Death, Art, and The Universe

     My father-in-law is nearing the end of his life, and his passing in the coming days will tear our family asunder. The heartbreak is palpable in the thick, hot desert air that blows around us. Saying goodbye is never easy, and there’s never a perfect time to do it. It’s something that no one likes to do but that we all have to accept. All we can do is try our best to navigate the heartache.

    My father-in-law passed away five days ago, on July 3, 202. The past week has been brutal, to say the least – especially for my wife. It was barely a year ago that we lost my mother-in-law, and now my father-in-law is gone as well. It feels so unfair. You’re supposed to have time to finish grieving before having to say goodbye again. My heart aches for my wife, and I wish I could make things different for her, but I can’t. I lost my mom years ago, but I’m not entirely free from the hurt of her loss. It’s always there, lurking in the background, waiting for situations like the one I’m currently going through to assail me. Dealing with death is fucking hard – there’s no other way to say it. Each of us finds a way to deal with it as best we can – that’s all we can do.

     Today, I find myself standing on Ocean Beach in San Francisco. I haven’t been here in thirty years, and it feels good to be back. My wife has gone to walk down the shore by herself – I don’t mind. She needs some alone time to think about her dad. I, too, need some alone time to ruminate over things that have been stealing my sleep at night lately. As my feet sink into the soft, wet sand, I look to the horizon and feel myself gazing into infinity and connecting with God and the universe. As I stand transfixed, a plethora of thoughts come rushing to mind as the cool ocean breeze blows across my face and the sun bounces off my Ray-Bans. It’s impossible not to recall my art school days of the late eighties when I would come to Ocean Beach to drink and waste time with my college friends. Those halcyon days were a magical time that will always hold a special place in my heart. They were some of the best times of my life, but they were not my best days – those have yet to come. More than anything, it’s the promise of those days yet to come that looms large in my mind as I stand gazing into infinity. The talent that was so obvious at the time got honed over the past three decades, and through good times and bad times, I fulfilled that promise. Now, it’s time to move on to the next phase. That next phase is what’s occupying my thoughts on this wind-swept San Francisco day. 

      The next phase in my journey will be about creating things that say something about me and that matter to me. Storytelling will be important to my work once again after many years of being almost non-existent.  I will add my love of music, books, documentaries, food, and traveling to the pot to thicken and enrich the stories I tell so that I can leave you with a satisfying feeling of satiety. If I’m going to give you an honest portrayal of what I do, I need to write honestly about that. After thirty-five years of making art, you better bet that I have an opinion about things. I believe that an artist’s work speaks for itself. If you have indeed acquired real skill, then your work will show that without the need for any hyperbole or explanation. We live in a world where people confuse social media likes for knowledge. For most people, the difference between a hobbyist and a professional continues to be a conundrum.

     For those who may be offended by my directness, you should be aware – my opinion isn’t always the popular opinion, but it will always be the honest opinion.   

Illustrations used in this post.

  1. Gitana MoriscaA sketchbook spread from 2020 with ideas and notes for a series of decorative panneaux based on flamenco. I was inspired to celebrate my love for flamenco after watching a documentary on the genius flamenco dancer Sara Barras. The passion and elegance in flamenco dancing are undeniable, and this powerful combination is something that has to exist on paper. These sketchbook pages are the beginning of an idea; the coming months shall see these rough ideas worked out and refined. 
  2. Revenge. When I was in art school in the late 80s, I majored in illustration and was ingrained with all manner of illustrative formulas and ways of doing things. Because illustrators work for magazines, they must complete their work quickly, so their original art size must be manageable. This practice has stuck with me for decades, and I want to break free of it, so I have decided to produce a series of much larger drawings than my usual size. I have a long list of ideas that I’ve kept intending to execute in a larger format – it seems as though that time has come. The content of these larger works will be a lot different than what I usually do; not only will these ideas be larger, they’ll also be a lot more personal in content; I look forward to the challenge that I’ve given myself.
  3. Dr. Nina Ansary. Dr. Ansary is an Iranian-American historian and author best known for her work on women’s equity in Iran. Dr. Ansary’s research has notably countered conventional assumptions of the progress of women in Iran while continuing to advocate for complete emancipation. In recent years I had started to feel that my blog posts had begun to look and sound cliched and that they did not offer any insight into who I am as an artist to my readers. My worldview and interests were not very visible in what I was writing, which needed to change. The world is full of interesting people such as Dr. Ansary and Sara Barras; they are precisely the type of people that I wish to fill the pages of my sketchbook with and who I want to write and draw about in my blog posts as I move forward. 

