What Julian Sees, 1999 Oil on canvas 24 × 20 inches
What Julian Sees, 1999
Oil on canvas 24 × 20 inches

In 1999 we had given everything we knew up to move to Andrew’s grandfather’s broken down cabin Riverside California, in the middle of a desert that had long been the home of many poor man’s castles—nestled throughout the unincorporated neighborhood of Meadowbrook were eclectic small homes with little plots of land that had ostriches, goats, horses, crystal meth labs, ZZ Top characters that would give you looming looks. We had been doing well in New York City—sort of. I had my solo debut at Jay Gorney Modern Art, then a prominent gallery in Soho on street level when Soho was hot and Jay had a hot gallery. My teacher Lari Pittman and UCI confidant Cathy Opie showed there (she humbly worked the cage when I was in grad school before she soon became famous) and I showed newly devised, roughly-hewn figurative paintings next to "figurative abstract" paintings I deemed Iconscapes, as I am a son of psychoanalyst and have a long standing penchant for the unconscious, and wanted to project this onto my figurative works, having them break into abstraction, and my abstract works come together as unconsciously derived figures, like living dreams. This became a notorious show, hopefully ahead of its time, as collectors, who were engulfed with the Art and Fashion era of art—where most painting had to look like photos— and those who knew my work knew me for tightly and smartly rendered drawings and paintings that had appropriated styles to conjure post modern antecedents embedded into narratives. But artists, especially painters, loved it, totally "got" what I was doing—there were Marsden Hartley, Soutine, and Nicholas De Stael shows uptown, for some collectors, this didn’t translate downtown, where especially early in ones career, you can be judged more about how accurately you can portray something in your rendering to look "real," or like a photo, that how one can veer away from this and show you the good stuff of emotion, painterliness, and abstraction projected into figurative forms and outwardly content like most of the best of art history. In any event, I actually had done fairly well for myself, making a name however notorious, and had begun to show in some other honored galleries such as Luhring Augustine and Mary Boone. We had moved from our tiny squalor on Christopher Street to a 1300 square foot space for $1300 a month on 46th st, between 5th and 6th avenues—a no man’s land a night, and during the day, squalor with businessmen and tourists. It was a strange place—construction workers would ask us "why do you want to live here, this isn’t Africa" looking at holes in the ceiling, but we had a vision. However, the vision was thwarted—one of the first days we moved in, something fell on our poodle puppy when we were moving stuff for the floor people, and killed her. We came back from the vet with blood on our clothes, devastated, when two evil, dead looking men invited us into their apartment downstairs. Showing us this red, velveteen wallpaper they asked us which we liked best, and asked us "what we did for a living." They were clearly mobsters, but not the cool kind you see in movies—they looked like they would, and probably did, kill people, and they were opening a bordello underneath our apartment.

I’m pro-PC, pro-sex worker in theory, but these tired, haggard looking women would appear every night up our stairway, and there would be loud, demonic disco music playing all night. Andrew fell into a deep depression, and I was having a Holden Caulfield "mendacity" moment with the artworld—I didn’t want to make work that was merely about expressing myself to this seemingly very rarified audience, and wanted to be more like my heroes, the poet Arthur Rimbaud, Cézanne, Van Gogh, Gauguin, and the rest. So I pulled myself out of the artworld, taking all my work out of all the galleries, and with Andrew’s encouragement, we packed our bags and moved to California, where we had to wait a summer for the poor woman and their children to leave our new place—they hadn’t paid rent in months and Andrew’s mom, who sold us the cabin, which was her settlement in a divorce from Andrew’s delinquent dad. She was a truant landlord, and hadn’t been there in a very long time—this family had literally thrown garbage out their window and were living in over nine tons of it—old diapers, swing sets, cans and tires that Andrew and I cleaned out, planted trees, painted and repaired the home while I worked as a teacher at my UC Irvine, my old grad school. It truly became a beautiful place that we transformed, and the spirit of Andrew’s grandfather was felt, in addition to the spirit of the nature of the place, which we cultivated, and raised chickens and ducks from hatchlings, and got another German Shepherd, Rachel, to be a companion to our dog Julian, and we felt transported. I began painting "en plein air," like my Impressionist heroes—the content of the work I felt was that we were two gay men, living together in a rural nowhere California, forging our lives together and our future, while not quite "off grid," in the boonies of sorts. This painting was created in the apotheosis of this time, where, like Monet in a blighted Giverny, I was using the landscape to project my thoughts and feelings onto the place, really as a meditation for myself, something the Iconscapes painted in Gotham hadn’t achieved—with Nature as my backdrop, I was able to reach blissful other realms, where in this work I see unconsciously derived figures ascending into a heaven, with our dogs and chickens in the foreground. I love this painting and while I enjoy now living in NYC and visiting our even more beautiful cabin often, this work will always represent an ideal and a vision that I will continue always to strive for and hopefully someday reach.

After a year of living there we realized how truly romantic, but utopic, it was—if the people at Walmart knew what we were about theywould probably club us, and if I was wired to "do this," be a fine artist, I better get on with it and realize that wonderful beauty that can be the artworld and its people—and came back to New York with my tale between my legs, the prodigal son. Ultimately I’m glad we moved there to create a foundation for ourselves, it is our getaway and hopefully our future, and our heart and soul resides in this incredible place which hopefully is also in this painting.