Painting and writing about Skid Row is my principal focus as a painter and occasional writer.
Skid Row is a place. For me, it is also a state of being. It is a social low from which you can only go lower by dying. At the same time, under a radically different social framework, it isn’t really a low but a different state of living, voluntary or otherwise.
But we can scarcely escape the social context of the society in which we exist so for this society, for the capitalist America where money equals success and social status, Skid Row must be defined as a social low from which anyone unfortunate enough to be counted amongst its citizens must endeavor to escape.
I know from years spent wandering the streets of Skid Row, the place and the idea, that escaping its clutches and reentering normal society, is near impossible for most given that the factors that put them there in the first place are often well beyond their ability to control. And for many fortunate enough to never consider a life on Skid Row, those factors are materially non-existent.
When I decided to focus my career as a painter on telling the stories of the dispossessed, it was for want of something meaningful to do. I knew I probably would never earn any money for my paintings because nobody would ever want to buy them, but that was a problem I could afford to ignore. In time the paintings became increasingly irrelevant as art because of the relationships I had with some of my sitters, relationships so personal that I forgot that my homeless drug-addict friend is indeed a homeless drug-addict, in the same way that it never occurs to me that my fair-skinned wife is indeed fair-skinned – because of familiarity and the consequential ability to relate to the ordinariness of what at a time seemed extraordinary. It occurred to me that the social hard barrier between Skid Row – the state of being — and the rest of society exists only when you don’t know the person on the other side. The paintings became a medium with the same significance as words on a page for softening that hard barrier.
Much of art is driven by fashion. We do exist in a society that celebrates new for newness, beauty for its own sake, nonsense because it intrigues, shock and sex because they sell well. Homelessness is not fashionable, it is artless.
I am not an artist but a painter, in the same way that a person who writes is a writer and one who roofs is a roofer. My paintings are not art and do not exist for their own sake, they exist to push an idea, to attract an audience by exploiting our collective fascination with anything that looks like art, for the singular purpose of softening the social hard barrier between Skid Row and the rest of us.