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