I did a number of self-portraits of myself as a little kid when I was at my final art school, The Minneapolis College of Art and Design.
This black and white painting is from a sad, weird black and white photo of me around age 7 or 8, taken at our cabin in the Adirondacks. The kids are my brother, far left, then me, staring dead-eyed at the photographer, and my father’s girlfriend Cathy’s kids, Carla and Ethan.
I think this was painted in 1990, but it could have been 1991.
I loved Carla and I was really glad to be in the hammock at the cabin; I was just an angry, suffering kid. At this age I was dealing with Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome, which meant I woke up hours later than everyone else, depression and the invasive and violating sexual words and behavior of my father. I would be molested by a stranger within a year or two.
I was kicked out of my private school because of acting out at eight.
Janine was a professional illustrator who lived on the sixth floor of the building I grew up in, 312 West 20th St. in Chelsea. For a while when I was seven my father hired her to give me private lessons. She was the person who taught me about the “Line of Action” or gestural line of a drawing, using a drawing of a leaping leopard. I drew a leash around the leopard’s neck at the end of our lesson, so it wouldn’t run away!
You can see the Empire State Building out of her window – you could see it from her side of the building. I drew this in my last year at MCAD, I think – 1992. I drew myself as this avid, volatile kid – wildly eager to learn but with trouble behaving normally. In retrospect I look large for seven but Janine was a very small person!
This is from 1991 or 1992, a picture of myself as a ten-year-old in class at The Art Student’s League.
I remember those classes vividly, the experience of learning to draw from a still life and using pastels for the first time – beginning of a love-hate relationship! Learning to draw the center line on a bottle to make it symmetrical. Learning to observe.
At this age I had recently cut my own hair off with household scissors, because my father loved my long hair, and was also now living with OCD and disordered eating. I was incredibly angry.
Or tied on a long lead to a birch tree in the backyard, grazing, for long summer hours. Horses were my great obsession and comfort, both my model horse collection and the real ones in the summers.
This drawing of me lying on Bucky’s back was made, but not used for, my senior thesis project, an artist’s book about childhood sexual abuse and my own history as CSA survivor.
I realize that my story contains immense privilege – TWO country houses! An actual pony! Private drawing lessons, private school and art school! So many toys! And this privilege, like my mom’s unconditional love, is a huge part of the extraordinary resilience I’ve shown my entire life. But things are not simple. My father, a product of violent childhood abuse and the Great Depression, was obsessed with education and property.
So we had houses in the country, but very rough ones, with no bathroom at the cabin. We didn’t have a single towel that matched another at home; sometimes my father had no cash until the next article sale, the next antique sold to a collector, the next book advance.
I had art school and private lessons because of very basic Drama of The Gifted Child stuff – my father wanted me to be a famous artist, a prodigy, for his own narcissistic reasons. Art was never “play” for me; it was a high-risk undertaking where my entire identity was at stake. It was my way of validating my existence; having a right to live.
Not gonna lie, in these days of quarantine, I still feel like my work is the most precious part of my life history.
I know I have impacted people as I have been sober 31 years; people say I saved them. I know I’ve been kind to people in ways that matter. But I have also done much harm, and I carry that. My work is the part of my legacy I trust, because I became an artist who tells other peoples’ stories. I became an artist who is about documenting other people’s uniqueness and preciousness, and I think that’s beautiful and transcendent.
I’m enormously grateful to have found this life path.
Some of these paintings and drawings had never been photographed; until now, no record of them existed – if we had a fire or flood they would just be gone forever.
I am so grateful to my Patrons on Patreon, whose monthly financial support makes it possible for me to take time to document my art archives.