Saturday, July 26, 2014

Life After College

I skipped my last day of school to go to my first day of work. My first career day of work that is, I've been working in grocery stores and movie theaters since I was fifteen. Graduation day I took off work, other than that, college was behind me. Not long after starting, I put in two months notice of my resignation. Conversation with a superior led me to believe there was a long tradition of paying your dues and waiting your turn on the East Coast. I quietly declined this proud tradition by opting to base my career mobility on merit and work ethic in the West Coast. I read my name upon their shit list form the moment I mentioned LA, until the last time I stepped out their door. This means the following account of my first job is probably unfairly dystopian. This also means that there was now a countdown, a timed sprint to revisit and consume as much of the lingering NYC experience as my 10 to 7 job would allow. Unfortunately, this timer also counted down the remaining time to find a job from across the country.

A half buried hole in the Brooklyn Navy Yard was my first home after Pratt. It was the cheapest place I could find- sandwiched three ways between housing projects, an abandoned, rusting naval yard, and the underpass of a huge expressway where lunatics lived in wheel-less cars. Vines weaved in and out of broken windows and haunting echoes called from the ancient, towering ghost town at the end of the street. Cockroaches poured out of light sockets and holes in the kitchen tile. I kept my food and dishes in plastic containers. I took a mile's circuitous route to my front door after a certain time of night. I just kept telling myself LA was on the horizon.

A decent amount if this period was spent in painting in the cockroach free luxury of my friend's apartment.

Titmouse was the place of my first employment. And my first impression: they had upgraded up from the boutique studio of my internship to the multiple floors of a Manhattan skyscraper. The upgrade was in scale alone. A glass, electro-sealed elevator encasement room gave way to the dim, deep set cave. Spiraling downward, the studio was a heaped collection of heavily trinketed cubicles and offices. 9 or more hours of precious, limited NYC daylight were spent in the artificial glow of a computer screen. It was an dark, monitor lit burrow where people stuffed their outside lives. Each workstation was scattered with toys, posters, DVDs, books, figurines, stickers, printouts, stuffed animals, and all the countless other bedazzlements of contemporary nerd culture. Memorabilia from everything anime, comics, cartoons and sci-fi was crammed into those tiny work spaces. The whole building felt like that heavily curtained, vampiric bedroom of your nocturnal Summertime burnout friend from high school. The individual cubby-hole shrines where dotted indents in the cave interior, wrapping corners and spilling downstairs. Below, the most densely populated barracks of the ant colony merged to form one unified hole known as “the pit.” My seat was in the pit. Day after day I worked cleanup- the lowest peg on the artistic totem pole with a barely livable pay to reflect the status. Tracing other artists drawings proved to be less than creatively fulfilling, especially considering the unpaid overtime at the peaks of schedule madness. I wasn't surprised to hear the LA hate speak. I wasn't surprised to hear Veterans, founders, and other long time East Coasters had begun the migration out of the pit. Now that worker ants like myself were making the crawl towards the light, employee leakage and turnover were at an all time high. I could empathize with the panic and the loyalty. But I can also empathize with sunshine and a non hostile work environment. The judgmental passing remarks only served to reaffirm my decision.

My final appreciations of that New York vibe.

Bonding with my fellow dregs and interns of the pit formed a trench comrade. We'd time passing bosses to duck out undetected a bit early and catch the train uptown. Starring out the front window of a subway car feels like riding the world's largest mine train. A spotlight parts the sea of passing black- sending scurrying rats across wobbling tracks, jolting you to and fro with the lumbering body of the steel giant. Rickety beams and irregular side tunnels shoot past, offering unexplainable movement beyond the edge of the light. Our sketchbooks served a map through the Natural History Museum's forest of taxidermy animals, the transition of ecosystem charted in sketchbook ink: bobcat to buffalo to antelope to elephant. Even the endless river of tourist children ever asking "are you drawing?" could not damper the inspiration of the life size fiberglass whale hanging overhead. When our artistic muscles gave way, we'd collapse into a booth at Shake Shack and revel in the champion of fast food.

On ongoing, baseball related story had begun developing.

I used every second of my workday's lunch hour to locate my next job. Companies must fund the move for relocation hires, so they tend to hire locally. It was around this time that I began to lie about my "Glendale, California" address. The plan became to stir up my newly released portfolio among animation circles and hope somebody cared upon my arrival. It was a goofy plan but I had to leave no stone unturned. I produced a lot of artwork attempting online attention. The daily housework of searching for industry jobs without connections was upon me. Monday bought my domain name, Tuesday built my site. Wednesday emailed industry lunch dates. Thursday updated my resume. Friday paid film festival dues and filled entry forms. On went the carefully budgeted weeks, and countless online applications. My still functioning Pratt ID allowed my nights be spent sneaking into the Pratt labs, burning DVDs of my senior film, and sneaking out before the faculty spotted me. Lunch allowed my noons be spent mailing those DVDs to film festivals. I lived in line at the 34th street post office. Tall rows of windows gilded marble floors with midday light. Elegant, Corinthian pillars held the majestic patterns of art-deco ceilings skyward. My nearby neighborhood post office was a pantheon, a tribute to the city's scale and history. Yet there I stood, analyzing a mysterious stain where I once appreciated the scale of the architecture. I paid more attention to the florescent wash on the wrinkled frowns behind the counter then the surreal grandiosity of the building surrounding them. My tired outlook had allowed the magic of the once captivating city to fade. Forcing optimism was too difficult, I instead mailed more DVDs and redoubled my efforts to get the hell out of there.
Some of those DVDs landed, as evidence by Polaroids with new friends at the nation's biggest animation festival.