      

Making Art

I make no secret about my dislike of taking commissions. Most people are completely perplexed when I tell them this — they’re astounded that I would turn away perspective clients. Last year, I made an in depth post detailing exactly why I choose not to take commissions. You can read the post here.

This post isn’t about that, it’s about the flip side of the coin. Every once in a great while I encounter a person who actually gets it when it comes to commissions. They want me to do something for them, they don’t try to lowball me, get a “special,” discount, or attempt to tell me how my career will somehow be furthered by doing work for them — none of that. They pay me what I ask for, and they let me do my thing. It’s almost miraculous when it happens — it’s why I’m so grateful when it does. This past week, I delivered a long standing commission to my dear friend, Gamal. The commission was given to me many years ago when I was going through a very trying time. Without being overly dramatic, I can say that my personal flame of inspiration was starving for oxygen when my friend gave me the commission. He obviously saw something that I couldn’t see at the time. He gave me the commission and waited patiently for his drawings to become a reality. The one thing that makes me happiest about finishing this commission is that I gave him something that I couldn’t have possibly given him in 2007. The subtleties and finesse in these drawings are things that only come about with time and experience. You can’t buy them, you earn them through relentless effort.

It’s gratifying to have friends that support you unconditionally. My friend Gamal is amongst a handful of people who have taken the time to tell me that they’ve watched my progress over the past few years. Things like that are priceless. It was a real pleasure handing my friend his drawings. The look on his face when he saw his portrait was worth all my effort. That’s what making art is about. The best is yet to come.

Back In The Saddle

 It’s been quite a while since I last made a blog post here. While I haven’t been too active on this blog, I certainly haven’t been inactive creatively. This year, I’d like to make this blog more of a priority and bring the focus back to it. Social media has taken away from blogging in the last couple of years, but I’d like to change that. With the advent of smartphones, it’s now easier than ever to keep you updated on what I’m up to, and I intend on doing just that.

The image that adorns this post is my portrait of my friend, Summer. She’s a lovely mixture of American and Chinese ancestry. It was a pleasure drawing her. The drawing is currently part of an exhibition celebrating my local cafe’s, Empresso Coffeehouse, one year anniversary. Keep an eye out, the best is yet to come.

One Big Fat Zero

Zero Fucks Given - March 2015

You never know what is going to Impact people. When I drew the page that you see here, I didn’t think of anything other than expressing the angst that I was feeling on that particular day. That day, like most days, I walked to Empresso Coffeehouse, a favorite local café, and settled in to do some drawing in my sketchbook. There’s normally a decent number of people at Empresso – not too little, not too many – so it’s a good place to go and concentrate on whatever it is that you need to work on. When I’m there, I normally listen to music as I draw so I’m pretty much oblivious to what’s going on around me. 

A couple of days after I had drawn this, I went back to do more drawing at Empresso; as I was waiting to order a drink Sergio, one of the baristas that works there, walked by and said, “Zero fucks given,” with a smile on his face. I looked at him and smiled back. I thought, “How cool is that, he remembered.” I had never thought about the fact that there’s always a chance that something like this can happen; I mean think about it, I’m going to a public place and sitting while exposing images that, for the most part, are meant to be private. Yeah, I don’t really like people peering over my shoulder as I work but It happens. Someone sees something, it strikes a chord, and bam, there you go, “Zero fucks given.” Interesting how that works.

Almost a week later, I saw Sergio again as he took my drink order; as he was making my drink, he uttered in a low voice, “Zero Fucks.” I smiled and asked him what was it about my slogan that he liked so much. He said, “It’s so dope — zero fucks!” What could I say to that? Perhaps it may sound strange coming from an artist, but I’ve truly understood something here. As an image maker, I want people to remember what I do; more than that, I want my work to make people think. If I can do that, then I’ve done my job as an artist. I reckon that there isn’t anything more satisfying then that for an artist. 

A couple of days later, I stopped and talked to Sergio as I was leaving. I told him that I was totally caught of guard by his reaction to my slogan. He said that it was something a lot of people could relate to — he said that it reminded him of the, “Have a nice day,” slogan from the 80s. I told him that I could see his point. You just never know what will catch the public’s eye — it’s a totally random thing.

A week or so later, I went down to Empresso to draw for a while; as I approached to order my drink, Sergio took one look at me and said, “Zero Sal, zero!” I guess I was right, when you put down your thoughts and ideas without holding back, people will react. Lesson learned.