Like father, like son

keirs-journal

A few days ago, this drawing arrived from my stepmother, Sue. It was drawn by my father when I was about three, around the time my parents were divorced.
Many of these objects are things of my mum’s. I think she still has the copper ashtray on the lower left. Sue pointed out how similar this piece is to much of the work I have been doing and I must agree. I never really thought of him doing illustrated journaling but clearly he did.
Keir lives in Leicestershire, near Nottingham (that’s in England, folks). His three daughters (my half sisters) are all grown and he seems to spend most his time drawing daily self portraits or writing software for his own amusement. I’ve only seen my father a half dozen times since the divorce and we correspond very intermittently. I have a few of his sketchbooks from the early 1960s and I have always loved them.
Between Jack’s painting and this newly arrived drawing from Keir, I must say I am thinking quite a lot about heredity these days.

Here is some more of Keir’s work circa 1964 (he never shows his work so I hope, on the off-chance that he stumbles across this web page, that he doesn’t take offense to this little tribute exhibition). Some of it is pretty angry and hard core so please don’t yap about the language or the macabre-ness:


I contain multitudes

I am a wiry cowboy or maybe an ex-con, sideburned, sunburned, sheathed in jailhouse tats, wearing Dickies, Vitalis and Old Spice, a hand-roll dangling below my Fu-Manchu, stonily silent, a solid peckerwood who’s 1000-yard-staring through glacial blue eyes.
I am Robert DeNiro as Vito Corleone in Godfather II. Poised, determined, resourceful, lethal.
I am Aimee Mann: thin, blonde, beautiful; cynical, hilarious,profane; part angel, part construction worker.
I am Eminem.
I am Miles.
I am Tyson.
I am the Dalai Lama.
I am Jimi Hendrix: my fingers scrabbling and singing across the strings, my cheeks sucked in, my eyes closed, my shirt a riot of psychedelic paisley.
I am Steve McQueen, leaping the barbed wire fence into Switzerland on the back of a stolen German motorbike.
I am Francis Bacon.
I am Warren Buffett.
I am Jesus Christ.
I am Keith Richards: kohl eyes, turtle skin, brown bony arms gripping my axe.
I am Curtis, holding a piece of cardboard and a cup on Sixth Avenue.
I am Vincent in the wheat field.
I am Arnold, winning Mr. Olympia yet again.
I am Henry Miller, fingering in Clichy, scribbling in Brooklyn.
I am Dy Thomas, blowing a fag end into a BBC mike.
I am a spotty fourteen-year-old with a meager moustache.
I am a bloated middle-aged bald man.
I am a corpse.
I am Chas Eames.
I am Dick Feynman.
I am Wally Whitman.

Last night I was thinking about how hard it is to stay in my own skin. Maybe that’s the way art is supposed to make you feel, to catapult you into another aspect of yourself and let you dwell there a while. Or maybe that’s just what it is to be human and to try to live an examined life.
I’m reacting intensely to all of the things I am going through right now, all of the different audiences I seem to be strutting past. I want to’ be me’, to express that me-ness, and yet it is so varied, so contradictory. There’s me as husband, father, son, and brother. Illustrator, author, blogger, copywriter, professional, and novice. Teacher, student, know-it-all, and idiot. Ad guy, art-guy, ugly American guy, and Registered Alien. Jew, Christian, Buddhist, and atheist. Hermit, tireless self-promoter, success, and failure.
It’s not really that I’m seeking the answer any more. My adolescence is so far behind me, and I have worn out my allotment of mid-life crises. It’s more that I’m perpetually restless, only temporarily satisfied with every conclusion.
Perhaps this is the biological imperative that moves successful organisms towards adaptation and evolution. Those who are content to keep chowing down on a certain kind of leaf or to hang out by a certain waterhole are secure … until the shit comes down. Then it’s only those shifty, scuttling rodents in the undergrowth that make it to the next level. We are the descendants of every successful shape shifter there’s been till now, the freakiest of all mutated freaks, and these days, as the shit comes down more heavily than ever, only the unsatisfiable will survive. So perhaps I’m working my way up to missing linkhood.
Or maybe I’ll just be the first lemming off the cliff.
Or worse yet, somewhere lost in the middle of the herd.