The clock crawled at Titmouse. 7 strikes, time again- uptown train- scrolling checks on a last minute to-do list: A trendy Manhattan restaurant, a comedy Club, a colossal toy store, and the Society of Illustrators. Past the venerable charcoal sketches from advertising's most stylist eras, round the creaking vintage staircase, I emerged onto to the penthouse lounge. First glance served a succession of quick montage cuts: violins, asparagus, a chandelier, and of course, an oaken bar beneath a stately painting of the room I was in. These accouterments and more seemingly ripped from a film set at a 1930s banquet. I felt young, sheepish.under-dressed, and out of place. But, I couldn't pass up the free meal my entry donation price coincidentally allowed this night. I had to come for the Maurice Sendak show- a favorite children's book illustrator. The Society of Illustrators however, lived up to its high sounding name, and I found myself wondering form the first floor gallery through prestigious halls.

A month-long sublet allowed me reprieve form the cockroach sanctuary and I moved for the second of three times that Summer. More Pratt ID magic delivered shopping carts on which I piled my all my earthly possessions and braved the war torn sidewalks of Brooklyn. Noisy, exhausted, and humiliated I shoved the heavy cart for miles through laughing brownstone cookouts and annoyed storefronts. My relative poverty lead to rather unpleasant solutions. On the plus side, the narrow buildings formed a forested enclosure hidden from city streets and available through the back door.

Half my time was up. I had made progress, however superficial. A website, a resume, a film, a demo reel, business cards, festival submissions, applications, scheduled lunches, and online attention needed only time to deliver results. Or so I hoped. For now, there was nothing to do by kick back and enjoy the breeze of Americana. The fourth of July exchanged music and aromas across Brooklyn rooftops. Ours was aluminum, giving the impression of celebrating independence day from atop either a solar panel, a lake of mercury, or the shiny surface of a sun-orbiting satellite. And although our NYC version of a backyard was coated in reflective silver, I've rarely enjoyed the spirit of the holiday so completely.

Time moved faster now, blurred together, drifted towards the centrifugal force of the impending move. Events and days melted to spin one activity into another: an outdoor bluegrass concert gave way to the 24 hour gas station where we waited for AM pancakes. This in turn gave way to a bizarre loft party where people disappeared in and out of indoor tents underneath the LED glow of a giant paper-mache jellyfish. A live orchestra kicked in and I was again returned to an outdoor venue where they scored Beasts of the Southern Wild live in the tepid New York night. Even the Brooklyn streets drifted past on long walks where friends and I said sappy goodbyes thinly veiled by talks of philosophy. shell shocked projects melted into enormous parks, into leafy, vine covered manors, into cutesy gentrified boutiques streets closed for the night, and finally back into my apartment's stoop. The drifting slid into a stillness and the walks came to a rest in a quiet, final goodbye to old friends.

I always move in the Summer. Farewell Texas.

Audios New York.

See you soon, California.

A sucker for symmetry, I book ended my new York experience with a touch of sentimentality. Mike's dinner was the first diner I'd ever eaten in. Both my first visit to New York and my first, sleepless night at Pratt finished with Mike's diner. You can slide past the neon signs and into a booth dipped down cozy, eye level with the street. But this time I sat at the counter. I ordered a slice of pie and a black coffee. The old man beside me told me stories about Vietnam and I tried my best to trade him decent stories in return. We talked about California. He told me I'd be back. He said if I wanted to swap stories when I got back, I knew where to find him. I paid my bill and caught a cab to the airport.

Stay tuned, next time: California! Explanations for this and more!-


My Art Blog
My Website
Facebook Art Page

Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Last Days at Pratt

(Title Card for Breadheads)

The grey sludge was slick enough to declare the roads unsafe. We got the day off from classes. Sloshing through Ft. Green felt like crossing a basement flooded with frozen mop water. A bustling, wood stove charm inside the BBQ restaurant provided a few minutes calm before the nerves set in. My film was in its final stretch, and I used the free time for some feedback from a professional I’d once had a pleasant few beers with. The weather had also grounded the plane of my Professional’s old friend, an artist from California who I very much admired. I watched passersby from the cabin porch style interior and practiced casual segways in my head. They arrived, ordered food, and I transitioned the laptop onto the table less smoothly than I had planned. Two ear buds among four ears, one annoyingly attentive waiter, and the many passing dozens through warm space on a cold day all conspired to distract during the four minute space of my unfinished film. The viewing ambiance was less than ideal; they tore my film apart. The Californian even received a plane alert a few sentences into my lashing; he disappeared before we got to the constructive part. I walked home feeling like static, and the wind carried a rising current of sleet into my back.

(Sketchbook Page)

Weeks later it was still sleeting. The storm gained strength by robbing the collective student body of it’s enthusiasm. Ritual kept me sane, I can’t speak for anybody else. The paint stained floors creaked with the parade of student exit at 12:15 Fridays. Steve and I smelled of terpenoid and thick, aged oil paints when we stood outside Jared’s townhouse window throwing tiny rocks. Three flights up our insomniac would try to hide inside his slanted attic room from the harsh irregular clicks against his window. But we’d always win; we’d count the growing collection of 20oz red bull cans tacked his walls while he got dressed. I’ve talked on John’s dinner before. A divey corner spot, with a 2x4 of walking space between stuffed booths and a full counter. If you knew how to work the menu, Frankie could hook you up with the full works for under 5 bucks- an omelette, some coffee, grits, sausage and toast. You could leave with your insides warm enough to make up for your outsides. That was the spot. Every Friday we’d sink sleepy Jared low into the quicksand booths and own the privacy of a conversation hidden among so much ambient clatter. Each week Jared brought more of a zombie to lunch, and Steve collected stress. I kept my head down and barreled forward. This was not a fun semester for us; but at least there was something small to keep us reaching for Friday.

(Steve, Jared, and I pantomiming choking for a forgotten project.)

(Sketchbook page- a result of a semester long fascination with greasers.)

