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Respect My Authoritah…

The old man quickly trained his eyes on the game when the cute young mini-skirted barmaid was paying attention, when she wasn’t, they were burning holes through her ass with a vengeance. He seemed as out of place in a t-shirt as the hipster two seats away from him did showing any interest in football on the TV. Smalltalk when she’d brought him his sandwich revealed that he was a professor at the local University. He communicated this with airs and an affect that, to many pretty young things (though not this barmaid), probably served to assert his position of respect and authority, on campus, anyway. Not that this particular nugget of observation came as a surprise, I mean, it’s not like guys become college professors because they have a passion to teach…

Art, the Perfect Hiding Place

Roughly one year into raising my son, it was the first time in forever that I’d gotten out of the house to simply have fun. Even though we were going to a seedy dive bar, one of my favorite places to draw people, I left my sketchbook at home so I could focus on not focusing, and unwind over a few games of pool with a good friend.

A pitcher or so into the evening, she began shooting at the table across the room… shifting her weight side to side as she sized up each shot. I caught myself staring, when thoughts of my lovely wife and child back home zapped me like an electric dog collar. OUCH! Then I remembered, in a slightly slurred inner voice, “ART! hide that knuckle-dragging lecherous ogle-happy mind of yours behind art, dumbass, that way nobody gets hurt and you’re supposed to stare!” as I pulled the Cross pen out of my pocket and reached for a cocktail napkin.

Dylan Avery

The concept for this new Sketch Hunter category I’m capturing and sharing with you, Artist’s Artist, is to creatively observe other creative people in the space where they create. Genius, right? Previous Sketch Hunter themes have all been more ambush in nature, not asking permission, no heads up, etc… just me drawing what catches my interest in a public place. Also chock full of genius, too, but this one further forces me to get out of my comfort zone, having to pitch the idea to creative people whose work I respect, and seek them out in real time, networking as I do, in circles I want and need to network in. Not to mention that allows me to cross-promote myself and my brand with an existing audience more likely than a random sampling to respond to it. That said, as it’s my project and since we’ve established that I can change the rules whenever I want, I decided, with this entry, to bend the rules of this new sketchbook a little before I’d even begun it.

Mr. Avery

I’ve been connected to filmmaker & musician Dylan Avery on Facebook for a few years, and had appreciated his most well-known creation for a good while before that. Loose Change was a punch to the gut, once I finally allowed myself to consider its thesis, it probably was to you too (though you may have suppressed belief in the real horror it confronted viewers with, by now, like so many others have). It was one of the juggernauts of a viral media barrage I subjected myself to a while back, reluctantly at first… Once I did, BAM, the world was upside down. I took it too far from there and sorta lost my shit for a while.
When Dylan made mention online that he’d be in my neck of the woods for a few days, I reached out to see if he’d be in town on “business”, like making movies or music, figuring the context would be a good fit for the new sketchbook idea and it’d give me a chance to say thank you in person for putting himself out there in such a big way. He wasn’t, it was all pleasure, no business, he was taking the scenic route all the way down to Costa Rica, and simply visiting for a few days with his boyhood friend who lived nearby… but he did have his camera and guitar with him. For future entries in the book, I tell myself, I’ll stick to the plan of capturing creatives in their creative environment, but for this one, fuck it, it’s close enough for rock n’ roll…

Play Freebird!

We met up at his friend Kevin’s place in Delray Beach, the friends both good-natured, mellow Dead Heads. Having come of age in upstate NY at the least preppy-prep school on the planet, I’m friendly and familiar with the type. We walked and talked our way to chill poolside in his friend’s development, our respective props in hand, for a slightly contrived first go at this Artist’s Artist sketchbook.

