The Curious Man – A Chaos Portrait

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Years ago I produced a series of images with a group of people, most of which I wouldn’t be able to name. These images were made by doing speed-drawings of friends and strangers – and self portraits – in simple pencil. These were usually executed in two minutes or less. Then we’d lay out other drawing materials – markers and charcoal and chalk and ink – and try to finish the piece in an additional one to two minutes.

These are basic gestures, and the untrained nature of the execution (alongside the frenetic energy generated by a huge time constraint) resulted in some some interesting pieces. I believe this is an image of me sitting in the smoking patio at one of my favorite neighborhood bars in midtown Tucson.

But I can’t really be sure…

June 24, 2017 – Caitlin Strachen

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Caitlin is a magnetic and multi-talented woman. She’s also effortlessly mysterious; she seems almost shy and reserved when you spend time around her because she’s incredibly thoughtful and quiet. But she springs into action when the spotlight lands on her. Today’s images come from the 2012 ‘Cabaret de los Muertos’ in Bisbee, a nascent variety show that, sadly, only lasted two seasons. But hey, that’s small-town life. When one tradition fails to take root, there are always other interesting concoctions that spring up.

At the time, Caitlin was still studying art and living a couple hundred miles north in Prescott, Arizona, but with roots and family in Bisbee, she made the trip down and dazzled. Her first set was a tap-dance, dressed in red and black, and she caught everybody’s eye. In local theater, some presentations are humorously under-rehearsed (but usually beloved because the performers are locally known). This performance, however, was elevated beyond that modest ‘community theater’ standard. She absolutely killed it.

And I don’t think it’s even possible to take a bad photograph of her- truth words.

Porcelain skin, a dancer’s physique, and a captivating smile – she is a pleasure to watch. She sings, plays the flute, and dances, and she does all of these things with a grace, elegance, and professionalism that’s rare, especially for a woman her age. This quiet, seemingly shy blonde girl – with the perfect curly locks – is something special to behold.

But you’ll have to go to Bisbee if you want to see her.

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June 20, 2017 – Cirque Arts

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I’m not sure if it’s just that I was too busy or completely blind, but it seems to me like the institution of circus arts wasn’t really that much of a thing twenty years ago. While I was working and going to college, it seemed to me like Flam Chen was the only performance troupe of its kind here in Tucson. Then, almost out of the thin air, it seemed like all kinds of insane talent was erupting from the Old Pueblo. Elemental Artistry, Cirque Roots, and Tucson Circus Arts began to gain momentum, and a variety of independent performance artists started to couple with area musicians to create unique live performances. Poi spinning, hula hoop choreography, aerial acrobatics, sword swallowing, and every other conceivable form of circus, vaudeville, and musicianship was available around every corner.

Today’s image of the day is a picture of one such performer, Jimmy Linenberger, performing with The Bennu. I continue to be amazed by the massive amount of talent and creativity out there, and feel incredibly blessed to have had the opportunity to see people like Jimmy perform on stage.

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June 14, 2017 – Nowhere Man and a Whiskey Girl

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It’s still hard to put into words when I look back on these two. I met the husband and wife musical duo at a 4th Avenue bar in Tucson, Arizona back in 2005 or 2006. The two were playing music in the bar lounge. It was a week night and there was no cover charge, which is really the only reason my girlfriend and I went out that night; we were both going to university and didn’t have a tremendous amount of spare cash, so free music and cheap happy hour drinks were always a solid draw.

I really enjoyed the music. Amy and Derrick always had magnificent chemistry. They always seemed happy and in love, and that came through in their music. They’d take breaks in between songs and interact with the crowd, ask questions, take requests, and make jokes. It was impossible to walk away and not take some of that joy with you. As relatively broke as I was, I had to buy one of their albums, and it become a regular part of my musical rotation.

Years down the road I secured a job in the old copper mining town of Bisbee, Arizona. With the mining operation all but shut down, the town had long-ago become a mecca for artists, musicians, drop-outs and various other vagabonds. It’s unique color and history also make it a draw for tourists, which sustain a healthy hospitality industry – restaurants, bars, and hotels abound in Historic Bisbee. As it turned out, Amy and Derrick called Bisbee their home; they played multiple sets at various venues each and every week. My favorite times were Wednesday nights at The Copper Queen saloon where Amy would play solo, seated behind her keyboards, and take requests from anybody who happened to be there – funny, improvised, and ingenious performances. I quickly learned, when dropping by Doug Stanhope’s Super Bowl party, that the couple actually rented a house from the comedian and lived adjacent to the Stanhope compound.

In a small town, everybody seems connected to everybody else in one way or another.
I could never boast a close, personal relationship with Nowhere Man and Whiskey Girl, but I always enjoyed their music and their kind, generous energy.

Amy Ross suffered from lupus and kidney problems. After spending more than a week at the Tucson Medical Center, she passed away at the age of forty. She’d been suffering from a blood infection and died shortly before a scheduled surgery. Derrick shot himself in the head in his home in Bisbee with a firearm he purchased shortly after his wife’s death. Amy’s death was announced on her Facebook page:

“Hey kids! Bad news! I died this morning and Derrick didn’t know how to tell you. I love you all and hope you go out and be nice to someone. Funerals are a bore so hopefully I don’t have one. Give Derrick some alone space…He stinks at this stuff so leave him be for now. Thanks for all the kindness…Please spread it around.
~Whiskey”

We learned shortly thereafter that the message was penned by Doug Stanhope after receiving permission and password information from Derrick.