Most days started with a 9:20 alarm for 9:30 class. It took me 7 minutes at full trot to get from my bed to my studio and vice versa. My studio closed at 3, and my days ended at 3:09am. So went the semester, a geometric grid of tight schedules and unbudging numbers. I drifted home afloat the scent of sleep one night, tunnel vision cropping the embers of catastrophe to my right . At 9:20 the next day, I window checked the weather to see if it was miserably cold or bitterly cold. My campus view saluted Main Building, a Romanesque Revival tower arisen from the flat brick walkways below. I noticed a crater in that  9:30 class of mine. A scorched, smoking hole inlaid the facade of Main like a gunshot wound. My late night float was moments too soon for the picture party, but Facebook filled me in. We painted in a wooden lean-to along end of the basketball courts for the rest of the semester.

A sack of change has been swelling in my closet since high school. It lived in a tin canister until it outgrew its cage, and is currently occupying triple-baged shopping sacks. Even still, its a long way off from Cintiq money. A Cintiq is a professional piece of artistic equipment, a giant computer monitor with a pressure sensitive screen which one draws directly onto. I told myself that was the reward and object of my eventual savings. Hovering around two thousand for a new model, I thought I'd have to transfer the change to a bathtub before that day arrived. One frozen 9:30, a friend tipped me off to a craigslist seller advertising an undamaged, full size model for seven hundred dollars. The serendipitous fact that my non-emergency bank account had just passed that landmark sent me into serious consideration. Holidays, birthdays, the RA job, art sales, tutoring, and a miser's attention to my bank account had given me some wiggle room. It was too fortuitous not to investigate. This is where things got hairy. The online add stated:  

" Inquires: (temporary, untraceable email), 
Money on arrival"

After a furtive and borderline inhuman email exchange, my intrigue demanded investigation. What the heck, I'd even bring the cash on the off chance this unnamed, unlisted NYC craigslist electronics peddler ended up being a legitimate, non-murderous businessperson. A time was set, but despite the previously prompt exchange, the location was a lingering mystery. They seemed to be controlling the parameters of our meeting with a last minute location drop. I forwarded the email chain to a friend on the way out the door so the police would know where to look for my body. Against the clock I arrived early, not at the back alley promised by imagination, but at the heavy glass doors of a Manhattan sky scraper. Cross the marble lobby I incriminated myself with the vagaries of what I understood my business there to be. I talked my way into appearing a computer thief when unable to give a specific name or explain what a Cintiq was to the security staff. Outside I observed a fortunately timed change of shift for the watch-people. I then explained the purpose of my loitering with empty luggage to an entering office employee. After signing me in, the kindly, irresponsibly unquestioning businesswoman and myself parted ways in the elevator. On floor seventeen I found entry through frosted tap access glass doors on the backs of lunchtime returners. A stylish but generic office lobby offered panoramic views of lower Manhattan and incurious workers. Cautious probing revealed occupations so vague as to be instantly forgotten. The investigated where uncharacteristically friendly to the unexplained stranger in their guarded office building, even asking if I had a resume to put on file. After several minutes, it became clear that no one had any knowledge of a Cintiq sale. My appointment time had passed, and it seemed I had wandered into the wrong building. I stalled for information as long as I could, then stood up, prepared to leave. I thanked everyone for their time just before someone mentioned "Mike." "Mike might be selling something- he's the tech guy." Our attention shifted toward the back of that long office, where Mike was already facing us, shaving a carrot onto the carpet with a huge kitchen knife. He summoned me with a nod and disappeared around a corner. Mike was imposing, and high strung. Fast, aggressive cadences and a neatly ironed demeanor made Mike seem more a Wall Street hot shot than a computer technician. He grilled me on why I didn't call, and why in the world I came in through the front. To the man who had set up a temporary, unlisted email address, I explained that I was unable to get in contact with him. He was satisfied, even pleased with the answer as we entered a windowless computer storeroom. Perhaps the most unexpected turn was the perfect condition of the Cintiq. Money exchanged hands, and Mike offered to throw in a robotic arm for two hundred extra dollars. Turning down whatever a robotic arm entails, I began to wheel my suitcase out the way I'd come. Mike blocked my path laughing, and directed my to what appeared an unused freight elevator. Deposited onto the adjacent block through a stained, one way iron door, I shuffled home, baffled, one Cintiq richer.
(My Cintiq setup as it currently exits in Los Angeles)

All those general education classes you’d expect to skip in art school- your Sciences and Humanities and Histories and Phys Eds- I saved them all for dessert. The time not spent obsessively perfecting the final touches of my film was spent sketching through Environmental Science lectures. The illustrations decorating the space between these paragraphs were born from this daydreaming.

(Swirl Girl)

Monotony, bad weather, and sleep deprivation did little to damper that eventual downhill glee of getting ahead of schedule on my film. My buddy RT and company arrived over spring break. There was time even to enjoy my so called vacation for the first time in years. A long overdue visit to the famous Katz deli provided sandwiches taller than they were wide, and unique old New York ambiance. There were crowded pool halls full of smoke and jazz, and dark bar mazes leading to mountainous nachos. You will be missed, Brooklyn Public House. Checklists crossed for old favorites and new, I was ready to face the final sprint of my educational career.

We rounded up a puppet class. The professor said she’d teach that semester if we found 10 students. Fifteen or so buddy emails and one surprisingly easy sell later, 3 credits a week were dedicated to giving string puppets bad British accents. There was ever the lingering question of the final. We slid the final piece of newly furnished student union furniture into an ovular Colosseum arrangement surrounding the stage. Early arrivals began to dot the edges of the auditorium and linger near the outer orbit. Our chorus line of giant noses squared away last minute choreography behind the narrow backstage curtain as the auditorium began to buzz with a blooming student body.The department had sprung for a decent budget; the poster campaign combined with the promise of post-show pizza delivered an unexpected crowd. Now there was something to be nervous about.

It was quite the performance, climaxing in the knockout but un-photographed final number. Its 
memory lives on only through Pratt legend.