Already somewhat familiar with his journey, our conversation only supported my take on how it has played out in recent years. In an effort to recapture control of who he is (both internally and externally), to have more dimension than just being the “Loose Change” guy, to be known as nothing like the truth televangelists of the internet age whose antics have only bolstered the negative impression in the minds of so many of what’s known as a “conspiracy theorist”, once he’d created a final edition of his 9/11 opus, and released it with no affiliation to the soured partnerships of his past, he walked away. Soul-searching, I guess you could say, he picked up his guitar and began to play out, rediscovering his North Country hippieness, whether with birkenstock-ish bands or just by the beach with an acoustic and his charming pooch Gordo by his side. His camera would only be trained on passion projects that entertained, as his muse was no longer to set the record straight, it was to have fun collaborating with friends (like our mutual buddy, the über-talented Dave Cahill) on music videos and short, more frivolous documentaries (nothing wrong with that… after all, Sketch Hunter is a series of mostly frivolous micro-documentaries in art and text). Hell, the original direction of the Loose Change project was a fictional thriller until Dylan’s research demonstrated the old adage that “Truth is stranger than Fiction” like no other.

Dylan gently played a few of his go-to tunes while I sketched, probably they were “Boss DJ” by Sublime and “Lucky Ball & Chain” by They Might Be Giants, I’m told in an after-the-fact email. We’re both a little awkward, at first. When I’m behind my sketchbook, I’m not used to directing (or even terribly interested in) the action, just finding an interesting angle to capture it from and he’s never been drawn before, but has been thrown under the bus by more than a few people who have profiled him in other ways in the past. The kid is good and cuts a granola rock pose quite well, but in my slightly informed opinion, this is Dylan reverting to his teens to escape his 20′s, which were considerably less mellow. His research and resulting creations upset the apple cart on an epic level, so much so, that it strikes me that if anyone could never really “go back home again”, it’s this dude. Ultimately, my feeling is, playing Trey Anistasio Jr. isn’t such a bad way to lick the wounds of being chewed up and spit out 100 times over by every subspecies of “press” from the most state censored propagandist mainstream outlets (yes, in case you’ve been living under a rock, you only probably know 31 flavors of Pravda… insert clever mockingbird allusion here) to the most obscure paranoid fringe.

I wish I'd written the brilliant Timothy Leary quote down that he dropped during our chat, as it's how I intended to caption this drawing, rather than writing about how I wish I could have captioned it that way. "That's life", I guess, which I seem to recall was the gist of it anyways.

As he picked up the camera, the conversation followed suit to more of what I really came to visit him for. The light is still on, as Dylan knows what’s up, better than almost anyone. I share my opinions, how I’ve read between the lines I’m privy to, to reconstruct likely scenarios, beyond deconstructing how the accepted ones are obvious horseshit… ahem, theorizing, if you will. The particulars are not so much for the public consumption, as some are speculative, no matter how likely they are accurate. I found this part of our chat quite cathartic, maybe he did too, or he may be sick to fucking death of the topic and only humored me. My experiences, which are entirely different than his, I share as well. He was someone who had a hunch (maybe subconsciously?) that shit was rotten and started to create something make-believe based on that hunch, early on. Me, I had experiences that, post-September 2001 (and doubly post-October 2001), gave me a bizarre kind of survivor’s guilt, leading me to a place where, for a while, I used my talents to vent my misdirected bile in the form of a series of angry pro-war comic strips, aptly titled News Junkie (I was one), some of which, saw print in Cracked Magazine when, not long after, I began my eventually ill-fated relationship with that also eventually ill-fated publication. It took less than a year of media immersion for the cognitive dissonance of an obviously corrupt and orchestrated information blitz to send me scurrying off into towards blissful ignorance. Now content to rot in my rediscovered apathy rather than explore the painful reality of why I had felt such anger towards persons, cultures, races, nations, continents, hell, hemispheres that had done me no harm, directly or indirectly, and how my mean-spirited gullibility (and yours, most probably) allowed for a scenario where Iraq was being stolen for corporations, its people who weren’t murdered in cold blood, dominated by a cruel foreign power. It wasn’t until Dylan’s movie and a few other digitally downloaded slaps to the face that I really realized how it all came to pass. False Flag much, powers that be? That question is rhetorical, but for the particularly dense, the answer is a resounding yes.