It’s hard to tell if anybody had any idea that Derrick would take his own life. He’d mentioned that he might kill himself while speaking on Stanhope’s podcast before Amy’s death, but such a public proclamation – and on a comedy podcast no less – didn’t seem to bend too many ears, especially when speaking with a man known for humor that’s regularly pretty dark.

The whole town, still absorbing the loss of Amy Ross, was in shock after learning about Derrick’s suicide. A gathering of locals descended upon The Grand Hotel Saloon in celebration of the lives of Nowhere Man and a Whiskey Girl. Local musicians sang songs, covered tunes from the deceased couple, and many glasses were raised. The bar was packed with glassy-eyed locals, and I like to think that it was a decent send-off.

Today’s photograph was taken in the green room at The Bisbee Royale, a short-lived night club that is now home to the local radio station.

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June 12, 2017 – The Pit Fire

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For several years, while I was living in the borderlands of Southeastern Arizona, I made it a point to attend the annual Cochise College Pit Fire. The entire evening surrounds a main event, the lighting of the pit fire itself; it’s an ancient method of baking clay pottery in which the pottery is placed in a trench dug into the ground with a wood fire burning above it. The result is pottery covered in interesting patterns and colors.

The evening is peppered with various musical performances on several outdoor stages, dance performances, acrobatics, theater art, gourmet food supplied by the college’s culinary arts club, and other vendors. It’s free for anybody who wants to attend, and it is genuinely one of the more interesting (and little-known) events in this somewhat remote area of Cochise County, right along the Mexican border.

I wouldn’t even be able to tell you if today’s picture depicts a booked performance artist or if it’s just an enthusiastic attendee who decided to spin poi in the field where the pit fire’s lit. It doesn’t really matter – it illustrates the energy and creativity of the event.

If you live in southern Arizona and want to attend, all you need to do is mark your calendar. You can check out their website here.

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June 06, 2017 – Logan Phillips

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Lifted from his website, Logan Phillips explains what he’s all about in words more eloquent than I could conjure. Suffice it to say, being in the room while this man speaks is an experience; I have never been moved by spoken word or poetry, ever in my life, until I met this man. I’ve been moved to tears by Steinbeck and been affected by Virgil’s “Aeneid,” had my mind twisted and perplexed by Hume, questioned my reality because of Descartes and questioned my morality because of Kant, but I had never been struck, emotionally, by spoken word poetry. I had never seen an artist so skillfully weave his stories.
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“Poetry is holding the center, not hiding in the margins: we construct our world through words. Poetry is the art of putting into words all that which is otherwise unsayable, of constructing other ways of knowing.

No matter where I’m working––the DJ booth, the classroom, the art studio, the stage––I’m creating a poem; stringing together disparate elements to say something new, creating connections in collaboration with everyone in the room––

E.E. Cummings said he was ‘overly fond of that precision which creates movement.’ Poetry is word precision, poetry moves the world forward.”

~LOGAN PHILLIPS

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A lot of people immediately disregard poetry as something that just isn’t for them. The word itself, ‘poetry,’ elicits the trauma of under-enthusiastic English teachers and classmates murmuring, passionless, one after the other, lines of Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost in sterile high school classrooms. Many of us have a negative association with all kinds of art specifically because they were taught so poorly. Logan’s mission is to illustrate that poetry can be meaningful and moving, that it’s accessible and culturally significant. He participates in education programs and seeks to inspire creative passion in our youth, which is no small task.

I’ve enjoyed sitting-in during several of his readings, and encourage you to take a look at his work. You can learn more about him at his own website here.

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A Lost Portrait

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Almost ten years ago I was laid off from work. It was like being dumped for the first time – I didn’t know quite how to take it or what to do, and it hurt. I had recently moved into an old cinder-block garage that had been converted into a guest house. A dreary place with low ceilings, no climate control, swarming with termites. The air was so thick during the monsoon season that my photographic prints stuck to each-other, ruining them, and the lower areas would collect pools of water.

In short – it was an adventure. Enough time separates the ‘then’ and the ‘now’ that I have some fond memories of sitting on the “living-room” floor with my friend Tammy, playing songs on the acoustic guitar by candlelight when the monsoon storms knocked out the power, a ceramic plate between us on the floor with tobacco and rolling papers. I spent all of my time reading the backlog of books in my collection and would go on bike rides around town.

Another of my friends, Megan, spent a lot of time being a lazy bastard with me, too. Many, many years ago I promised her I’d make a painting of her. As time passed, she would always remind me and I would always tell her I’d get to it eventually. While digging through some old hard drives looking for material for the ‘Image A Day’ project, I found an old folder with some snapshots from that summer of uncertainty, alongside a halfway completed digital illustration. I decided to set everything aside and finally finish it.

The irony, of course, is that Megan has vanished from social media, so I don’t even have the pleasure of tagging her. Smart phones were barely a thing, I was too poor to have one at the time, and none of my old flip-phones survive. So she’s lost to the ages, floating out there somewhere. With any luck, this post will magically cross her path.

In either even, it feels good to cross another project off the infinite list.
Onward and upward.

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