The NY Times article on gentrification and race from a few weeks back identified me as an artist. This is true, even though I haven't made a "living" from being an artist since 2001 (Im in IT now). Back in 1995, lots of artists were moving to Harlem--drawn by the more space for less money thing--but it was in Harlem that I underwent my transformation from just a visually focused person, to one who understood the gravitas of process. Starting with drawing and oil painting, I transitioned from canvas and stretchers to cardboard and plastics. Creating art from the available materials, I broke down my scavenging to a science: Thursdays was recycling on the Upper West Side, on the Upper East, Tuesdays. On Monday mornings I would scour the Parks for crack vial stoppers, lighters, glassine baggies, syringes and the occasional shell casing from the weekends activities. All this detritus was to then be carefully collected, washed, sorted and filed. Over the years I've amassed a huge collection: nearly 2000 crack vial stoppers, 500 lighters, 1000 cigarette boxes, 500 liquor bottles and thousands of weed, pcp and heroin baggies. I drew the line at anything with bodily fluid and actual drugs, having found crack on about 1/2 occasions. All of this "disposable" material became the metaphor for the "disposable" people of Harlem, who were caught up in this destructive cycle. I then used this material to express my own feelings of victimization in an effort to re-gain control over my environment. Here's the result of some of that obsessive-compulsive behavior:
Cracking Up (1996)
This I made from cardboard glued to wood. I then gessoed the two and glued crack vial stoppers, hypodermic syringes and lighters to it. All in all, the street value of the crack is about $5000.
This next work, Hands On, 1997, was a result of all of the collection notices, bills, tickets, summonses and other paper detritus that I received due to financial hardship. I then glued all of that to a canvas and painted 11th C. Japanese mudras in a rotating square pattern. In the center is a buddha--Amitabyha--the Buddha of the Pure Land.
Amitabhya lives in a state of bliss that is just shy of Samdhi (enlightenment), but through Art, creates a plane from which Enlightenment is achievable. Art became this plane for me and this is how I dealt with my pain during those years, by transforming it into something positive!
I began to used elements from the subway, like signs and Metrocards...
Wet Paint, 1998
Train of Thought, 1999
and combined them in ways which were meaningful to me. I had the fortune of meeting up with James de la Vega--who shared similar sentiment--and in 2002, we collaborated on a few projects about Harlem.
De La Vega's Art Show, 103rd and Lexington Ave., (2002)
I also began using IDs, credit cards, phone cards and and other forms of electronic commerce mechanisms including packaging.
Yellow Jacket, Metrocards, glue. (2000)
Organ Donor, 2002
False Profit, 2003
US currency, magazines, advertisements, packaging on gessoed cardboard.
Queztalcoatl, (in progress)
phonecards on gessoed foam core.