"Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand."
I have been drawing and painting all of my life. The first inkling I ever had that one could actually make a living doing this was when my kindergarten teacher offered my mother five dollars for a drippy little watercolor I had painted during class. My mother declined the offer but the seed was planted; I was going to be an artist when I grew up.
I did my growing up in Orange County, California, back in the days when it still had a few oranges. It was a mostly normal, happy childhood. Disneyland was just up the road from us and I spent a lot of time there. It didn't seem to do me too much harm. Some of my fondest memories are of our annual summer vacations in the family station wagon. My dad loved to drive and we would take these epic road trips, crossing the starlit desert at night to wind up in exotic places like Tuscon, Flagstaff or Albuquerque. My love for the Southwest is firmly rooted in those childhood summer trips.
Like most kids, I loved cartoons and went to see every new release and re-release from Walt Disney that came to town. Of course, I also lived for Saturday mornings and the Bugs Bunny - Roadrunner Show. To this day I blame Chuck Jones for my warped sense of humor. I learned to draw by copying the cartoons in Mad Magazine and filled the tops of my school desks with elaborate murals and funny doodles. I got in trouble for this more than once and had to stay after class to clean every desk.
I've always had a fondness for Westerns as well. TV was full of Westerns when I was a kid and my friends and I spent many happy hours playing Wild Wild West in the backyard. I always wanted to be Artimus Gordan (the smart one). But, as things turned out, my inner cowboy would have to wait many years before he could ride free on the open range.
My mother, bless her heart, wanted me to be an architect. I wanted to make funny pictures. For a long time, I dreamed of being an animator and took a few college courses when I was old enough. My goal was a job with Disney - mostly because everyone in school told me my drawings looked Disney-esque. As it turned out though, I didn't really have the temperament for animation and probably would have been fired from Disney quicker than you can say Steamboat Willie.
I was a distracted student in high school and college where I was far more interested in girls than in actually learning anything. Taking some acting classes and appearing in a few plays had me considering the life of a professional actor for a short time. When I learned that the odds for success in acting were even longer than they were for art, I turned back to my old drawing board.
In the early 1980s I met a girl, dropped out of college (not her fault) and moved up the coast to the hippie infested burg of Santa Cruz. I got a job at the Boardwalk where I could ride the rollercoaster for free anytime I wanted. Life was good. I thought I had plenty of artistic talent and more school would only ruin it. So, having no idea what I was doing, I jumped into the world of commercial art. I got a lucky break when I landed a job as assistant to designer Charlene Garish. This was a great education and she introduced me to her friends at the Courtney Davis licensing agency. Soon I was designing cute-little-cuddly-things myself. My designs would eventually find their way on to posters, wrapping paper, napkins, paper plates, stickers, coffee mugs and all sorts of other useless consumer products. If I'd stuck with it I probably could have gotten rich, but sticking to things was not my forté in those days.
I wandered down the coast to Santa Barbara where I worked as a bartender for a while. I did it mostly for the money but came away with a first class education in human nature. I broke up with my girlfriend (again, not her fault) and set about teaching myself how to paint for real. I read every book I could find on the subject and experimented with different media and countless techniques. I threw away what didn't work and held onto what did. For years I told people that I had graduated from the Walter T. Foster School of Art.
Then, all of a sudden, I felt the call of the wild deep down in my socks. I wanted to wander the backroads and hidden paths of the desert; to explore canyons and climb mountains; to talk to coyotes and lizards and ravens and listen to the wild wind. And I wanted to paint those things. So, leaving California and a stack of unpaid parking tickets behind, I set off to do just that.
By the early 1990s I'd found my way to Arizona where I Ianded a job as a pretend cowboy/tour guide in the Southwestern fantasyland that is Sedona. Those acting classes finally paid off. In the course of my new employment I had to ride a horse from time to time and got to know some real cowboys (and cowgirls) up close and personal. I have a lot of respect for those folks. Painting pictures is easy - cowboying is hard work. I came to realize that there was a big difference between the Hollywood version of the West that I had grown up with and the brutal, quiet, stubborn reality of actual cowboy life.
I lived up in Jerome for a while, a befunked, tumbledown, haunted old town that slouches on a mountainside across the valley from Sedona. The town is simply thick with artists and it wasn't long before I became involved (some would say embroiled) with the Jerome Artists' Cooperative; a local roadside attraction, public restroom and sometime art gallery. This proved to be the perfect fermentation ground for an artist like myself with a fistful of talent, a head full of dreams and a wallet full of lint.
My style began to evolve. I stopped painting straight landscapes - not because I didn't like them, but because they looked just like everybodyelse's landscapes. I was after something a little different. I spent a lot of time on Sedona's Gallery Row, exposing my impressionable mind to the full pastel grandeur of Southwestern kitsch. My head began to reel with visions of noble Indians, weathered cowboys, cute but dangerous wildlife and countless Technicolor sunsets over majestic canyons. "Yes," I thought, "I can have some fun with this."
The West I saw depicted in those galleries was the same one I had grown up with on TV. Not a real time or place, this was a land of myth - an imaginary West. So, I thought, "why not paint the myth?" Not as historical drama or morality play this time, but as uniquely American folklore that simply begs comment. From this approach, cowboys and Indians and their entire retinue become icons in a visual language; new stories emerge from a post-modernist sensibility that can spin these icons into new and uncharted territory. I use humor, whimsy and surrealism to get my point across. One of my favorite sayings has always been: "A window opens when a man laughs. A window through which you can insert an idea."
I took my act on the road, paying dues on the art festival circuit. Driving my old pickup to any show that would let me in, I displayed my paintings next to booths selling salad dressing or holiday figurines made from old egg cartons. I lived on falafel, kettle corn and various unidentifiable foods-on-a-stick. Then a funny thing happened: people started to like my work. I was featured in Santa Fe and Durango and Palm Springs. Paintings began to sell and new galleries beckoned. Today, I'm proud to say that my paintings and prints hang in private collections from Austin to London to Tel Aviv. Go figure.
About twelve years ago I married myself a cowgirl, moved out to the sticks and surrounded myself with horses, goats, chickens, cats, dogs, kids and beautiful rolling ranch country.