Lush, patterned carpet, thick and yielding like grass, gave way to floods of student footsteps. Geometric gold trimmings danced patterns sky high overhead. I waited sheepishly in Radio City Music Hall’s lobby costumed as a graduate. Other than the impressive setting there wasn't much to be said for graduation. Four years I wouldn't change were spread before me. Yet, they were nothing if not grueling and painful. My goodbyes to this city and Institution were long overdue, and my change of scene soon approaching.

The final cut of my senior film awaits below. Understand before watching that my intention was to craft a tone the furthest from the animation norm as possible. The polar opposite of the market cliche seemed to play in waters cerebral and macabre, which conveniently reflected my emotional experience at the time. It is a shaky tower built on countless thousands of my own drawings; it is a work composed entirely by me. Despite a title card prematurely painted, even the sound was painstakingly learned and applied by me in the final hours of the project. (I didn’t have the heart to throw out the already painted card when my sound designer dropped out). I recognize the film's inaccessibility and even seeming randomness, but I encourage you to pose any questions you may have about artistic intentions. I ensure you everything is in place for a reason- I hope in the future to make my works more clear and enjoyable to a general audience. You will also find an artist’s statement in the description on youtube which may well clear up thematic questions. So to prove the film has merit outside the pretentiousness of art school, I will say that it has been popularly featured across online forums, accumulating hundreds of thousands of views in its combined appearances. Below also are the  film festival awards and selections at the date of this post. Without further delay, I proudly present, Breadheads:

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Catching Up

There is a fear that keeps these diaries in drafts: that the delete button will cease to exist, that I will fail to entertain my readership, that I will have poorly painted times important to me…. Many of you who I have invited to read this are yourselves creatives. You may relate to that crippling perfectionism that comes with the territory. In order that I render these blogs less taxing to write, (and less taxing to read I’m sure), I’ll give brevity my best shot. To eventually do the present justice, I must fill the space between. So though I will start a year and a half back, I’ll try to post a few in a row and get us up to speed. I present the first semester of my final year in school, and a sample of the accompanying art:

Fall in New York is a stretch when, coming off the high of Summer and the promise of the year to come, one forgets about the deeply wet and depressing months that follow. Film screenings abound, Late Night shows and comedy clubs sprout eager lines, and the festive cold weather costumes have not yet been replaced by the heavy, arctic survival gear. Annual animation screenings shaped my incorrectly optimistic view of newly rain slicked streets. Always, 23rd St C. stop in Manhattan. Always timed for us, to subway rush from classes at young dusk, and emerge into deep night. Always slithering city lights on wet asphalt. Always the same comfy old theaters, inside the cube concrete fortresses at Parsons, SVA, UCB, and FIT. And they all shared a nice broken in smell. The Animation Show of Shows and Metrocaf where two animation showings I’d never miss. Collections of the years best shorts, a huge glowing screen, and a dark auditorium packed full of artists, all at the cost of an emailed RSVP. My friends and I would always eat at the same McDonalds a block down from the C train. This at first, was a necessity: a liferaft in that weird, dark part of town squished way over past 8th avenue. Eventually, it was tradition. Year round we’d travel the sophisticate's culinary map. But early fall, we’d act a fool with McFlurries and voice our big kid thoughts on the year’s selection of shorts.

On the way to my final leadership retreat.

In case anyone was wondering, the Pratt cats were still keeping running my required general education classes.

Senior year seemed to me like the time to get to know the classmates I had been sharing my microscopic major with for the past 3 years. There were only 15 people in animation, and all but a few hung out in a big posse. Theirs was the type of crowd you’d mostly expect to find in art school, with a little 80’s underground punk scene mixed into the stereotype. Cool guys though, and to be fair, I was probably some version of a cliche to them too. I started following them outside for their smoke breaks, where I’d nibble crackers like a dweeb in place of cigarettes and try to look natural. Mid semester, before the grey had entirely set in, I showed up at their apartment edgy part of town, way past that one safe street. You could tell this was once a beautiful place, a handful of decades before my classmates moved in. Much spoke to the tarnished elegance of the living room- sky high ceilings, ornate spiraling molding, even a decorative base of a long vanished chandelier. In its current state it looked like rock stars had trashed a swanky penthouse suite. Snubbed cigarette butts stuck like tentacles from anthills of ash. Stained, antique furniture sagged with age, and a pile of guitars, I counted at least 10, covered a partially burned rug. They pushed the drumset in front of the wide, lowset marble fireplace and went to town. They played dissonant, low-fi noise rock, hilariously stopping to workshop what sounded to me like the weeping of abused guitars. I documented the occasion with a few sketchbook pages, and decided I’d better save our times together for the smoke breaks.

Life Studies.

Thanksgiving found me one of those lonely Holiday outcasts too far from hoe for a proper celebration. For three years, Chris Ruggeiri more than made up for it. My tradition of showing up when the food was ready, mooching, and leaving without contributing to cleanup, will be sorely missed. Without getting mushy about appreciation and hospitality, i will just say that it was always a fantastic dinner.

Non-food related fun also made an appearance that semester, including some time spent with a couple of my animation heroes. My presidency of the animation club meant delegating its budget towards speakers I’d always wanted to meet; and the club members got a lecture out of it too. Win-win. Jared’s beach house also received its final college visit. When Jared’s mom had bought the house a decade before, a single fireplace log remained as a gesture of home warming. Being a sucker for the inherent romanticism of a fireplace, I vowed we would make a Winter trip of it. We kept our promise with a car-full of friends. We roasted indoor smores, played the usual drinking games, and said a heartfelt goodbye to this beloved college vacation. The weekend behind us, endless hours of drawing lay ahead, and endless audiobooks to get me through. I had graduated from a childhood love of Harry Potter to a new found obsession with Tolkien, and the release of the Hobbit was in perfect time. Somehow I had become the unofficial organizer of my extended friend group, and monitoring the headcount was a perpetually renewing source of stress. We converged from classes and events all through the darkening green streets of Clinton Hill, making a beeline for the subway. All sweaters and smiles, we broke off stealthily from the Pratt mansion and RA Christmas party, counting our pre-ordered tickets on our beeline towards the subway. The rest of the mob was already at the station. We lined sidewalk outside the theater, where we could be serviced by hot dog vendors. NYC has made a fine sport of lines, and somehow the anticipation wouldn't have been complete without it. The 34th St Imax is more a coliseum than a theater, and the Hobbit didn't disappoint. I left contented with the experience and knowing for the first time ever, was on course for smooth sailing through finals.

