Note about my biography.
My biography has hyperlinks to flush out a more complete picture of who I am, if one so wishes to dive in deeper. I am slowly adding the content of these links, as some are more ambitious than others. Long before I ever dreamed of being an artist I had a keen fascination with art history, and as an avid reader I’ve always enjoyed biographies on artists. My goal in writing my own biography is to be comprehensive, but yet don't wish to over load. A good compromise seems to let the reader choose how deep they wish to go.
In the past my former dealers or galleries seem to want to play up the poverty and suffering in my life, which really doesn't represent me. I have overcome problems rather than to allow them to define me. I’ve always felt challenges should teach us strength and resilience. Maybe there is a misplaced idea that suffering sales art, but I have been too lucky in life and have lived a life of my dreams to focus on disappointments and old wounds. I have lived several lifetimes in just one life, from being a country boy to homeless living in a dog house, a mountaineer and rock climber, a struggling artist to a metrosexual going to the opera, or walking down the red carpet with movie stars, and finally an artist who's works are hung in museums. I know that the greatest work of art I have ever made is me. I indeed traveled very far from my starting point.
I was born in 1974 to a broken family, and the source of my problems growing up always was rooted in this fact in one way or another. There was a lack of stability and security in my life. But there was a lot of love. It was not totally uncommon for my mother, out of the blue to pack us up and move across the nation in a state of emotional distress. With me, the eldest having to try to grasp some of the concepts I was learning, such as finding out that my father was not actually my real father at age 7.
I did not know my real father in any meaningful way, although about age 9 or 10 I got to spend some time with him where he would teach me how to make a homemade tattoo gun. He would die young, in his early 30’s in a car wreck during a time when we attempted to get to know one another a little more. He left me with a love of drawing and motorcycles.
While we were impoverished growing up, that never really bothered me, I had no concept of wealth, just a concept of having enough or not. As a result I had been used for hard labour at a young age. My first real job began in the second grade, and all throughout my life I had dug ditches, carried stuff, etc for meagre wages. I recall one summer working, earning only 50$, and having this dream of the toy I wanted to buy, only to have my mother tell me we needed that money and me understanding that.
Reading, writing stories, and making art was always a big part of my life. One of my first memories is of drawing Popeye and Wimpy (actually holding a hamburger) in the back of my mother's antique Mother Goose book.
Drawn at age four
We moved around a lot. Starting in West Germany, we moved to Brownsville TX, Fort Bragg, Salisbury Beach in NH, Fort Devons in MA, Yakima WA, Gallup NM, Phoenix AZ, Albuquerque NM, Fort Jones CA, Ellensburg WA, and then finally in Naches WA when I finally left home. And there were other moves, such as moving back to Gallup, moving back to Yakima, or being Oregon or Tucson or Denver for extended periods of time.
There were no bigger stressors as a child than those men my mother would date and or marry, who often had issues or other tendencies that were not so wonderful. The last one I experienced personally was physically abusive, usually taking the brunt of his dysfunctions out on me or my mother. I would end up getting kicked out for supposedly being gay although I had a girlfriend. The choice was presented to me as I could leave or my mother and younger brother and sister would all have to leave and be homeless. It was certainly a cross roads in my life.
As a parent myself now, I cannot imagine sending my own children out into the world so young. But times were different back then, and I had grown up in a family that were ranchers, farmers, of rural stock. On both branches of my family we had the wander lust that pushed us to the frontiers of this nation at an early time. For a reason that is more intuitive, the idea of leaving home at a young age was not unnatural. And hearing stories of my mother and her siblings in their teen years I realised that their own family began to disintegrate at some point in their teen years too, where they had to fend for themselves. The family I belonged to, they never seemed part of the future, but rooted in some past that simply was fading out of being. I suppose after so many decades away from my youth, the rural life seems somehow anachronistic. Even at friend's family houses, if I stayed over for the night it wasn’t unusual for me to help with farm chores in the morning.
I also grew up pretty fast in the environs that were around me in the poorest section of any town USA and in housing specifically for the poor. I was often left to my own devices. The step father I associated as a father figure was a Green Beret, and instilled an independence, self reliance, and a toughness that grew on me as I aged. It was put to the test constantly in these rough neighbourhoods. I recall twice I had been wounded very badly, but field dressed it with strips of my t-shirt and continued on. I was constantly put in positions to defend myself.
I had been introduced to the underground music scene at a very young age, around age 11. Some of my first albums I bought was in 1986, "Catching Up With Depeche Mode", The Cure’s "Staring on the Beach", and incongruously, "Licence to Ill" by the Beastie Boys, all had come out that year. The underground scene to an 11 year old meant nothing, but by age 13 I had been in the scene for two years, and had begun to come into my own. Many of my friends at age 13 were five years older than I. This meant that at age 15 and being on my own I had the maturity and wherewithal to survive, and the social connections to help me.
