Merry Fucking Christmas

“Merry Fucking Christmas”
Oil on multiple panels and one canvas.
Closed: 8’ x 6’ Open: 8’ x 12’

Like many people, I have a lot thoughts and feelings about Christmas. When I was a child I was very “into“ the decorating and music of Christmas. And I did my first paintings as Christmas gifts when I was in 5th and 6th grade. Arguably, I discovered the innermost secrets and joy of painting because of Christmas.

One day, in January 2009, I woke with a clear vision for the middle panel of this painting. I envisioned a fat naked Santa with a fake beard in hand sitting atop a squashed pile of opened Christmas presents in front of a wall with snowflake wallpaper. The image came all at once. I immediately made a small study in oil and several drawings.

I put out the word to my friends that I was looking for a real Santa, someone who did Santa gigs for money. I wanted someone old and fat and jolly and who had the whole Santa costume. To my delight there was a Santa working in Seattle who works as an artists model the rest of the year. Unfortunately, he was not able to model directly “from life” for me for reasons I don’t recall so I took photos of him both in and out of his Santa suit.

I ended up having another friend sit for me for the painting. It was important that each part of the painting be created from its own kind of source material.

Sometime after I started the painting, I realized that I could express more of my ideas about Christmas by adding side panels that close forming a large cabinet. My first idea was to make the cabinet like a Christmas gift that one opens to see what is inside. So I decided to paint the outside of the cabinet as fake wrapping paper.

I decided to let my 11-year-old son participate by selecting a wrapping paper of his choice. He picked the Santa head paper and so I began painting roughly 800 Santa heads. Sam (my son) was leaving childhood. I wanted him to enter my studio process in all of its crazy ups and downs. Among other things he watched me struggle with every aspect of each panel. In an effort to make things more like machine-made wrapping paper, we made a stencil of the Santa head and hand stenciled them on to the cabinet. Even with that aid, it still took over a week to paint all the heads. 

Once the cabinet (gift) is open there are effectively two side panels flanking the central image. I decided to make a pair of black and white paintings of my Santa in different aspects of his life. The left panel was created from a childhood photo that he supplied for me. The other panel is a photo I shot of him dressed for work as a Santa. And so, both of these paintings are drawn from photos, one was very old and shot by someone else. The other one was shot by myself and was new. Both have a timeless quality aided by the restricted pallet. The middle canvas is a full color painting and the most “real“ in some senses.

Merry Fucking Christmas Cabinet (Closed)