The aforementioned fireplace, and Oreo, the beach house dog.
Old Modern: Acrylic and Charcoal.

My room door was heavy, and metal. That heavy metal door rattled in its frame with the force of the blows upon it. A squinted glance at my calendar, “not on duty.” My indigence outweighed even my exhaustion. I prepared to meet this drunk at my door in my underwear, my words equipped in equal force with the audacity of this late night knocker. It took me an embarrassed moment to recognize my fellow RA, Molly, who was of course not drunk, but terrified. I deciphered enough of her pressured burst of sound to find the room in need once hastily dressed. Within was Richard, a jovial bodybuilder who I had met before, writhing breathless on the ground. His roommates swarmed like nats, hopelessly panicked, running into the furniture and each other in a type of shock I’d formerly believed exaggerated. Molly had now recovered her words, and was managing the gasping giant fairly well. I cleared the panicked crowd of gape mouthed groupers and used one of the nearly useless roommates as a puppet to phone the ambulance. Richard flailed wildly from the floor, thick limbs uprooting shelves and scattering glass across the room. Molly and I pulled his body and head upright away from the smashed shards, which he seemed gravitationally determined to continually smear his blood against in his spasms. During intervals of seconds between gasps Richard could answer by pointing. We brought the inhalers to his mouth, he sucked them dry. We held him tight, attempting the best angle for an unclogged windpipe. During the spasms, our entire body weights whipped through space clinging to a single, uncontrolled limb. But these rides at least felt more hopeful than the alternative. Purple comatose silences were coming more frequently now. We’d pressure his sternum and he‘d choke back to life. We found scattered parts of a medical respirator, one under a bed, another in the medicine cabinet, a third in a dresser.... Even assembled it only bought us time between the same leaking, blood curdling gasps. The limp silences were longer and more frequent than the gasps now; time was out. The first paramedic stepped into the doorframe, but didn’t fair much better than the roommates formerly did. After a long stupid silence, the second paramedic broke his trance from the hall behind him and took control with loud commands. Gloved hands grabbed Richard, a thick needle slid from plastic wrapping, and I turned away as the thud rang hard upon flesh. “Woo, almost had to buy him a tomb,” was the relieved exclamation of the inept paramedic who was first on the scene. The other motioned him to help strap Richard into the gurney. I checked my clock, 30 minutes had elapsed since I arrived. Somebody dropped the ball. The paramedics explained the cocktail of asthma and panic attack that nearly killed him as I walked past them to bed.

Chemists: 4 Layer Linoleum Relief Prints.

Cyborg Alley: Acrylic

The rest of finals went smoothly however. Then came winter break. Living by subway for four years had turned driving from the mundane to a test of courage. There’s nothing for the shaky constitution of a rusty driver, like the worst snow storm Dallas has seen in decades. Long story short, I sped north from Houston trying to beat the southbound storm to my destination. I watched the skyline expand and swallow me as I raced towards it. A thick, snapping mist, led the charge as it pierced the rectangular gap in the Chase Tower. An instant later, the second battalion was upon us with a furious haze. At 13 miles an hour I made it 30 miles north to Frisco. In for a penny in for a pound, and I passed city limits northbound. Past Frisco I was nearing the edge of the tollway, and what felt much like the edge of the world. I wasn't too far off. The fields and woods iced with deepening snow on all sides, and the alarm announcing hydroplane began to nag on my two wheel drive rent-a-car. As I drifted dreamily and uncontrollably into another lane, I noticed so too did the two vehicles in front of me. One decided to take the complaint up with the left side median, and the other took a stroll into a right side ditch. That seemed to be where I was headed myself, but momentum brought me to rest against the curb instead. I camped out in Frisco that night, and although the break remained eventful and description worthy, I’ll let some pictures summarize:

Big Lou’s Pizza, San Antonio (Our Pizza not pictured. We had eaten our giant Pizza before I thought to take a low quality cell phone pic. Thank you to the kind folks at the adjacent table. I think I forgot to email you this picture like you asked.)

Nothing like a foggy roller coaster ride. Six Flags San Antonio

I don't need to explain to you that this is just me in a hat.

I’d love to hear from all of you out there. Comment or say hi and let me know you are still reading. The fact that you were on my email list means that you’re on my mind, so if you have stories or news of your own, email me and drop me a line.


You can also find me at:

My Art Blog
My Website
Facebook Art Page

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Haunted Season

Much time has passed, and there is much to be told. I’ll break these posts into a series of segments, starting from last Summer. Bare with me while I dust the tools needed to render these months with volume and life. I suspect I will have it in good shape in a blog or two.


In a dark cave, I fry my eyes over sizzling light, piling lines upon lines until I hear the faint murmur of a heartbeat. My film is an embryo. Within my studio there is an artificial cold, a seeping, air conditioned bite that covers every cubic inch of exposed skin in a manufactured chill. Its that unnatural sensation of a vacuum sealed, modernist building that makes one feel preserved by some unnatural force of scientific refrigeration. I need a break, so I step out into the sunlight...