Living well through bad drawings

gravestone

When some people see an illustrated journal, they say, “Wow, that’s great. I could never do that.” With some coaxing, they may be persuaded nonetheless to give it a try. Others say, “Wow, I’m going to do that.” And they start too. And quite a few say, “Huh, where do you find the time?” then use your journal as a coaster.
It’s comparatively easy to start. To bring yourself to draw your breakfast once or your coffee cup once and to keep it up for a couple of days. Ideally those first few days infect you with the fever and you’re compelled to carry a long series of journal books around with you for the rest of your days.
But more likely, your initial enthusiasm will wane. You’ll forget to do it one day, give in to resistance the next, then feel like you’ve broken the chain, the narrative is lost, a month’s gone by, and you drop it altogether. Why? Often it’s because you are disappointed with your drawings. You may say you don’t have the time, forgot your book, grew bored but it’s really because you aren’t that impressed with your drawing skill. You haven’t made something that looks like Art.
I don’t think that illustrated journaling is really about doing great drawings. You’re not out to make something that you could frame or give as an Xmas present. I’m not really into doing the sort of exercises on perspective and tone that you see in most drawing books, exercises that will move your skills to another level artistically. Not that you shouldn’t do them if they are fun or if you have some other goal in mind but I don’t think they are essential for the true purpose of illustrated journaling.
That purpose? To celebrate your life. No matter how small or mundane or redundant, each drawing and little essay you write to commemorate an event or an object or a place makes it all the more special. Celebrate your hairbrush and it will make you appreciate the intricacy of the bristles, the miracle of your lost hair, the beauty of you. Sounds sappy but it’s in there. Draw your lunch and it will be a very different experience from bolting down another tuna on rye. If you take your time (and we’re just talking maybe 10-20 minutes here, folks) and really study that sandwich, the nooks and valleys, the crinoline of the lettuce, the textures of the tuna, you will do a drawing that recognized the particularity of that sandwich,. That’s the point: to record this particular moment, this sandwich, not something generic. If you approach it with that attitude, you will create something as unique. reaching that place is just a matter of concentration and attention. A brief meditation and you will have a souvenir to jog your memory back to that a moment forever more. Imagine if you can keep doing that, keep dropping these little gems in your day, recognizing the incredible gift you are given each morning upon awakening. You will be a millionaire.
There’s a demon in your mind that will fight this, that will tell you your life is unworthy of acknowledgment, that today sucks through and through. It will tell you you have no time for this, that you are too harried, too stressed. Which brings me to Marybethd who wrote to me from Nebraska where she just had emergency eye surgery. For two weeks, she could only see the floor. She wasn’t sidelined though— she drew all of her visitor’s feet. She pulled art out of that tragedy, celebrated her visitors, created a positive memory that she will have to cherish long after her vision is back to normal. He nightmare became a lesson.
I have gone through my fair share of shit. My regret is that I didn’t celebrate all of it. I can’t say it often enough: life is short, art is long. Get the habit.

Inspiration Journal: Tony Forster

This guy is scarily good. Tony Forster’s watercolors depict his treks around the world, to the rain forests of Costa Rica, the volcanic island of Montserrat, Bolivia’s mile-high lakes, the slopes of the Sierra Nevada and the scorching desert of Death Valley. I first saw them in a froo-froo gallery, stopped dead in my tracks on Madison Avenue, thinking “Wait, wasn’t I supposed to have made these, y’know, in some parallel universe?” On the edges of his gorgeous landscapes paintings (he paints on sheets of watercolor paper, usually 22″x31″), he attaches little sample swatches, topographic maps, and then stencils, types, and hand writes notes. This softcover book of his work was published by the Frye Art Museum in 2000.

Inspirational Journal: Muriel Foster

This is one of my prized possessions. In fact, I prize it so much I repeatedly give it away and then go hunt for a new copy.
Muriel Foster(1884-1963) started keeping this diary in 1913 whenever she went fishing and, for the next thirty-five years, filled it with sketches, watercolors, observations and poetry. While she was a professional artist, this little diary was just for her and never intended to be shown. Her grand niece released it for publication as a facsimile decades after her death and it is the work for which she’ll always be known (if I have anything to do with it). You can find a copy or two of the book on abebooks.com but act quickly — I may snap it up first.