My friend network was the first piece of luck I had on my own. As soon as it was known I was homeless, my network found me a place to live. I had done my best to stay in school and hold down two jobs, but at a certain point school was only a means to meet up with another younger (my age) group of friends that I was slowly introducing to my older group of friends. I had to make working the priority to support myself the best I could. My mother would help me out too, giving me bags of food. In hindsight I believe we simply found our family in a tight spot. And I had been edging towards independence for a much longer time than I realised.
This time in my life was both marked by negatives and positives in spades. For the most part I did party hard, as you would expect of a youth. But also my two years in the scene prior to being on my own, sneaking out to night clubs, going to parties with my older friends meant that I was measured in all I did, never got too drunk or out of it, and seemed to watch over my other friends, which placed me in a role like an older brother, responsible. It also allowed me to pull back from the party life, which by the time I was 17, that whole world was put behind me as I settled into trying to have a responsible life.
While still in school the art teacher pulled me aside after class and told me that if I kept up the work I was doing and stuck with it that I would be a shoe in for the scholarship to the Art Institute of Seattle. Perhaps out of everything that really bothered me by being kicked out of my home, losing the chance to have an education was the biggest. Although in later years, being a self taught artist was something that became important to me. It meant each discovery was truly my own.
To be sure the time between age 15 to 17 was transformative years for me. Several things had happen, our scene became THE SCENE, I was living in Washington State and in 1991 Nirvana would blow the door open to our scene, thus ending the scene as we knew it, but opened the minds of the youth world wide. I would move to New Mexico, in an attempt to find something real and meaningful in my life, and at age 17 I would open my first artist studio and began to make art on a daily basis as a so called professional. You can read more about the grunge years and how I met Kurt Cobain here.
My life from age 17 to 21 or 22 was centred around art, rock climbing and hiking, road trips to Washington State to visit family, and a relationship with a woman older than I who was writing her first book and was in town from NYC for research. She would become my partner and wife for 13 years in total.
I had developed a very good life on my own, my job was helping the developmentally disabled two days a week 16 hours a day, which meant in two days I got 32 hours at a job that paid six dollars more than minimum wage, and had five days to myself to develop my skills and discipline as an artist. That was the second piece of luck. My third piece of luck is when I had developed a close relationship with my uncle from a marriage who was an artist and became my mentor around age 17 to 21 or so, which helped me develop not only as an artist but as a human. He tempered much of my impetuous youthful tendencies by replacing it with his wisdom. He was Mexican and came from a very different world than myself or other Mexicans I grew up with. His uncle had been the President of Mexico a very long time ago, his family had known Diego Rivera and Freda Kalho, and there was some talk if his family ever met Trotsky. There was a whole world as a youth that I had to learn about that was specialised through the family I had, and their experiences (who is 17 learning about Trotsky?). My uncle had been educated as a pianist at Juilliard, and worked for Mexican Vogue back in the day. He had been a world traveler, having his world readjusted by watching a woman who was selling bean by bean in India or Nepal.
I cannot downplay the influence of my future wife, and have to list her as the fourth piece of luck. I got to be introduced to all sorts of artists, like Tom Waits, Chagall, to poetry, books, and ideas. She lived in NYC, and when her book was finished we attempted to stay in NM, but her heart was in NYC and thought it would be wise for me to experience it, and so I did.
I suppose another piece of luck is the calibre of her friends, although I really don’t count them as part of the luck I had in my youth. However they were very open, friendly, and always willing to help me along as an artist and at times as a human. Most of these friends were from Ivy League schools, published, accomplished, in powerful positions, and many of them were or are now famous as film makers, poets, authors, academics, etc. I have seen more than a few of my old NYC group in documentary interviews or featured as some expert on the news about something (my ex wife was prominent in the documentary "My Kid Could Paint That"). As well, the gates were thrown open to experiences that most people will never have, such as meeting and hanging out with famous artists like Chuck Close, as well as actors and actresses and musicians. Although on my own I was able to bump into famous people and made friends with some famous people through random conversations, like Allen Ginsberg whom I met while working in the photography shoppe I worked in.
Being from New Mexico was always a curiosity for people around me in the city. And I discovered that more people than not have driven through or stayed in Gallup, and had memories of it (not always positive ones). One old timer told me stories of going through Gallup during the depression, and his impression seeing the natives on horses.
I would end up getting a country house in upstate NY where much of my time was spent, and eventually in my mid 30’s moved back to Gallup with my then girlfriend from NYC. I have been in Gallup for about 12 years now, mostly focused on my career. For many years I tried to live bi-costal, spending 50% of my time or so in the east, in Upstate NY, NYC, Philadelphia, or even Saint Petersburg Fl.
Theres allot of people who know my life pretty well, but others who do not. I don’t really talk about the time I walked down the red carpet with Matt Damon behind me, or watching Sarah McLaughlin singing while I stood feet away from her at the side of the stage. My life in NM is a contrast of what it once was, and I like it that way.
Thank you for reading!