Our conversation eventually moved beyond familiar territory, to my asking something to the effect of “Why not write a story of your experience creating Loose Change and how the fallout that came with it affected you?”. “Funny you should mention that…” he replies and explains that he has such a project  in the hopper, awaiting follow up from and the potential, eventual collaborative efforts of a very respected filmmaker. To me, it makes perfect sense and is the logical progression… soul-searching complete, a mostly healed Dylan returns from his Jules from Pulp Fiction, doing Cain from Kung Fu’s walk of the earth to just tell his story… lay it bare to the world, his supporters, his detractors. “This is what happened to me then…” seems like the best way to finish healing in a responsible way, as the very public record of what really happened in Loose Change doesn’t touch at all on the drama and trauma of what really happened to its creator, the unintentional lightning rod #1 of the truth movement. I suggested that if the collaboration looks as though it may have stalled or may even fall through, it strikes me that an Autobiographic Graphic Novel treatment might make for a more measured way to first communicate such a story, anyway. He didn’t dismiss the idea.

Just a pinch of Basel…

So, my only previous Art Basel experience was 5 or so years back, when some friends and I trucked down to enjoy a free Iggy & The Stooges concert that was part of the festivities that year on the beach in Miami. It was a nightmare, we missed all but the last 2 & 1/2 songs because it took so fucking long to find a parking space and then at least a half hour speed walk to get from the space we finally found, and paid through the nose for, to where the stage was set up.

With that experience in mind, but still wanting to go document this massive international art event in my backyard with my sketchbook, I chose to hit the Wynwood Arts District, rather than South Beach. I’d not yet visited the sprawling neighborhood of brilliantly un-blighted warehouses, despite many invites from friends and associates with work and gallery space in the area. I am glad I finally chose to check the place out, as am sure I’ll be back soon and often. I was able to park one half of a block from the action and didn’t have to experience much in the way of megabucks “Emperor Wears No Clothes” douchebaggery, there, either. The art scene there is real, raw and alive! Every surface, a canvas, the buildings themselves a giant’s gallery of exciting and staggeringly beautiful mural after mural. Fe, fi, fo, fuck yeah!

After a walk-through of the area to get a read on what was where, I hit a tavern across the street from Wynwood Walls for a little liquid motivation. I sketched a threesome of bar patrons there. It wasn’t like my usual bar sketching, where I tend to favor the funniest looking face in the room and study the shit out of them for a likeness and a some snippet of conversation and/or editorialization on my part. They were a non-descript trio of young adults, nothing terribly interesting about them, normally they’d be attractive enough to disqualify or (take your pick) not attractive enough to qualify for a spot in my book. I was just going through the motions… warming up over a beer… the alcoholic with weird self-esteem isues and social anxiety in me insisted the first drawing be here, so I could lubricate my mind with an Arrogant Bastard before flopping my proverbial wang (my girthy sketchbook) around this bohemian colony of bonafide starving artists.

Once I finished my beer and had the sketch down, I had a little pang of hunger (who can create with one of those?) signifying it was 2-minutes-to food truck o’clock… a massive lot of mobile eateries awaited down the road, each one more enticing than the next. I grabbed an epic shrimp taco from one, and scanned the area for somewhere to sit to enjoy it. The only seat in the house was a corner seat at a picnic table half-taken by four of Miami’s finest, wrapping up their own food truck food orgies. My taco being too hot, I put it down to let it cool and contemplated starting another sketch. Once I realized I was more intimidated at the prospect of drawing the cops at the other side of my table than anyone else within eye-shot and considered why (photography is not a crime… and neither is drawing, damn it!) I had no choice but to focus my pens on them. There was no need for me to utter a “don’t taze me, bro”, as they pretended not to notice that I was 2 feet away from them, a hulking, sweaty mass of dipshit behind a sketchbook, looking right at them as I scribbled.

