Gunslinger – A Western Illustration

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This is an older painting that only a small number of my cohort have correctly identified.
I never had much of an appreciation for the Western genre of film-making. My father was raised in an era in which westerns were incredibly popular, and he tried to share his love for ‘Have Gun, Will Travel,’ ‘Gunsmoke,’ and some of the old John Wayne classics like ‘The Cowboys.’

Admittedly, I liked ‘The Cowboys,’ but there was always something about the genre that never really gripped me.
Well, all things in good time, I suppose.

I pretty-much accidentally rented disc one, season one of ‘Deadwood’ from Hollywood Video, back in the day when Hollywood Video and Blockbuster still existed. At the time, rental houses were just starting to feel the strain that Netflix had been putting on the rental industry, and Redbox was just around the corner. I had a cheap-as-dirt membership that allowed me to have any three movies I wanted for any amount of time I desired. Derelict that I was, I would pick up three discs on my way home from work, rip the content, and then swap them out for three more the next day; this was before the whole RealDVD debacle and I was, for that brief window of time, actually ripping the content legally (read about it here).

This unchained freedom to stockpile media led to me watching a lot of content I probably would have passed over otherwise, including almost all Westers. But I devoured the Sergio Leone films, ‘Shane,’ ‘Unforgiven,’ ‘3:10 To Yuma,’ and dozens of others. And when I found ‘Deadwood,’ it was all over. I was astonished by the writing, the set design, the costuming, the music and texture and magnitude of the whole thing.

And I started making illustrations with a western theme, occasionally hybridizing the theme with Dia de los Muertos imagery – skeleton cowboys, sugar skulls, and the like. The illustration above is inspired by a lesser-known Western that captured my attention a few years ago – let me know if you can tell what it’s from in the comments!

Have a great day, everybody!
-joe

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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…

Geometric Art, Color, and Heavy Metal

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Growing up I listened to a lot of Tool, a progressive metal band that some of you may be familiar with and some of you may not be familiar with. I still listen to my old albums. The percussionist, Danny Carey, heralded from a local community here in Kansas, giving us mid-western backwater hicks some prestige. I’ve spent my entire career as an artist trying to explain to people that the “fly-over” states are filled with creative artists and political malcontents, too.

Midway through their career, Tool began incorporating works form artist Alex Gray – anatomical cross-sections, repeating patterns, and other evocative images intended to illustrate the connection between body and spirit – into their albums. The images rely heavily on the symbolism of the third eye and chakra charts, but they also weave this content into renderings reminiscent of anatomy textbooks, esoteric symbols, and studies of celestial bodies. It’s really cool stuff.

At one point or another, after looking at all of that great art (and probably after watching Martin Scorsese’s film Kundun, and after attending a talk with the Dali Lama at the Tucson convention center), I really wanted to make a mandala. There are countless designs out there, but I’d never made one of my own and, frankly, I didn’t know the first thing about making a design like that. I’m pretty confident that I still, for the most part, still don’t. Nevertheless, I nabbed my metal ruler and protractor and took to making some of the most god-awful radial line-drawings the world has ever seen (except, of course, that the world never saw them – I threw ’em all away because, well, they were terrible).

I have, of late, taken the practice up again. It’s a great meditative practice. It’s complicated and simple at the same time, mathematical and symmetrical, but layered with compositional complexity. Today’s image is my first shot out of the gate – I know I can make more interesting images, but I’m very pleased to be back in the saddle and experimenting with these designs. I’m already working on others, which I will share once they’re done.

I’m “getting my zen on,” as an old friend from the San Rafael Valley would say. The repetition, the tedious nature of making pictures like this, open doorways in the mind. These compositions require a certain kind of concentration to make, but they’re also ordered, logical, straight-forward. The perfect kind of exercise for any creative personality who isn’t feeling any other specific drive; it’s a way of exercising the brain and being creative when one is feeling stifled, uninspired, or otherwise “blocked.”

The trick is to keep the pen moving. This is how I keep moving. I hope you like it.

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Self-Portrait With Glasses

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I have hundreds of pages of sketches sitting on my bookshelf. Many of them were produced during a period following the financial collapse of 2008. I was laid off, from three different companies in succession – a bizarre land-speed record, I’d say – and was working in a temporary position at a call center, absorbing other people’s anger and frustration because of their own credit card debt. It was a hard time, but I did the best I could with a worthless education and very few resources of my own. It’s easy enough to satisfy a coffee-shop budget, though, and I re-acquainted myself with a very useful tool: the bicycle.

I was living “on the cheap” during that time. And it wasn’t all-too-terrible.

I met a lot of great people back then, and one of those individuals become a daily collaborator in artistic adventure. We didn’t go to clubs or movies, weekend trips or dinners out on the town. We drank cheep beer and indulged in the most lovely of all free commodities, conversation and creativity. It wasn’t a master’s class in rendering, but rather was a couple of guys occupying various Tucson coffee shops and bars, with mechanical pencils and sketch books at the ready.

