A Happy Childhood
Babies do not want to hear about babies; they like to be told of giants and castles.
No one keeps a secret so well as a child
the way a secret bubbles out of you
like a rose of jericho in reverse
it shrivels up in the air of your parent’s bedroom
somehow a miracle deflates it before your eyes
you realize you didn’t have to keep something so big
in your heart for so long
I am seven or nine years old in one of my paintings. I paint myself as a grown man. The painting depicts my brother riding over me on his Haro BMX bicycle. It is not my best painting, but I want to talk about it because it is the kind of situation so unfortunate and funny, I needed to paint it. I remember the tire tread on my stomach. It felt like my stomach was a turning bucket full of water, emptied out. My lungs dump out the air I sucked in moments before closing my eyes in anticipation of my brother’s “cool trick”. Misled, I curl up like an abandoned cicada shell and smell Ivan the black cat’s urine that hangs suspiciously on the dandelion puffs around my face. I am wearing my very red Spiderman t-shirt. The black webbing detail raises up bumpy and weird on my fingers. Who rides over their brother on a bicycle? Has a dozen or so years been generous enough to make that memory funny? I remember feeling proud that my brother had run over me on his bike. I cried obviously, but even now I tell the story. Some sick part of me liked being ridden over, or at least I like that I have endured.
All my paintings come from scenarios like that. When I am drawing and thinking about my life, I run into memories or scenarios that have what I’d call the right ingredients. The first ingredient is beauty. The way my mother’s arm curls around her head as her other arm lays hilariously over some text from Women’s Health, the lamplight warmer than the night air. Beautiful images of my whole family stampeding in a five kilometer race to honor or grieve for my dead cousin. The song “Red Sails in the Sunset”. The second ingredient is sadness. A crumpled up receipt lying next to the olive oil left from sardines. A room filled with people that look askance to feel observed. A reflection in a car window of my crying face, looking at an ex-lover driving coldly on I-83 away from a very tacky restaurant. Feeling small and stupid next your burly, funny, confident brother. The third and best ingredient is humor or idiocy. An angel flying over a gas station, or an embarrassing erection at homecoming with teenage girls ten feet tall. A stink bug at the dinner table riding in my sister’s little hands. Socks that are not folded right. A girl doing a back-dive. A pine tree shaped and scented car freshener zooming at 55 miles per hour past it’s motionless namesake. If you mix in a reference to art history, such as the Etruscan egg or Egyptian profile, you really have a potent brew for a painting.
I’m just trying to be honest. I want to say “Here is what life was like”. I don’t think that I want to say in such a paternal tone though. More like the tone someone might use to show an alien why living on Earth is exciting and terrifying at the same time- an honest tone. I want to make a time capsule painting that makes some painter in the future laugh until he cries about the year 2014. “They used to use these things called plastic tableware!”, they might say through laughter to another artist friend. They would laugh until they see something that makes them think about their family, or child-self in a sobering way. Maybe it is the expression on a face or the way hands only sort of touch each other. I want to be the honest painter a professor once noticed in the fast drawings I never thought to show anybody. Quips on life so idiotic and unprocessed they leave you at your knees. She told me something I might as well get tattooed all over my body. “You only embarrass yourself if you never embarrass yourself”. I hope for a lifetime of ultimate embarrassment.
You ever get the feeling that people
Are mostly right about you