Sunday, December 21, 2008


I went to the big Birmingham gun show with my friends, Sons of the Confederacy, Jake, John Jacob, Pat Ezell, and his kid. I was in town for a different event during the gun show last year and saw a lot of potbellied men with shotguns and rifles walking the streets. It was weird and it made me nervous. I hurriedly drove back to York.

I suppose a year in Dixie has greatly diminished any reservations I may have had about fervent Red-Staters with weapons. I was super eager to attend and by the time Jake extended an invitation I was already there.
Aside from the camouflage survivalists with their crude anti-Obama posters and the rough-looking gangbangers packing pistols and glocks in every pocket, the gun show was magnificent. Inventions beyond belief and, dare I say, some truly beautiful instruments of destruction. I wish I coulda taken photos of this stuff along with some of the characters in attendance but armed security guards confiscated my camera at the door.

Jake's been trying to convince me that I need a flintlock in my life. He suggested a British Enfield, or as he describes it," The gun that killed everyone on whom the sun set." As a history buff I can dig the Enfield but I kinda fell in love with the Russian Nagant. It's got nice curves and snipers love it.

Anyway, the guy was right - I do like the flintlock. I like all of them. I like the look and feel of old metal on polished wood. The weight of it all in the hands is sublime. I'm gonna get me a Nagant AND an Enfield and probably add a German Mauser to round out my little antique arsenal. Then I'm gonna join the boys down at the farm and shoot cans and bottles and other junk. I can't wait.

Afterwards, we visited Dr. Neely, an old friend of Utsey's and a very cool man. Dr. Neely has a sweet collection of military paraphernalia. I was especially taken with his Civil War era Union rifle. I couldn't put it down, literally holding on to history. I was too in awe to even get a photo of it. So here's the Doctor inspecting some German crosses the guys had just bought at the gun show. He's a very knowledgeable fellow, especially when it comes to the finer details of things.

Then there's the other side of my new Southern identity.
Sister Shoral and Sister Jackie of White Chapel Baptist Church of Silas asked me to create an altar for their little rural house of worship. The only detail they requested was a black Jesus. Everything else was up to me...

...with the exception of this dedication to Jackie's brother-in-law who was recently deceased. Tony's buried right out back behind the church along with about 25 other of Jackie's family (The whole church is one extended family). Walking among the graves with Jackie, I stated the obvious, "I suppose you intend to be buried here too". "There's no place else I'd rather be", she replied, with typical Southern grace and aplomb in the face of the ultimate existential head trip. There's lots I can learn from these people. I wish I had the temerity and lightness to walk on the very ground where I'll one day disappear.

'Create in me a clean heart, oh God. Renew a right spirit within my heart'. I found this quote on one of the altars I researched. It's just the perfect plea. So personal yet selfless. Beyond denomination or even religion.


Working in collaboration with the Coleman Center and the Sumter County Board of Education, I started an afterschool arts program for the high school students of Sumter County. Classes are held at the Coleman Center 4 days a week.

Art is not available in the schools anymore so hopefully this will give more students a more rounded education. I know it's already given a few young artists an outlet to explore ideas and materials enough to work on their own. That's the most gratifying thing.


I spent fifteen weeks, several days a week, in residency again at my favorite school, Demopolis High. This time I worked with Jody White's drama classes creating the set and props for their production of Murder in the House of Mystery.

It is an audience interactive murder mystery set in an Egyptian exhibit. The Props and set had to look as authentic as possible. I worked closely with the students to create a decent collection of urns, statues, furniture, and a functional sarcophagus.

A little wood, chicken wire, and paper mache can go a long way but patience is key.

The students not only had to build the show but also learn technique, art terminology, and cultural history.
We spent several sessions studying hieroglyphs and how to use them. Students learned to write their names and simple phrases.
The set incorporated these writings but only an expert would know that our hieroglyphs spelled out Betty Sue, Billy Bob and other innocuous things.

Director, Jody White (seated) and the cast and crew.


There were 8 weeks with the Youthbuild program at Hale county's HERO center. Young adults in their late teens and early 20's are working hard to earn their GED's and learn some practical skills to move on with their lives. I was happy to do a public art project with them. We decided to try a kind of self-portrait using freestanding cut-out plywood silhouettes.

One side of the figure, inspired by traditional and tribal body painting, involved color, form, symbols, and whimsy. The main challenge was to create a new heart - a heart unique to the individual.

The other side consisted of freestyle, freeform, stream of conscious writing. I wanted them to spill their guts, let people know exactly who they are.

The work produced with Youthbuild, Demopolis High, and the Art Afterschool program culminated in a big group show here at Coleman Center. It's ongoing until late January.
The Youthbuild folks stopped by the Gallery earlier in the day. I was able to get some photos of them but by night my camera was unexpectedly petered out. All I could shoot were these folks gathering around for Christmas Carols. It was a great night anyway.

I'll have to include photos of the exhibit in my next post. I promise it won't be another 6 months.

