KELSEY THE MIRACLE DOG! (as the song goes, “With A Little Help From My Friends”). That’s the nickname I gave to her when her vibration told me she would heal. It was 14 months ago, many of the white coat wearers said she’d be a gone in 3 months or less. Others cited she’d never regain feeling or walk again. I knew they were wrong in my being but also made a kind of peace with the odds. Yet Kelsey would prove them wrong at each step, never showing anything but her spunky self really even when its been hard for the humans too. The tail wag came back earliest some months ago, never really leaving. It was like the sign of hope from the start. Then came left foot curling, grabbing fingers, followed by eventual throwing that leg in her cart as if she was willing it forward. Along with that, more butt & hip shifting as she swam to propel and turn. In the past month or so, it was as if when I’d sit her down she naturally attempted to brace herself with her left leg but wasn’t sure what to make of it less to say it felt like strength returning. I made note of it. Then last week, my birthday week, amazing things. Kelsey met me at the door out of her cart on 3 legs. Still assisted with her recent surgery leg, but all of the same, using it to walk, toes on the ground. Incredible. But as many of you know, with the cancer having hit the right leg, her original ACL tear and surgery leg as a puppy and ironically the leg that ended up being her best leg in life, the surgeons felt it was 50/50 on amputation and a huge test of faith and will. But once more, Kelsey’s vibrations told me she wanted to keep it and the surgeons, some of the best in the biz in North Carolina, saved the leg. While I was in Champaign, Illinois for my birthday, Kelsey had a visit form her acupuncturist and something remarkable like this happened…….
Aesthete or Esthete. 1. a person who has or professes to have refined sensitivity toward the beauties of art or nature. 2. a person who affects great love of art, music, poetry, etc., and indifference to practical matters.
I truly believe everyone has various inner spirits inside of them, no matter what vibration you find yourself using your senses to harness, there’s some work involved in fine tuning it. I certainly had some help. My grandmother (see portrait of Koko), on my mother’s side was instrumental in speaking to my own inner artist and would spend time showing me how to color within the lines, but at the same time, not to be limited by them. She passed away when I was 9 of Alzheimer’s but in my short life with her, made an indelible impression. The portrait of her and I as a newly adopted infant, was my very first attempt at a life drawing when I was 17 or 18. My mother too, also deserves credit with developing my artistic sensibilities. When I was really just a young boy, she’d sign us up for public craft and art classes and so together on the weekends we’d go down to the local craft store on my small town’s main street, and there did wood burning, some sewing, and very simple painting together. She would also be the person who would later expose me to musical arts and saw Kabuki theater around the age of 12, experimental composer, Phillip Glass (life changing) and more. I was very fortunate to have such exposure to the arts. My mother very gifted musically, always playing the piano, organ and as a young woman, she was awarded the John Philip Sousa Award for trumpet. Looking back, even being from a small town, I had unique closeness to the arts and some special role models and guides.
In spite of the obvious exposure to the arts I really fell into pursuing fine arts academically by default. Truth be told, in the 8th Grade as my parents saw me entering High School in the next year, they realized I didn’t seem to really have a calling so nudged me into the art classes. I had also shown an aptitude for out of the box thinking that actually cost me some marks, but it was validation to myself that I was a “creative thinker.” During difficult adolescent years, art became kind of my way to stand apart and a way to find a way to share my observations of the world around me. Nearly every year that I entered art into Illinois Scholastics competitions, I came away with honors and more of a road opened before me. Class trips to universities to tour their facilities also exposed me to very talented artists and eccentric personalities. So in the vein of those connections and in the tradition of other artists with a “look,” I developed an eccentric look of my own and became my home town’s original “Goth kid.” Which seems almost passe to any school in any town today, but was very unusual and somewhat daring in the 1980s in central Illinois.
“Mom & Me” (1986) “My Best Goth Hair” (1987)
During my high school years in Illinois, the Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD), routinely shipped out catalogs to their college and to me of all the school catalogs I’d seen, their’s was the best designed and really said, “art school.” To some degree it came down to two schools for me, SCAD and the Art Institute of Chicago. The latter seemed much more serious and the city colder to me. After a trip down to Savannah during a Spring visit, and waking up from the ride in a town exploding with azaleas, I felt like an artist who had died and gone to Heaven. The campus made up of historical buildings throughout this town of charming, even exotic squares full of sculpture by famed artists like Daniel Chester French, Felix de Weldon and others, for a lover of art and history, the town and the school were undeniable. Plus after having visited Spain in high school, the trip left me wanting something older and more European and Savannah was an artist’s sort of city scape. After the school offered me a $25,000 scholarship, I made the move.
I found myself making art like crazy. Part inspired by the town, and a way for putting the nerves of being 1000 miles away from my family into something positive. My dorm room walls were lined with so much art that once when a fellow student asked if I’d brought some of this with me from high school, I replied, “No, I’ve done all of this in 3 weeks.” He was astonished to say the least.