My eyes saw what stretched before me through a bright Polaroid filter. White-hot Summer hazes blurred the distance with warm streaks; just as well to enjoy the sand before me, pasted onto my bare shoulders.  Coney Island wheeled a whirl of ants about a boardwalk waiting to fulfill Summer dreams. My vision bounced with the subtle disturbance of walking. I scanned from the towels to that smile, beaming behind a pair of huge tinted windows that tend to rest on the face during that time of year.

“Would you like to go see a high school friend of mine?”

Above ground the subway is a treat, and your eyes can scan the landscape, imagining all the songs and stories flying past deep eastern Brooklyn from the subway window.  Wood striped buildings speed blurred in the foreground, shrunken midground rectangles drift by like lazy clouds with faded painted advertisements, and a distant blue mass of ever-receding weathered structures hangs solid in the distance. An ambient rustle rises like a shouting static and we are thrust back into darkness. The world becomes the underground once again. In the quiet black I explain Logan. “He was a role model of sorts, I unintentionally followed in his exact footsteps.”  His Texas Art Association flag hung daunting between the U.S. and Texas in the high, cylindrical atrium circling the entrance of Frisco High School’s southern wing. This signified one of the many contest won first by him that paved the path of our future successes. Two years after Logan, I succeeded him as President of the Art Club, then as a merit scholar to Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. Now he waited in a yet unknown part of that distant northern city.

Greenpoint opened its arms with generous breathing room atypical of New York streets. Warm three story wood panels gave nods hinting a half-century of secrets behind their smiles. Former industrial patches felt repurposed by a wave of artist weary of the heavier rent and pretension in more bohemian areas.  Brick buildings revealed waist high patios of bars surfing along the sidewalk, inviting a step into the expansive hub beyond. Wood beams supporting high roofs that gave way to pockets of monochrome life ripped from Picasso’s tone-driven phases. Past the bar and cafe porches you might glance through corners of espresso scented conversation under lights of reclining blue, or follow a trail of smoke across a moody bar cast in sheets and shades of red. Fresh air drifts into open front restaurants with an ornate wooden structures ripped from a high-class, old west saloon. Dim under the shadow of the bright day, clouds of scent bekon the senses to the cool space. Or, maybe to take the spiraling wooden staircase dividing the tall room up to rooftop views of the skyline across a dark river. We pass groups spilling out into the sidewalk talking over beers in a wide alleyway sloping down into the water. The collages of clothing are some paint splattered and all assembled from bits of bygone generations. The identifiable style works in a strange, layered harmony. I recognize this ever shifting uniform of the artist adorning the open loading dock of a motorcycle shop. Bikes pushed aside accommodate sizzling grills and stocked coolers. Tireless work and stress have hardened a cynicism that escapes from me unexpectedly, and robs me of the social skills I had known so effortlessly throughout my life. It is with no little self consciousness that I “casually” slap hands with a hometown friend. But in the carless and dwindling sting of Summer heat, the flow of artistic discourse and eager storytelling comes freely. Talks of past and future meet in a humble alleyway across from the bustle of millions. Distance from those millions allows a heavier blue to set across coming night. We were told to pee in the Gutter; so named was a dive bar with carpeted walls thick with hunting trophies, candy machines generations old from trucking depots, all lit through a smoky haze by hanging green pool table lamps. A strip of windows running like the foreman's observation tower of an old factory overlook a five lane bowling alley attached via staircase to the bar. We marked the spot for a later gathering of friends for bowling, billiards and birthday wishes. The Gutter is a deep purple blotch against a night sky, crouching by a river at the end of an alleyway; It is a beautifully isolated place teeming with its own ecosystem like the underside of a forest rock. Stumbling back to the alley I notice an ever-present ambiance of electric energy across the East River, and appreciate the small solitude that held our gallery party quietly out of sight.

My glass and steal cave is unmoved by my exhaustion. I can hear the film’s pulse daily now, as drawing by drawing 12 frames a second begins to give way to animated movement. Every morning of my Summer I wake up bathed in a diagonal stripes of hazy orange from my window, and yet march midday into that vacuum sealed freezer. 3am shuts down the building’s power, and during my walk home even New York is asleep or drunk. There is progress, but the bags under my eyes ask me if there could really be another school year of this in me.

Back on that above ground stretch of tracks we seek Far Rockaway. A slowly rattling tram coast from the foggy ephemera of grassy marshes that mark the end of ever more sparse buildings. The shuttle conductor calls goodbye to last stop, and we roll past the end of the subway and step off the shuttle into an alien world.  Through a wall of fog, sun-bleached, pastel houses emerge on stilts from the swamp below. Horizontal two by fours snake endlessly twisting and joining to form curving sidewalks and paths overhanging the water below.The corners of the city wear a different face and abide no rules. The fact that our destination is so called, Far Rockaway, is evidence of its remote and appreciably overlooked nature. Iron gates shut on an abandoned stone courthouse. Tall grass swallows the bottom 5 feet of courtyard and ivy playfully circles the deeply carved “justice” overhead. A row of plastic condos attempt to place a resort mask on the tiny strip of land, but fades a block away like a passing set propped up on two by fours. Heat beats splintered grey poles holding a zig-zaging tapestry of telephone wires. Shoes from my parent’s childhood swing by a breeze from those black lines. Hills supporting trees and dense, clinging vegetation have long replaced the rooftops of even brightly colored wooden homes.  Clean sands, few humans, and miles of boardwalk stretch before us. I spend some time being happily manhandled by aggressive waves before retiring. I am a contented spectator to the sole surf spot within city limits.


I’ve lost count of the hours spent in sterile toil. I know how my characters move, how they feel. Its always that cryogenic cold, and all other life forms have gone home for Summer. The film can’t go on if I don’t, so why don’t pace myself? Still, this fictional world is takes shape beneath my fingertips. I could take comfort within my creation, if not for the horror of its content.