Closed view of cabinet

“Ambien Daze”. 
Oil on 3 Panels.  
Closed: 48” x 48.” Open: 48” x 96”
Ambien is a medication originally designed for people with high levels of anxiety disorder. It was developed to help keep those individuals from experiencing anxiety attacks. It was taken at night to also help induce sleep. However, it was discovered to have a peculiar affect on people who took it who did not have anxiety disorder or only had mild levels of anxiety. If it was taken at night and without lying down to rest, especially if combined with alcohol, it could produce a kind of hypnotic state while simultaneously decreasing sexual inhibition. In fact, under careful observation by a doctor and with therapy, it was also used to help people overcome sexual inhibitions in order to enjoy a happier sexual life. However, it was abused in social situations. People would “slip” someone an Ambien pill without him or her knowing it. They would or could disconnect from their conscious self and be induced to have sex with someone they did not even know or even remember later.  
The whole soup of sexual obsession, anxiety, extreme seduction, sleep difficulties and the increasingly omnipresence of pornography seemed like the perfect challenge for a painting. Most of the imagery came to me intuitively. I am not sure why or how I came to the idea of the butterflies. And I am not sure why I came up with the idea of the woman with the pillow and the rabbit. These two women were not painted from life or from photographs. They were painted from memory or rather they just appeared in the paintings. The central panel with the  butterflies was created from pictures I downloaded from the Internet. The same is true with the porno image on the front of the cabinet.
The conventional approach would have been to put the porno image on the inside. But this is not meant to be an erotic painting with its itinerant and expected ever increasing levels of raciness. Instead, the pornography is where it begins these days and with this painting. It’s all graphic excess right up front.
Where does one go from here? Into a Palmolive green hallucinogenic state of hollow vacuousness.
Nature offers some clue for transformation and return. I think that’s why the butterflies are there in the middle, in the dark night of Ambien daze. Perhaps there is in nature a chance for healing and restoration.
“Suffering Change”
Oil on canvas and panel
11’ x 9’ closed, 11’ x 18’
In the early 2000’s a social group that was focused on providing people opportunities to educate themselves and experience alternative kinds of sexuality and sexual experience. This was not inherently new. What was New was how open and forthright this was and available it was now becoming for non gay people. Collectively these people referred to themselves as “kinky.” This “center” grew quickly in its first few years to several thousand members.  Eventually it even won official non-profit status.   
Among other contributions to the culture of Seattle and to the developing awareness of what it meant to be kinky, the “Wetspot” hosted an erotic art festival every year.  This festival included a curated art show, an opening night gala and lots of workshops and symposia. It eventually became one of Seattle’s major cultural events of the year.   
During this same time I was developing a social center of my own with a related but different focus called the Little Red Studio. I have written about the Little Red Studio in other sections of this website so I won’t repeat all of that here. Naturally, my focus was more on art or the kinds of experience one has through art rather than on discovering one’s sexual identity. It’s also worth noting that during the early years of the 2000’s my artistic output was focused on the “kinky movement” in the same way that you could say it was focused on the gay movement in the 90’s. This was in part because by the turn of the century the gay movement had shifted from “coming out” to establishing itself within mainstream norms such as winning the right to marry and adopt and raise children. These issues simply didn’t appeal to me as an artist.  
Instead, the “coming out” effort for kinky people was where the edge was for culture and naturally that was where I wanted to be as an artist. This was all the more so because much of this effort for coming out was expressed through the body. There were “play” parties and kinky events both large and small. Well, this was a field day for a visual artist who specialized in painting the figure.  Moreover, I had classical training and a theory of my own to add to this movement that was based more on the Ancient Greek understanding of erotic than the other artists within this movement who also, not so incidentally were predominantly photographers.
For many years I had been deeply moved by a painting by Peter Paul Rubens called “The Descent From the Cross.” Even though I am not a Christian I was moved by the elegance and majesty of the suffering depicted in this painting. Also, the fact that it was a multi panel altar piece meant that the story of the painting could be complicated by the opening and closing of the cabinet.  This complexity was simply not available even to a multi panel static painting like a diptych or triptych.   
I was so interested in this painting that in 1993, shortly after I started painting the figure, I created my own single canvas version of the descent from the cross and offered to give it to Seattle’s second largest cathedral, Saint Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral. To my astonishment they accepted it and hung it in the naive of the church for years.   
It was also my ambition to make a full size copy of this painting one day. In 2001 I even made a journey to visit the painting in Antwerp on my 40th birthday. My wife and I took a trip to Paris to celebrate my birthday and while there I took a 3 hour train ride to Antwerp so I could spend the day visiting this painting first hand. I stayed in the church until they kicked me out to lock up for the day.   When I left the cathedral I walked a few blocks to Antwerp’s red light district and got a coffee at a street side cafe.  It was there, having coffee, watching Antwerps Demi monde culture of prostitutes, street performers, freaks and Johns coming out to do their thing with the fresh memory of seeing this magnificent painting in a deeply spiritual setting that I decided one day I would create a large altar piece that reinvented the idea of death and resurrection in new terms and that would use my contemporaries involved in modern day activities. It was to have the sweep and grandeur of this 300 year old painting. But it was to be about grief in a way that shed light on how to dignify that through individual’s actively rendering that experience into their life rather than directly projecting that through the story or even the idea of a religious figure such as Jesus.  I did not want to denigrate that tradition, in fact I wanted to build on it. But I certainly did not want to create yet another “decent from the cross.” I wanted to abstract the essential themes of the acceptance of death and transformation. But I wanted it to communicate my experience that this worked just as well if not better for me if I rendered meaning into those experiences through my own conscious and willful decisions combined with respect for tradition wrapped in aesthetic arrest.  
