In 1999, Andrew and I were living in midtown, on 46th between 5th and 6th avenues in a real “no man’s land”, where only tourists resided at night, and during the day businessmen populated the area. Although there were holes in the ceiling (the contractors would say “why do you want to live here, it’s not Africa!”) our apartment was 1300 square feet for 1300 dollars, and we thought it was a real deal after living in a tiny bohemian apt. on Christopher street for years with the bathtub in the kitchen. But on the first day after moving in, we were moving furniture for the floor people, and something fell on our poodle puppy, killing her. We were shocked and devastated, to say the least, and when we came back from the vet., with blood on our clothes, these horrible men on the floor below us beckoned us into their apt. showing us strange velour wallpaper, asking us which kind we liked—it was red velveteen wallpaper, and the men were mobsters who were opening a real bordello underneath us. Andrew told them frankly that he was teaching at the John Jay School of Criminal Justice—when we asked them what they did, they exclaimed “uh, TRAVEL?!”. From then on, during the night, they would play demonic disco music, and haggard looking woman would come in, and Andrew fell into a deep depression, as did I, having a “mendacity” moment of the artworld. Although I was doing well for the time, I felt a Holden Caulfield-like romantic disattachment to the audience of fine art—was I doing all this work just to appeal to “white rich people” and so on, and when we had the opportunity to purchase Andrew’s grandfather’s cabin, in the middle of nowhere in Riverside California, I withdrew all my work from the galleries, thinking I was going to “retire” (like Rimbaud!) at age 30 from the artworld, and like my heroes Van Gogh and Cezanne, paint in the provinces for myself. After removing nine tons of garbage from our new place, in Perris California, surrounded by trailers of retirees and crystal meth labs, and living for a year teaching and painting, I realized that if the people at the WalMart knew what we were about we would probably be clubbed, and being in blight (this is near the epicenter of what became the center of the housing crises in California) wasn’t all of what it was cracked up to be. I came back with my tail between my legs to New York, and forged a place for Andrew and I to live again, and slowly began my prodigal son journey back into the artworld.
Now we love the cabin, which has become our “fortress of solitude” when we can escape there to get a breather from being in the center of everywhere living in New York. Hopefully we can have the best of both worlds! We have planted over 200 producing trees on a drip system, and although our place is quite modest, really a shack on a hill, we love it, and although the surrounding area is not much to speak of—there is a highway in place of the 2 lane road that was once there leading up to it, and all the big box stores nearby, it is still secluded enough and once you get used to it, can really be quite beautiful. I still have a romantic notion of living in the middle of nowhere—we are in an unincorporated area called Meadowbrook, between Lake Elisnore (named after Hamlet!) and Perris (home of all terrain vehicles, a large train museum, and parachuting and hot air balloons, along with an impoverished suburbia), and the poor man’s castles surrounding us, with plots of land with families of goats and people who have ostriches). The meth labs are still there, but the retirees are friendly, and nature overwhelms all. I hope that the content of my cabin pictures is just this—two gay men who are married trying to live their domestic life in a cabin on the margins, with the beauty of the landscape transcending the politics. I love Turner, and hope that the light of the painting emulates the symbolism of everything it can mean, including the spirit of nature. I also still love Van Gogh and Cezanne, and hope that the nature of the landscape is complex enough that while I’m in the meditation of painting, my unconscious can project onto the map of form, light, and distance, and in micromanaged moments, like the trees of Van Gogh and the rocks of Cezanne, dream worlds can emerge that bring an inner life the surreal joy we find in our escape there, a place that Andrew spent his whole life going to, and what I’m hoping in the future will be our blighted Giverny, where I can grow out my beard real long and paint like Monet the environment and world of our life together.
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Paul Cezanne, Mont Sainte-Victoire , 1895, Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia
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J.M.W. Turner, The Harbor of Dieppe, 182