That annual text from Liam arrives on schedule.
Once again, Liam runs the pre-college program. Once again, the pre-college kids didn’t deplete their supply of Coney Island cash. Once again, Liam’s loyal friends must take it upon themselves to selflessly help devour a thousand dollars worth of rides, food, and beer before they expire.

Scenes 26-28 done, need to add steam to 45, the background needs to be re-done on 19, can 25 be cut? Why hasn’t my sound designer emailed me back yet?

A graphic novel commision dangles before me. I toy with the idea, and bring sketches to a domineering glass and steel skyscraper. A screaming war tower that will not be ignored, it juts from the meek three story average of Brooklyn to rival Manhattan’s giants. The security guard next to a waterfall directs me around frosted glass walls to an elevator. See-through fabric is the first thing I notice as my client’s model girlfriend answers the door. Directing me inside his apartment, the walls are lined with strange, expensive looking modernist paintings of genetailia. For a few sessions I bring revised sketches to this palace of vintage collector’s vinyl and leather furniture. The son of a famous author reviews them over a view of the skyline beyond.

The project is dark, and the writer, my potential benefactor, well connected. Actors from popular television shows have already starred in the movie set to premiere alongside the graphic novel. A dense script follows a public shooter through his crime and the media circus that follows. It’s a black look into the psychology of a monster, a statement about domestic terrorism. Heavy content and time constraints cannot balance alongside my growing film. After a difficult discussion, I pass on the offer. On the night I leave the project, my closest friends and I suspend our disbelief to enjoy a midnight premiere in a dark theater. For the night, we share a space within the fiction of Chris Nolan’s final Batman film; For three hours, we become carefree children rooting for the fantastic. Friends and strangers share a different fate in the same screening across the country. The public shooting feels a little close to home for more reason than one.

Weeks go by. I’m buried beyond light in the shafts now, and blindly mine for the heart of the film. The handles of my pick run sores up and down my palms. A bounty of progress stacking up in my cart make the effort somewhat worthwhile.

We christen my final RA training with a massive Lounge Monster decoration to welcome a new crop of freshman. The project is temporary, but leadership hopes to inspire an afterlife in memory.

Scene after scene litters the floor of the completed pile. Drawings number in the thousands, characters move onscreen, yet there i barely a dent in the wall ahead.

When I arrived at Pratt my freshman year, wood framed dutch townhouses from the age of lithographs sat overgrown in the back of campus. Time stretched with hands of vines to pull them beneath the earth. In 2012, Pratts swings its mighty hand, heavy with 50,000 dollars of tuition multiplied thousands of times and students over. In an instant, there are four livable townhouses. The rest are soon on their way.  It seems strange to see abodes from what were so long mighty and beautiful ruins. None the less, someone manages to tastefully install air conditioner in this Parthenon. Within one is a fleet of retired RAs, old friends, and like minded artists. Sitting on the stoop of Gandalf house, as it came to be named,  my friend Uriah is approached by an ancient man weaving polite and pleasant stories from his time in that same house in the 6 decades before. Annabeth’s name inadvertently reveals the coed housing, and the gentleman bolts at an unnatural and appalled speed. In proper form, his politeness never ceases despite disappearing muttering into the dusk. Fun and unusual events seem to go hand in hand with Gandalf house, from poker tournaments with missing people, to mattress sledding that ends in ambulances, and even a snowball fight with the building itself. One of the formative visits to the house in the waning days of 2012’s Summer delivered us into the hands of terror and wonder. A dear friend, one Jared Schwartz, and I are approached with the possibility of some urban exploration. The air brakes hiss and we step from the bus with a thankful nod for our specially requested stop. We stare at a city block far from home. Like much of Brooklyn, its surrounded with developing and remodeling construction. Fortunately our treasure isn’t in the war path of city planners with a taste to replace history with high-rent, “modernist” apartments. It was long ago paved over and hidden from the hands of profit and time. Encased within a city block, our target is barely visible above the surrounding rectangle of architecture: it is guarded on all sides by giant storage facilities, brownstone apartments, tall businesses, and the kind of unidentifiable warehouse-like structures people rarely ask questions about. Circling the block, we survey our points of entrance. Along the brownstones, there are several locked rod-iron gates, plus a taller gate in the backyards with sharp spikes and a sheer fall. We say no thank you to the iron spears. It is a Sunday, and all but a few storage facility employees are absent from the massive parking lot. In the back, a rusty ladder in the corner of an aluminum sheeted wall look promising, though the razor wire atop it daunting. The strip of carpet we find is thick enough to avoid being pierced by the razor wire, but narrow enough to make the vault perilous. When we see the added fun of the 10 foot drop into a thicket of thorns and branches, we set it aside as a plan B. Passing the  polished steel of the generic business, we know the route is impenetrable; even the owners likely don’t have access to the space beyond. We come finally upon a long stretch of dusty lot buzzing in front of an unmarked warehouse. Clandestine, dirty trucks match the men loading concealed products onto them. Walls of tires, scrap metal, and conveniently placed machinery wall off the inner circle around the warehouse. Rows upon rows of tightly packed vehicles form 100 meters of cover across the parking lot. Products padlocked and sealed criss cross the warehouse alternately in unmarked vans. Employees in low set hats furtively exchange “goods.”  Waiting for a shifting of men and a change of gaurd, we dart behind an old el camino, wait for a driver to pass, then swing under a detached bed of some forgotten eighteen-wheeler. On counts and turns we play human tetris with the parking lot, hoping to avoid detection and whatever vague consequences come with it.We slide through the cab of a doorless car and arrive at the mountainous cinder block wall at the back most edge of the compound. From the roof of a rusted hatchback propped diagonal from the ground, we pull ourselves upon the stair casing wounds in the cinderblock layers. We are swift and careful; Although we are deep beyond the workers, the lowest through-path between the multiple layers of cinderblock is several stories high, and easily spotted from a distance. Down we climb through a spiraling, concrete hole, atop twisted, rusting relics of what was once a chain link fence, and into a forest of scraggly weeds. We are in.

