This is a painting of a photo I had asked a friend of mine to take, in the Bay area, I believe off the coast in Ocean Beach, San Francisco near the Cliff House. I was a Junior at my big public (over 3,000 kids!) high school in the suburbs of Denver, Colorado—Cherry Creek High School (the same school that was used as a location for the Matt Dillon kids-take-over-the-school film Over the Edge!). I wanted to create a senior portrait for the yearbook that was unique, and had planned this "film shoot" in advance. Our school was pretty conservative—we had very few people of color for a big public school, and many of the students were Young Republicans and so on… I had been a young Dead Head, however, which quickly segued into being a young closeted Punk Rocker, New Waver, and what have you—but I always kept the transgressive elements under wraps to a degree—also I had the very strong notion I was gay, and kept this in the closet most of all, even to myself, not wanting to acknowledge, in this conservative environment and (looking back upon it) time. Although I was outspoken as a "super lefty liberal," I couldn’t go there—yet. I was president of the high school radio (KCRK—"Colorado’s Most Progressive High School Radio" was our slogan!), the art editor of the acclaimed paper The Union Street Journal—where I was also the campus cartoonist, and I enjoyed other extracurricular activities such as forensics, and more, skiing on the weekend with my friends, and enjoying life on all sides—hanging out with the punks, the "freaks," and the "popular kids" including some of the "jocks"! It was all good to me—I was even elected Prom King! In any event, when people took photos of me I always had fun "posing as a GQ model" which I did tongue-in-cheek, knowing it was a pose that covered up much and had to do pointedly to surface, but also to ideas of what we would call performativity. Consciously or unselfconsciously I realized that I was playing a role, but at the same time, knew that what I was "playing" was actually who I was, that there is little divide between the two.
I had journeyed with my friend Tim Peters, a fellow Dead Head whom I met one summer when we were both going to France on a high-school organized long trip where you stayed with a family in a small town, and traveled through much of the country, exploring and learning more of the language and customs. The first day we met, at another school in preparation for the trip, we both mentioned that we were glad we were coming back in time to see the Grateful Dead at Red Rocks—a historically amazing place to see any band but especially this one, and became friends. Like many Dead Heads, Tim had an older sibling that introduced the band’s music to him (I was into the band initially through another friend who had an older sister when I was in middle school), and we thought, the summer after our trip to France, that we would rode trip to Ventura California to see them, and on the way, visit Tim’s other siblings at Basalt, near Aspen, and up the road from Ventura in San Francisco. Even though we wore primarily shorts and t-shirts on this very hot drive without air-conditioning, I packed this "costume" to take with us with the explicit idea to take this image for my yearbook photo—a madras sport coat and purple shirt, the khaki pants, and topsiders—the ultimate "preppy outfit" to go with my hair sprayed helmet hair! The preppy look was at its peak during this time, and truly this was my good summer outfit, but it was fittingly ironic to pose "as a GQ model" on a trip to see the Dead in California on the rocks of the Bay Area. I thought I was playing a role, but looking back on it, I was playing myself, because I was a preppy kid who also enjoyed this kind of music and SOME of the lifestyle that went with it (honestly, Tim’s hippy brother in Basalt and the way he lived sort of freaked me out—and I made a mandate I would never go completely in that direction).
I’m glad now, many years later, that the Grateful Dead has become such a recognized institution, and that the music is almost universally accepted to be incredible, ground breaking, and important, and that not all fans of the band are seen as dropouts or hippies or losers—that you can have your cake and eat it too, and enjoy great art, liberal ideas and attitudes, and also be successful and help to sway the mainstream to having progressive attitudes and ideologies that make the world a better place for everyone, and also acknowledge a space for the transcendent, for the philosophical, for cutting edge and creative visionaries. While painting this it was fun to listen to the music of my youth, of course the Dead but many of the other bands in this great era of new wave, punk, and other pop music that is now seen as one of the pinnacles of pop music creativity. I love Cézanne, and how he is able to get lost in projecting his unconscious into the landscape, especially in the rocks in one of the paintings in particular I cherish at the Met., and it was fun to get lost in the rocks here—the fusion band jazz-like style of the Dead helps to promote transcendent attitudes in musical language that go beyond representation, which hopefully is what is happening. In analog photography, processed I am sure by a local Fotomat; the sepia toned colors of the original image invoke their own kind of synaesthetic nostalgia.
In the end, I ended up creating a more conceptual work for my yearbook that has stayed with me that I also recreated for this exhibition, however, this image is close to my heart. Like Diane Arbus, who always clicked an extra image or two after the one she publicly designated to her sitter as being the "one," the one after this, when you model is more off-guard tends to be the best, as they are truly themselves, which is hopefully what is happening here—where I’m truly myself, a preppy punk rock deadhead, climbing off the rocks, not knowing that 27 years later I would come into my own even more painting the picture of what I was projecting: that all my worlds would converge as one in my future, and hoping it would come true.