shows I'll be mixed up in over the next month or so...and if you have any recommendations for this summer, say so! (Anything from festivals to house parties – I am so game!) In the meantime, I hope I'll see you out there, and if you want more info about any of these events, just email me.

Because I just can't put things in chronological order like a normal person, I'm putting the last-but-most-exciting one first – then looping back through time to luge from the mountains to the bayou like I'm a Monty Python year or something:

Apr 15 - 18 2010 - San Jose, California
between-presentation music @ MAPS.org’s Conference on Psychedelic Science in the 21st Century

I'm playing between lectures by pioneering researchers like Stan Grof and Charles Grob, in the company of legends like Alex & Allyson Grey, and generally soaking up the potent intellectual curiosity and flexible perspective of this watershed event. They present the artful science; I present the scientific art. An incredible honor, and did I mention this means I'll be in the Bay Area for a week or two? Hit me up if you or your peeps want to hang while I'm there!

Mar 4 2010 - 9:00P - Steamboat Springs, Colorado
live art/guitar setbreak @ Ghost Ranch Saloon for Papadosio & Octopus Nebula

Mar 5 2010 - 10:00P - Avon, Colorado
live art/guitar setbreak @ Finnegan’s Wake for Papadosio

Mar 6 2010 - 9:00P - Winter Park, Colorado
live art/guitar setbreak @ Ullr’s Tavern for Papadosio