What stands before us is a massive, encased and forgotten power plant over a century old. What stands behind is a sheer grey wall, with a message sprawled in ancient graffiti several stories tall, a threat to frighten an eternity of visitors, “We are coming.” Gravel crunches underfoot below a waist of weeds dipping into a valley. The echo of our footsteps in this forgotten world are hollow and unimpeded; for now at least we are alone . A moat of twisted trees, wreckage, slip holes, metal, and other unseen dangers fill the chasm between us and the power plant. Cautiously, we forge a path across large stones, crossing a felled tree to stand ground level on the massive building’s loading dock. Without collecting cuts and scrapes in the brambles surrounding the building, this seems to be the only access. Our courtyard landing is an island of concrete slowly splitting and sinking into the waving sea of patient branches. Dilapidation did little to lessen the strength of iron bars, bricked windows, and massive immovable doors with no handles. Branches and shrubs reach from the side to shade and hide the bottom loading dock’s path to the basement. To enter this haunting giant from the lower door seems suspiciously close to the premise of a horror film, especially as it sits a leg’s-break down with few climbing options. We shrug it off and lower each other down. Together we heave the mighty bulk of the massive sliding sectional door enough for Anna to dart crounched into the darkness. A resounding slam shatters the errie silence of our stadium sized concrete encasement as we let the door fall. We climb vines back to ground level. Long moments pass, followed by a heaving creek. The handle-less door heavy with a hundred years gives way from inside. We fix a crack in the door with a loose cinder block’s guarantee. The immediate dark is too dense to make out details of your belt buckle, but the sprawling first floor is guided by stripes of luminance. Columns strike the ground with a radiance almost solid, spilling glow into hazy white pools around the base. We hop between puddles against indistinguishable mechanical silhouettes. Moving slowly, we pray hard against unseen pitfalls to the unknown levels underneath. We span the space between us and the forest of light to a rusty industrial staircase in the adjacent corner. Heavy iron supports holding wide stone steps seem coated but not invaded by cancerous oxidization. We brave the space beyond the waning arms of the bright columns across ancient dark steps. The handrails, are many years absent. Overhead a pin of light opens and swallows us into a deep, light flooded room. As we suspected from the scarcity of the silhouettes below, most of the machinery from the building’s days as a power plant has been salvaged when the ship sank. Forsaken metal chunks form the structure for the rumor of the building’s second age. We now look assured upon the remnants of a homeless civilization. Standing now in a bare colosseum, high stone ceilings stretch immense distances. Speckled missing bits of wall and window fall like knocked in teeth in rectangles of sunshine along the perimeter. Jared and I stand across from what was once an ornate, circular stained glass window. This giant sits atop the summit of a hill, and a breeze reaches up from below. Cobbled chunks of Brooklyn neighborhoods stretch miles towards the waters in the far east. We hover in the relative silence of the wind, watching paradoxes of buzzing. Civilization flanks and ignores us within our doubly isolated enclaves. Sheets drape, tied to the tops of beams and pieces of machinery.Squares of cloth meet and form private rooms. A yellowing scholastic notebook is filled years ago with ideas for begging. A middle schooler’s optimistic font recalls neither math notes nor diary entries. “Luke, I am your father, need cash for new death star.” one line read. This and many others fill the notebook. The levity with which one so young solicits dinner makes me wonder with what shape the soul is crushed. We part the curtains to peak at spilling piles of collected, stained toys and shoes. A mattress across a box-spring of egg-crates gazes out a window. Across the hall, a border of shelves all but barricade the entrance to another room, a narrow passage accessible by pushing inward on heavy cabinet doors and walking through the hole in the back. A bed faces outside again, and the room is empty save for a copy of the Giver, and a bible verse scratched into aluminum. 

We zig zag through the rooms and echoes of the lives before us.Ascending floors each stretch stories high. Crowned by graffiti, the top floor is a day glow tower with an immensity to dwarf all rooms prior, spilling with makeshift rooms and hovels like a pueblo dwelling in the land of the dead. The ground tells a darker tale here, as the rainbow shards of crack viles glitter next to piles of herion needles. 

Still, there is something monstrous and beautiful in this surreal place. Original architecture subsist through the cavernous mounds of operator’s stations at either end of the room. Wires soar in horizontal  arcs hundreds of feet overhead. Decorated manikins float next to mobiles of discarded bicycle tires far above reach.  

What would have seemed a gaudy and unbelievable lair for a comic book gang  held our breath in its reality. All seems out of scale above. Gaping chasms in the roof show us a micro version of Anna taking pictures in the graffiti caves below. 

Meanwhile, oversized versions of common machinery make one feel dwarfed next to the 30 feet of oxidizing fan blades. These behemoths are cloned in lines across the sides. We head back to the cinderblock touch point. Before our reunion with the loading dock, Jared and I make a brave stop in a basement packed with blinding darkness. A haunting presence feels buried alive amongst the generators and the sinking mud. Remote corners bare witness to the history of a lonely dwelling. Far from the communities that would take shape above, something crouched in the chilling damp generations prior. Scattered, fading evidence a half century old whispers remembrances of a life gone by. Paper crumbles beneath the hot yellow sword of our shared flashlight, and the ancient line of shoes and gloves seems best undisturbed. We depart lest more concrete remains of the years spent in darkness revealed themselves in some pitiful, unvisited corner.

We ride with ripped pants and dirtied nails past the brownstones streets. Homes congeal from independence into the solid walls that form our neighborhood streets. I know I must return to my state-of-the-art prison soon. Air brakes squeal our address. The scent of fall is a cool wind through a dense warm haze, spiced with the bursting blood of leaves leaping and spilling from trees: A smelling salt to sharpen the senses from the Summer’s ether. Cross the gates of Pratt awaited our final year in Brooklyn.