This Is Fine.

Some reflections on surrendering during moments of uncertainty.

I think the most enduring meme of this era will undoubtedly be This Is Fine. You know the one, with the little dog guy sitting at a table drinking coffee as the room around him is engulfed in flames. I think it speaks to a lot of things happening currently, the pandemic, the climate crisis and political instability happening all around us.

At the end of a very hot dry summer here in California this became quite literal as there were massive wildfires, the 3rd largest in state history was raging about 12 miles behind where we live. The fire department fought to push these fires away from the thousands of houses dotted through Mount Hamilton and Alum Rock. Their alternative was to drive them away from the human dwellings and towards the vast area of bush filled with wildlife. We were initially asked to evacuate until we were considered outside of highest risk zone and put instead on a notification. Watching the people around me grapple with the precariousness of this on top of all the mounting issues of 2020 was insightful. There’s a special type of denial and magical thinking required to keep on through moments like these. 

working in my outdoor studio (aka the balcony) in San Jose during the fires.

I know all about living with uncertainty and despite my own critiques of magical thinking and manifesting I suppose I’ve always had to employ a certain amount of it. I said to my wife the other day that the key to being an artist is possessing a certain amount of insanity. By definition if insanity is doing the same thing over and over each time expecting a different outcome I guess my actions could fit that description. There’s a type of unwavering self belief required to keep being an artist, set back after set back. There’s a type of trust that machinations are at work beyond your knowledge and control that will come through and provide for you when you need it most. So far so good, I’m 41 years old and I’m still here doing this. I’ve never had my windfall but I’ve had just enough to hang in there!

Over the few days leading up to and while writing these first 3 paragraphs I’ve been more than anxious about everything.

I’ve been reflecting a lot on what it is to be resourced. How having enough of what you need at any moment enables you to respond accordingly to potential opportunity. I think about the times I’ve been given a great chance to do something that could elevate my career into something more sustainable and how a lack of resources at that moment prevented me from doing so. Opportunities for gallery shows/representation, dream projects and well paid work that required a certain investment on my end to participate.  I’ve thought a lot about how that has reflected on me - it has given the impression in some situations that I’m disorganised, chaotic or even aloof. Being that I’ve lived mostly hand to mouth since I moved out of home at 17 my resources have mostly been tight. Despite moving abroad validating me on some level it also added a different level of logistical complication to everything I do. That was even before this global pandemic which has turned everything on it’s head. For example, the ability to move freely around the world was central to my income. 

Despite being married to a US citizen I chose not to immigrate because of the restrictions while waiting for a green card. I went through a very lengthy process applying for an O1 visa which kept my wife and I apart for 6.5 months. It’s a very specific visa which limits the ways I can make money here. I cannot work directly for people, it’s meant to go through my sponsor. I am not eligible for any type of financial support. Despite loads of optimism (maybe denial) I’ve discussed plenty of potential projects this year which invariably don’t come through. I’m not bitter about it, I’m realistic because to borrow a term I learned from Dabs & Myla I know better than to “Mentally Bank” money from projects before they become a reality.

Aotearoa compared to the US is looking stable right now. My friends are not just busy, they’re super busy. We also have joint projects many years in the making that are happening in 2021 and so now starts the process of getting home for at least 4 months. I shared a lot about my story when I got stuck apart (again!) from my wife after the border closures in March and I was overwhelmed by all the goodwill. So many people purchased paintings, prints and moved mountains to make projects happen so I could get back to the US. It blew me away. Again, I was so grateful when people bought the prints and small to medium works on paper I finished up once back in the US. One lesson I’ve learned though is as artists our support base is only so big and can only spend what they can. Especially right now, realistically it’s a tough time for a lot of people and also the market is totally awash with many people in my exact situation sharing their wares in time for Christmas. 

Right now I just got a message from a friend who’s organising an additional festival to the one I was already planning to paint at in February and then another message from a friend offering a potential workshop - both are for decent pay, OK things are looking up!

The pathway to coming home with my wife so we don’t get separated again has been made a lot easier in some aspects with the critical purposes visa. We applied for an invitation for her to then apply for the visitors visa and it was granted. Now we’re going through the process of making the application. We need to do that before booking flights because they’re super expensive for refundable tickets in this climate. We need tickets booked in order to apply for our managed isolation vouchers which are rumoured to be filling up fast in for the new year period. The clock is ticking.

Just got a message from a friend who’s holding some of my paintings back home double checking some info because he might have a potential sale. What the hell? Am I manifesting right now? 

To my earlier point, these are the things at work I have no control over - I just need to be ready to receive them when they come. As I mentioned, sometimes this requires me to be resourced in advance but it can be a relief to know that you are never privy to every thing, every potential project where your name is brought up or every time someone is considering buying a work off you. I heard a great quote the other day which was about the Stoics and how they say you can’t control which circumstances come your way but only how you react them. I’ve learned many times that panicking gets me nowhere. It’s scary to be out on a limb and to have no security but honestly, who has security right now? My friends that work so called ‘normal jobs’ are dealing with just as much uncertainty as I am.

What have I learned from all this? I know that my transient days are over for a good while. Covid made us slow down a lot and to be real with you that part feels OK. I’m longing to build a new studio situation - a place with everything in one spot: a designated painting area with extractors, a full digital and screen printing set up, a photography studio, design and editing suite and maybe even an exhibition space. I want it to be a resource for my friends working in the post-graffiti realm to elevate, problem solve and make their best work with me. I’ve attempted this before but never with the clarity of vision I have right now. It’s going to take a few years but I guess if I’m accidentally manifesting this is what I’m manifesting now.