We would throw down meaningless – absolutely meaningless – drawing challenges. “Sit here, fool. I’ll sit across from you. Take your pencil. I’ll keep the time. I’ll sit still. You have three minutes. Draw me.”

It was all fun and games. Literally. And it’s actually pretty liberating when you’re guaranteed to fail.

Show me a three-minute ‘perfect’ portrait, and I won’t (necessarily) be surprised; the world is full of genius. But show me that, and you will have shown me one of maybe ten people on earth who can do it. The idea, really, is to short-circuit the very real ‘fear-node’ that prevents one from starting a drawing – or any work of art – in the first place. We wanted to override that fear, eliminate that fear. You have a minute, maybe two. Not many people can sculpt a Michelangelo ‘David’ or paint a ‘Mona Lisa’ in a minute or two. You literally get a free pass. All you have to do is just scribble.

But then I started to revisit the scribbles to see if there might be something worthwhile there. Interestingly, there are a few promising articles, hiding in the piles and piles of otherwise wasted paper.

The image above was a self-portrait challenge. My friend had dropped by the apartment, and it was a woefully empty apartment at the time. My girlfriend – ex-girlfriend – had just moved out to be with a gentleman who played bass guitar in a local band. He was, up until that point, a friend of mine, too. I felt pretty betrayed, pretty alone. Feelings were hurt and I was wounded – my faith in humanity was running shallow. Needless to say, the lack of furniture, the heartache, and the smattering of empty wine bottles about the limited square-footage were probably not resting well with my friends; a few of them were concerned about my well-being.

My buddy Trent was over one day and, after some YouTube time-waste, some cigarettes, and a few beers, he tossed a tattered sketch book at me and instructed me to sit in front of a mirror (plucked from the living room wall, setting on the floor in the living room) and draw myself. The rules for this particular challenge were simple:

1. I wasn’t allowed to look at the paper in my lap; I could only look at my reflection and draw without looking down.
2. I wasn’t allowed to lift my pencil from the page. I had to draw myself without ever lifting my pencil.
3. I had exactly ninety seconds. We both were (are) collectors of stop-watches. He plucked his watch from the pocket of his thrift-store vest, looked up at me, and said…”go.”

I wasn’t surprised by my failure. At the end of the ninety seconds, I looked down and sighed, with relief, that it actually looked like a human being. I quickly buried the sketch with the hundreds of others. It wasn’t until, years later, I started looking at the old sketches, that I started seeing something I couldn’t have seen back then: some of these sketches are actually quite interesting. Our context can blind us, and what seems like a past failure can become a present opportunity. I know that this image isn’t the ticket that’ll save me as a creative professional, but it is interesting to me, today, in a way that it couldn’t have been interesting to me back in 2008.

This image reminds me, in an odd way, of Picasso’s end-of-life drawings. There’s no grandiosity here; I don’t think of myself as possessing the kind of brilliance that Picasso possessed. But there’s a simple, basic, and raw quality to this image, a stylistic quality, that reminds me of some of his lesser works. I’m happy to possess the compulsion to save everything – I would have abandoned this image a long time ago – because I scanned it, archived it digitally, and found it recently while wiping my hard drive.

So here you have it. A broken-hearted man, bespectacled, rendered in pigment and ink on cardboard. A simultaneously confident figure, weighed down with rejection and a crippling fear of loneliness. If you can think of a good title for this piece, please let me know in the comment section.

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Self Portrait As A Dissociative Patriot

Dissociative Self Portrait post“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”

~Carl Jung

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I am an artist. That pretty much means I’m one rung up the ladder from a beggar. Or, more appropriately, I’m a clever beggar, intent on marketing my own neuroses. On a good day, artists are great observers, presenting novel ideas to the world. On a bad day, we’re self-destructive narcissists that only think our ideas are novel.

I avoid self-portraiture. Throughout my career, I’ve met a lot of talented and creative people, but I’ve also met a lot of hacks. College proved to be a breeding ground for self-indulgent creativity, and the “self portrait obsessed” always struck me as inauthentic and cruel.

That being said, here’s a self-portrait. My kind of self-portrait.

An associate of mine and I used to frequent several bars in Tucson. Several. We always brought our sketch books, and we were always armed with markers, pencils, and charcoal. We’d pluck our pocket watches from our vests and come up with drawing challenges. Thirty-five seconds to draw a portrait of the cute girl in the corner. Two minutes to draw one another – we’d sit across from one another and furiously claw at our sketch books. The idea was to override our own insecurities by making it flat-out impossible to make anything of value. You don’t have time to second-guess your decisions when you only have thirty seconds. Nothing terribly good usually comes from a sixty second sketch.

An aesthetic grew out of these hapless challenges, which quickly filled our portfolios. We eventually began to refer to these images as “chaos portraits.” This is a chaos portrait I did of myself. It was a one-minute drawing, made in the dim light of Danny’s Lounge, a bar out on Fort Lowell & Country Club, after a pitcher of cheep beer and a game of pool. I like to think it expresses the constant hateful insecurity of the irrelevant middle-class artist.

It also reminds me that I need to wear ties more often.

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