Fed and sufficiently warmed up, I began wandering the galleries and mural exhibits. It’s amazing, the sheer volume of work on display in Wynwood. Inspiring, too! I wanted to keep my focus on more personal, human imagery, as per usual, but did catch a couple of murals being worked on in some of the sketches. This being the first of them. The stereotypically b-girl dudded young asian woman painting with her back to a young brother slinging what certainly smelled to be some phenomenally ribs and chicken in a barbecue trailer parked streetside struck me, so I had to sketch the scene. It was an odd juxtaposition, even before hipster Children of the Corn wandered into the shot to admire the mural in progress. The mix is just right in this part of town, if you’re into interesting people watching.

I wandered back towards the huge walled empty lot housing a giant 2 story-tall Ron English painting of a two-headed Disney-esque character among about a dozen other murals, each as beautiful as they were large, a few truck trailer galleries and a small, free-standing bar. There was a full stage set-up on the ground in front of the English mural, I thought it would be a great spot to draw once it was populated with more people, presumably listening to whatever music was going to be playing later. I lingered for a little while scoping out a scene that felt like it had to be sketched, but it wasn’t to be. On the way out of that open air mural courtyard, I came across a young man and woman furiously dancing spray cans up and down the sidewalk, together and separately, creating on an outer wall down the block from where I made my exit. So many of the lesser-known artists I came across were still gleefully running themselves through the wringer, determined to have their work visually scream more than the next’s to secure whatever glory comes with such success. I imagined they were a couple, and thought their visual duet to be a supremely romantic pursuit and passion to share. They didn’t break for any public displays of affection, as they were all business about the art they were creating together, so it could be that their relationship was all business, too. Maybe they’ll see this drawing of mine and answer the question for me directly (though I don’t really wanna know if it doesn’t jive with my imaginings).

I’d breezed through the Multiversal exhibit upon my arrival, and could tell that as it filled with people later in the night, it would be a great place to find somebody I’d want to draw. It was chock full of “emerging” artists paying for a chance to catch the eyes of art lovers that might respond to their work and give their names and careers a launch. Entering the exhibit through a little garden walkway (grassy alleyway) there was a small stage with someone singing folk-ish music, a few merch tables of Etsy-ish nick-nacks, a refreshments table and, just before the entrance to the main gallery, at an easel stood a confident old fellow with a rather distinctive mullet slashing at a pad of paper with a pencil, interpreting a seated man’s face into a by-the-books, simple street artist’s portrait. He seemed out of place in a sea of young adults-as-peacocks festooned and striking poses in ways to would attract maximum attention. I was compelled to study him for a while, maybe because his particular delusion (vision) related to me at least as much as that of the recent art school grads exhibiting in the main gallery. Was this some bizarro alternate future reality of mine? This project I’m creating here, Sketch Hunter, is it really so different from making cheesy portraits as a street artist for $20 a pop? I might be feeding my ego with what I’m creating, but at least this guy’s feeding himself, I thought, so why the self-importance and snobbery in my first reaction? I considered how some of the truly greatest artists I know and know of, and I do mean great, relative to anyone from any time, make their living interpreting faces in much the same manner as this dude. With my initial shitty judgmental notions sufficiently beaten back into the recesses of my pea brain through reason and reflection, I commenced to draw a cheesy candid sketch of the man in action for you to see here. Looking back, I wish I’d have paid for a portrait of myself when I had the opportunity.

The overstimulation of interesting art literally EVERYWHERE was taking its toll and I was ready to call it a day (or afternoon and evening, to be more specific). That was, until I passed the front window of a gallery and caught sight of a man holding his young son inside one of the strangest contraption I’ve ever seen. Who thinks to make a glass bubble full of sand and cactuses that can be worn like a giant 2-person helmet? I have no clue, and don’t really care, but the sappy new Dad in me insisted that it was a moment I’d stumbled upon that warranted a sketchbook capture. I wondered what my son would think if I put his head in the contraption with me… He wouldn’t “get” it (he’s only barely 1 now and his 37 year old father barely got it), and surely would have tried to put a cactus in his mouth, I thought with an audible chuckle. Shit do I love him. His mom, too. It was time for me to head home, I was tired and missed my family. So, once I had my lines down, that’s exactly what I did.

See you next year, Art Basel!

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