While in school I dabbled a little bit in theater and some video production, but those departments were really in their infancy but they allowed me to dabble in some things that would become a part of my life later in performing and TV & Film work. Where I really found happiness was in the world of Life Drawing. Its considered quite a rite of passage once you’ve drawn a nude figure and I took to drawing models like paint takes to a car or chef to cooking. I was very much at home and it would become the template for the rest of my work at school. I wouldn’t say I’m the best at figure drawing, but at school I was always invited to upper level classes that the professors had to invite you to and I’ve had more than one person tell me that my portraits have really captured the spiritual essence of someone. I love the process of free form drawing and also more intense layered works. It was in the experimentation of Life classes that I was pushed to try various mediums ranging from conte, charcoal, pastel, ink, watercolor, colored pencil, you name it. I discovered a certain confidence there that I had the ability to play with a medium for part of a day and by the end of the day, it was like I had been using it my whole life.
While in school, my influences I found were in artists who also had other talents, particularly those who could write as well as they paint or draw. Although I loved the works of Marc Chagall, de Chirico, Roger Brown, Henri Rousseau, El Greco, Caravaggio, Ben Shawn, and countless others, I developed a particular love for Dante Rossetti as painter/poet, Kahlil Gibran as the same, and William Blake who outshines them all and may very well be the original modern artist. As of late, I would say because of my time roaming Bonaventure and living in Savannah, I’ve added Johnny Mercer to the mix as he could write music, play any instrument and draw or paint anything on top of that, but is rarely thought of as a visual artist. These people with so many God given talents have always intrigued me because I have been blessed with a similiar spark. Which many artists have more than one side to them, but I have also met many who can paint amazing things but can’t write a paragraph or talk in front of people without sweating bullets. They have the golden touch in some respects but two left feet in others.
Sometimes I wonder why I have been given so many tools. As I’m getting to a point, I don’t mean this to sound vain when I say that if you look at the resume of my artistic design, its like I was handed a magical number of talents. They are not automatic by any means and I have had to refine them and learn them and work hard for them. But in my life, I’ve come to draw, sing, paint, cook, act, make films, narrate, write, art direct, publish and also realize there were or are other things I could plug my being into that I would do very well, but don’t simply for some of those other things absorbing my life.
As special as that all sounds, its also maddening. I’m a terrible procrastinate, awful at managing personal time and finances and being someone who “feels” so much, I’m am often taxed by a very sensory world full of energy. To the point where I sometimes don’t do anything at all but recoil and avoid life (I like to call this recharging).
But here’s my message. People ask me all of the time, “What do you do?” I’m always stuck to tell them that I’m an esthete because they just won’t get that 9 times out of 10, but its what I am. And being one has put me in touch with the greatness of human nature and things cosmic in the universe. The only explanation I can come up with about my talents and their various range is that curiosity is my credo and gathering information via getting my hands in various things, is the way I give this information back to a higher source. Or what Conrad Aiken and many others before and after him call The Universal Substance. Or God if you like. Or Collective Consciousness. I do believe in this special energy or this cosmic library place. What I believe we all are, no matter what we do with ourselves, or what we call it, and we are all in the business of doing whether we realize it or not — WE — You & I, are satellites. Information gatherers. Its this purpose I have found that we are, that proves the universe is infinite, expanding and growing. And we are responsible for pushing it wider with our purpose and roles. With what we do and learn? The universe then learns. It grows with it. As we experience, create and achieve? We give back up to it, and it returns something to us. More knowledge, more happiness. Some of it already known and older than us, but in our efforts of giving up our experiences to this higher power, it feeds us in return. We grow. Our internal universes expand. And with this old knowledge and even secrets we are instilled with from our efforts, we then have new tools, more tools to advance in our cause we call “our lives.” I think this also explains why someone who can seem so ordinary or only has one set of talents, suddenly invents the thing that changes the world. Its not that they devised it entirely on their own, but they found the discovery in the zone of such spiritual work. And yes, perhaps our 5 senses are the receptors for these whispers from divine places and are the tools to harness divinity.
A man once asked me quite humored, “how on earth did you go from art school to cemeteries?” I’ve been asked it since too. Even though my answer can easily show the obvious relationships between art and the beauty of a cemetery, my inner gut wanted to scream, “Man, can’t you see I’m gathering more information???” And I cannot always say for what it is that I’m doing this or explain the rhyme or reason. I am just stimulated by beauty and the movement of life’s mechanics and I seek to discover all of their relationships in the way that I am meant to learn from them and about them. I believe this is where poet Conrad Aiken and I am very much alike. We are less concerned by the fame of our name and more so earnest about “the work.” My way of honoring existence, and the highest thing I can do in my life, is to gather more experience, create more art of all kinds, and give it back up. There is some part of this that is automatic and I am merely the steward of this energy with a consciousness of the fact that I am its machine doing the bidding of what my machinery is supposed to do. I also believe we all are truly purposed or if you wish, “designed” to do this or be this. And you can either choose to cheat it or embrace the incredible power of it. For good and for bad, I have embraced it. And because I have, no matter what, I will hever be a failure. None of us can be when we accept the design and live this cosmic program. Yet at the same time, its much simpler than this. All one has to do is fall in love with the world or someone like your grandmother shows you how to see the beauty in it and understand the motion of it through the movement of something like a crayon. Its everywhere you look and in everything you touch. Beauty and love. Make art of your life by living like art. Be art in motion with what you do and there is nothing higher. Not money, not fame, nothing.