My career began in 1992 when I opened my first studio in Gallup New Mexico at age seventeen. My early career was focused on learning my craft rather than establishing a name for myself or financial gain. One of the largest art markets in the USA, Santa Fe is only three hours away. At the time the focus in Santa Fe was limited to mainly Southwestern art. If my memory serves, there were only two galleries in Santa Fe that represented non-Southwestern contemporary art. I knew that if I wanted a career, I would need to leave NM. And although my young life had lead me to many places and situations, including getting to know a not yet famous Kurt Cobain in my youth, and later the lead singer of the band Cocteau Twins (whom I did a portrait of) I knew that I needed to experience the world in a more broad way. New Mexico is my home with a robust tradition of art, but is its own little world quite apart from the rest of the USA.
It wasn’t until moving to NYC in my early twenties that my career became more about having shows and sales. I lucked out with the timing of my move to the city, unexpectedly a show opened at multi-story Barnes and Nobel Bookstore at Broadway and Astor Place during the holiday season (back then B&N with their cafe partnership with Starbucks were very popular places to hang out). The time of year and the location meant a huge population would see my work. As a result of the show I was offered two show opportunities. A show at the legendary nightclub, “The Tunnel”, a place where Andy Warhol walked down the runway during the modelling part of his career. And to work with an organisation that places art in store front windows in NYC. I hadn't been in the city for a whole month yet.
My next show was at a new gallery in West Broadway. Upon inspecting the gallery, it was far too big for a solo show. With the help of a poet friend (now a famous author) we found two
artists, a photographer and a sculptor to take some of the space while the poet would set up to do a poetry reading and book signing in another space. We also had a big food and drink area to occupy more space. The venue would be packed
to the point where walking from one end to the other became difficult. It would be the largest of the self produced shows. The reason for the crowd, I would find out later was because the poet’s husband was a writer for the hit TV show, Seinfeld, which would being ending soon. At my exhibition there were many famous people attending, including Larry David, whom I accidentally insulted, mistaking him for the sculptor who had yet to arrive (Larry David was not as famous back then as he would become in the post-Seinfeld years with his own show “Curb Your Enthusiasm” on HBO). On a side note, the opening credits for David’s show at one point was small sculptures, like the ones he was examining at my exhibition.
In the aftermath of the show on West Broadway I had two exhibitions lined up for the up coming year and had been approached by a third gallery in the fledgling Chelsea Art District to represent me. I was contacted by an art dealer who sold art to the Trump family, becoming my first art dealer for a short period of time. My career so far was getting off to an incredible beginning. To be candid, I had believed that this is simply how it worked in the city. That any artist could have the same success rate as I was having, but artists from my own personal circle began asking me how I was having so much success, which drove it home that this wasn't the norm.
With all this success and attention, what I did next seems extremely illogical and self sabotaging. I canceled my shows and declined the invitation to be represented by the Chelsea gallery, and ended the representation from the art dealer of the Trumps. I killed my career and on purpose. I knew at the time that my choices are not what an artist should do. I made my choice based off a hard logic that I had to be comfortable with, not once thinking I was making the right choice.
There’s no real short way of explaining my choices. Mainly I felt uncomfortable with my work, which up until my last show at the West Broadway gallery (where I made new works) the body of work was mostly brought from New Mexico, created at the start of my career. These were amongst my first oil paintings. In some ways, as I would eventually be involved with the Outsider Art movement, these older works did fit into this naive primitive style that much of Outsider art is famous for, but I knew I was better than the work I was getting known for. On a side note, whenever someone involved with the business of Outsider art sees what remain of these older works, they are always drawn to it. However I didn’t want to get well known for art I no longer felt connected to or felt was my best. I knew there was the danger with an artist who gets well known, where they often end up painting the same painting over and over. I refused to allow this to happen.