The “aesthetic arrest” part was perhaps the most important part. Ever since I learned about art I knew about and admired the idea of the avant garde. And for awhile I yearned to be the artist with the next fresh idea that would shock audiences with something so new and upsetting that it would even make them angry, only to discover years later that this was the next coolest thing.   Unfortunately what I saw happening over the years was an ever more empty desire to do that: simply shock and surprise to the degree that it devolved to little more than what I used to do as a kid… hide in a closet until my sister entered the room whereupon I would leap out and shout something obscene.  My sister would scream and we would all have a good laugh. Fun… but ultimately empty.  That is how I came to see what had happened to the idea of the avant – garde.   
Instead, I wanted to create something that would not only surprise but also enlighten. There have been moments when I have experienced something so beautiful that I entered a weird condition where thinking both stops but is paradoxically all engaged. It is as though there is an opening where some larger consciousness can enter me and a fullness of being is restored. It isn’t as though that fullness was ever gone, but the ability to be aware of it, to be in it, becomes dulled by the necessities of every day activities and concerns. These moments of aesthetic arrest are like dipping into a deep well of nourishing water that is always there but until these moments either forgotten or out of reach. Whatever the case, when they are tasted there is a resetting of one’s sense of being that is deeply restorative. 
Beauty was the way. It had to be so beautiful that one simply had to look at it and with luck have that moment of what I call Aesthetic arrest.
In addition to these challenges, I wanted to communicate the different ideas about “erotic” that made the Little Red Studio and my art different than the Wet Spot and the erotic art they featured at their annual festival.  
Below is a statement I prepared for this painting when it was hung at the 2005 Erotic Art Festival. It explains this distinction very clearly and sheds some light on how I approached the broader issues of transformation through aesthetic arrest. So I am including it here verbatim.  
“Suffering Change” is a multi-panel painting cabinet that is 11’ x 9’ when closed and 11’ x 18’ when open.   
What does suffering change have anything to do with “erotic” and why is it featured in an erotic art show? I interpret “erotic” in a more traditional understanding of the word: as matters of the spirit expressed through the body. I also believe that “erotic” is a gift, which is expressed as a force which has the potential to move through us when activated.   Furthermore, I believe that when activated and passed or gifted on to others it will by its nature cause some kind of increase. I believe that when one “labors” in the service of the gift there is an abiding sense of gratitude. The opposite of this would be narcissism. A narcissist believes that the “gifts” come from him or herself. The “labor” of the narcissist is to display him/herself rather than to suffer change.  
To suffer change is to be aware of it and to embrace it. It may be the changes that are brought about by the birth of a baby or the decision to adopt, getting married or divorced, one’s 50th birthday or one’s 21st birthday, the appearance of wrinkles around the eyes, or a new set of breasts, being hired for a new job or being fired from an old one, losing a loved one or discovering one has a terminal illness. Change is inevitable and it is equally inevitable that our bodies will be doing a lot of the storing and processing of all that is involved.   
So, here is a painting clearly modeled after an altar piece. The idea here is that worship is re-interpreted to mean activating those vital energies through having the courage and creativity to form the kinds of rituals which accomplish this for oneself. The outer panels show two men enacting their marriage or union of 17 years and a group of two women and a man involved in some kind of 3 way union. The child at the bottom of both paintings indicates these individuals are also parents. But clearly they are not a nuclear family. The inside panels feature me with my son in my own version of a “presentation at the temple” theme. My job as a father is not to make my son’s life easier, but rather to lift him up to his own conscious awakening to his inevitable suffering. The painting on the inside left is a tribute to Allena Gabosch, the director of the  Wet Spot.  She is the wise one who holds up the light of making one’s way in life despite its fitting in with convention or not. And the central painting features a group of men who have gathered to hold a cocooning ritual of their own design to celebrate a personal transformation. Here they have just brought him down and are opening him up from a cocoon of duct tape. Each of the men is playing a part of receiving this person into his new awareness of himself.   
The overall idea is that if one embraces or suffers their changes, then they are a gift to others around them. They are enriched, gifted with insight or courage to better embrace the changes which are inevitable for them as well as their families, their communities, their loved ones and even society as a whole. Or, they may simply feel a closer and deeper relationship with them. In any case, these “increases” which come about through a bodily expression of suffering are what I mean by erotic.  

“Excess in Balance”
Oil on canvas and panels
7’ x 5’ closed, 7’ x 10’ open

Oil on panels
4’ x 4’ closed, 4’ x 8’ open

“Michel Fucaut” Triptych
Oil/3 Panels
30″ x 24″

Oil on several panels
10’ x 21’

Adam and Eve
4’ x 4’ closed, 4’ x 8’ open