Thursday, July 31, 2008


A month or so ago I got the idea to host a 24 hour draw-a-thon. I was stuck at an education conference in Montgomery. During a particularly dull stretch I started doodling on the butcher paper covering the table. Artist, Richard Curtis, sitting across from me, was doing the same thing. This simultaneity gave our scribbling momentum. The act of drawing, in groups or teams, in an open space, transmogrifies the experience. There's an extra charge of spontaneity. Competition and collaboration enter the fray. Drawing becomes spectacle. New things come out. In Montgomery, our random markings eventually coalesced into something grand. People gathered to see what we were doing and talked about it afterwards. With the Draw-A-Thon, I wanted to explore this dynamic and, perhaps, open new doors in my own work and in my relationship to the work.

Southwest Paper over in Livingston generously donated a ton of all kinds of paper. Literally a ton. Rolls and rolls of paper. It weighed my truck down. I wanted to invite a good number of artists to participate but time and space didn't allow that just yet. So the goal was to have a decent go with the few folks we had, document it well and make a case for doing it next year on a larger scale.

We launched the 24Hour Draw with a bit of silliness to get ourselves psyched for the challenge ahead. Fashioning ourselves as a kind of Superhero Confederation, Richard and I arrived at the studio ready for an epic battle. The only enemy is Sleep.

Saturday, 10:am -
We created a list of drawing challenges and prompts the night before; themes to help give us a focus at any given time. Choosing a new challenge roughly every hour, we began with a free drawing warm-up. We scattered free drawing periods throughout the 24 Hours. I'd use free draw time to investigate ideas I've been percolating for some time.

11:am -
Still Life Drawing.

Trains scream through York several times an hour. You can hear the whistle far and wide. We decided to treat the train whistle as a signal to invert the drawing - turn it upside down and continue. This made for some interesting results.

12:pm -
10,000 Lines

I was excited to draw only lines for a full hour. Kind of a mini endurance test.

Alice Tuan came out of her cocoon to join this Ultimate Drawing Experience. I can't do anything anymore without Alice. She is the Contextualizer!

2:pm -
With marker tip swords and poster board armor, we attempted to tag one another with bravado. This fencing was dangerous. I bloodied Rich's lip and I coulda put his eye out if I'd taken better aim.

The guy with the most marks on his armor loses but everybody wins because we made art while maiming each other.

3pm -
Copy the Masters from Memory.
I never much cared for Mondrian. But gazing at his paintings at MOMA a few months ago, I suddenly got it. I think the guy's a perfect painter actually - sublime and emotional.

4pm -
X's & O's

5pm -
Replace guns and bullets with markers and paper.

7pm -
Free Draw

I'm really getting into these sequential drawings. It's theme and variation. Feels like improvisational music.

The repetition of form bears an uncanny resemblance to the making of traditional Chinese dumplings - Consistent ingredients. Individually rendered units. Pattern and rhythm.

Alice makes a huge batch of dumplings every July 26th. We just lucked out that she happened to be in Alabama this day.


We wanted to pay homage to the court Dumpling Maker by creating her portrait in an iconic manner that reflected our affection and respect.

10pm -
Community Drawing

A group of neighborhood kids saw the door open and the strange goings on inside. We invited them to join in the fun. Richard first coached them in landscape drawing.

They saw me attempting to copy one of the fencing drawings. I told them all about the process and the boys wanted to try it.

The Lake brothers here were all around better at fencing than Richard and I. Definitely more athletic and energetic but their drawings were more exciting as well. I forgot to photograph the drawings before they took them home. I thought they were just excellent.

After another dumpling break, I spread out a huge piece of paper for a group drawing. In a variation on the body tracing idea, we layered and criss-crossed our outlines to create an abstract design.

We then applied color, careful to maintain balance and contrast.

The kids stayed over 2 hours. We had a ball. But we had to cut the party short when their mother came looking for them.

12am -

After preparing the pieces and the board we commenced playing. The object was not only to win but also to record each move with colored chalk.

My computer space robots dominated the board for most of the match, which continued on and off through the night. But my robot queen was captured in a snafu and I found it hard to recover. I don't think we ever really finished the game.

1am -
More Free Drawing. Desperate measures to stay awake.

4am -
Superhero Challenge. Design an original superhero.

5am -
Phone A Friend.
We were to dial a friend to tell us what to draw.

6am -
Gesture Drawing

Alice the writer stepped up her drawing game. This piece consisted of abstract birds and movable flaps. Kind of a kinetic drawing.

7am -

Create collages using scraps and discarded drawings from the previous 21 hours.

8am -
Sidewalk Art

9am -
Alice reads sketches for a manifesto. We concluded our 24 Hours with drawings of doors.

"Living this particular day, every moment awake, is
singular and ascendent. After passing the test of
endurance, there is no encumberance—everything is

We bid farewell to comrade Tuan.

Long live the TILT alliance.