The newest works I made for the West Broadway exhibition, the “Seinfeld show” was the infancy of a new style I was developing, a style I am now known for. In my past shows I would sell some pieces, but at my West Broadway show I sold all but one piece on the wall, which proved the power of my new work versus the work I had made in the first part of my career. There is something to be said of having the wisdom at that young of an age to know that too much too soon is always a bad combination. I was literally on the balcony overlooking the city lights, getting away from the crowd of my show's after party and said out loud, “Why do you need it all right now?” I was either 24 or 25, my then wife and I were expecting a baby, and I had a preview of what success could look like.
I had accidentally reached a level where my dreams could come true, all I had to do is say yes. In all fairness I planned on returning in a year or so, I didn’t think it would take as long as it did to work out my new style, which would take me three years. It did bother me as the first year passed and I was still working on my new body of work that I was now endangering my connections in NYC. The time I spent reaching a finishing point on this new works did derail my trajectory and meant my career took a very different turn, one as equally positive, with even bigger shows in NYC ahead of me, but this time with a very solid body of work that began in 1997-8.
After a year or so of leaving the NYC art scene I began to meet collectors and others involved with the Outsider Art movement, including the mother of a very famous Outsider artist (Jonathan Lerman) who championed my work, exposing others to it. Eventually there were a number of dealers who wanted to buy my work at extremely low prices to resale or spoke half heartily about representing me. A gallery who bought some of my work asked if they could use my images for ads in “Raw Vision,” an international magazine devoted to Outsider Art. One very big and well known gallery in NYC who wanted to represent me wanted to make sure I was “Outsider” enough by asking me intrusive questions about “What my problems are” i.e. did I have Autism or some mental illness? I handed the phone to my then wife, claiming to the gallery that she could tell them all my problems.
I had my first interview and article about me in Gannet's Good Times weekend edition paper (they publish USA Today amongst other newspapers), and a well known art dealer was interesting in coming up to seeing my work for possible representation. Although I was not really showing in the biggest art market on earth, NYC (only one NYC group show during that time), I was having small more meaningful shows with a group of artists that I still keep in contact with to this day. During the three years of sorting out my style I had a huge “regional première” of my works in a small city in NY, where the mayor bought a painting. I had become a leader amongst other artists and a group of creatives and academics gather around me. There even came a point when there was a perceived rivalry with a very famous painter who’s works sold for over $100,000 a painting. (We were friends, not rivals, but I think the art community liked the idea of a rivalry).
At age twenty nine I signed on with an art dealer who was legendary for the artists he represented, most are known masters of the Outsider art genre, represented in books about the movement. I remained represented by him for seventeen years where I did achieve some very high notes. At age 35 I had my first museum show at the American Visionary Art Museum, and another museum show would follow. I suppose with museum shows under my belt I became a Modern Master of the Outsider Art movement. Many of my shows have been highly attended. The yearly shows in NYC I was part of for over a decade would have between 13,000 to 16,000 people attend each year and reviewed by the New York Times and major art publications. By now my work has been seen by hundreds of thousands of people. I began to get more interviews, articles, singled out in positive art reviews, and many many sales.
In the last number of years, at the time of writing this, my career is in a transition. Some of this is forced, the Covid pandemic caused cancelations of shows. My art dealer of 17 years retired, leaving me a free agent. I was invited to live in France and be represented by a gallery in a cute artsy town. But instead I have used this time to focus on finishing 120 paintings from a body of work that has grown to over 500 paintings.
I have done more than making my dreams come true. I became the person I always wanted to be. I transformed myself from a directionless youth that for a short period of time was homeless, to someone who devoted himself to art at a very young age and reached places I never thought was possible, meeting celebrities and famous artists, and being invited to the backstage of big rock concerts, private art shows with the most famous painters in the world like Chuck Close and Damien Hirst, attending after event parties where all the people in the room are the super famous, or to walk the red carpet with actors and actresses. Despite the experiences I've have, I moved back to my small hometown, most people don't even know what I do, and when they do know I am an artist, it's rare that anyone knows the full extent of my life. I suppose my life in New Mexico has always been my escape pod from a far more social and high stakes world. I am an active mentor in our local area to a group of Zuni and Navajo Indian artists, and have attempted to create an art scene locally as well.
Thank you for reading.