F A C I N G t h e M U S I C

“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

-James Baldwin

This developing body of work, begun at the top of 2018, is a series of portraits of significant humans paired with song lyrics that I feel are relevant to those individuals. I am slowly building a list of people such as Vandana Shiva, Jack Kevorkian, Cyntoia Brown, Buckminster Fuller, Medgar Evers, Tom Waits, Nicola Tesla, etc., artists, forward thinkers, activists, wrongly accused and persecuted; humans who have inspired me in some way, as the subjects of this series. The lyrics that I connect to these people resonate with some aspect of their lives, struggles, inventions, legacies.

Also within Facing the Music are text-based pieces, a further evolution of the Notes to Self body of work, which utilized deconstructed text forms as meditations on my own history of experience with communication and the emotional weight that resides in the language of human relationship. Facing the Music, however, uses text to examine the external world, and draws from contemporary music as well as historical documents and graffiti. The abstract works are intended to compliment the portraits by extending metaphors through color and textual content.


James Baldwin

One of the great writers of our time, of any time for that matter, Baldwin’s was a singular and powerful voice. He knew and spoke his truth with articulate passion and certainty.

As a teenager growing up in a religious home in New York, he came to understand that he was homosexual in a time even less friendly to homosexuals than it was to people of color. The racial and sexual ignorance and prejudice of his homeland, our United States, was intolerable to Baldwin, so he moved to the far more accepting city of Paris in 1948, shortly after his genius literary career began. He was 24 years old. His work is perpetually inspiring and relevant.

Below, some details and a preliminary sketch, also in marker, for this piece.

2020 marker on paper 22×30 inches


The Secular Gospel of St. James

A companion to the James Baldwin portrait built from the words of another great artist, David Byrne.

2020 marker on paper 22×30 inches

CBedit2 web edit

Cyntoia Brown

16 year-old Cyntoia Brown was tried as an adult for murder and given a sentence at a maximum security prison in Nashville, Tennessee, in which parole would not be possible for 51 years. Regardless of the crime and the brief lifetime of tragedy leading up to it, had she been born with blonde hair and blue eyes, there would be a miniseries about Brown by now. As it was, her sentence was commuted to 15 years, and Brown was freed in August of 2019.

2018 marker on paper 22×30 inches

maze web edit

wandering in weighted minutiae

A companion piece to the Cyntoia Brown portrait, this tangle of red, withered tendrils and overlapping arms that lock in dead ends, is not unlike a bureaucracy that dictates the lives of those residing within our institutions.

2019 marker on paper 22×30 inches

You can view 83 progress photos of this piece on GitHub.

Emmett Till

Emmett Till

In 1955, 14 year-old Chicagoan Emmett Till was severely beaten and shot in the head, then thrown in the Tallahatchie River by two Mississippi men, who were then acquitted of the crime by a jury of their peers in an hour and five minutes.

One of the things that struck me most in reading the Studs Terkel book Race, is how forgiving Till’s mother, Mamie, was toward the murderers. Feeling that no greater judgement could be passed on them than that of God’s judgement, she refused to be broken by grief. Mamie Till became a school teacher and dedicated the rest of her life to Chicago’s educational system, activating communities to take better care of their children. Her decision to hold an open casket funeral for her son was a turning point in the Civil Rights movement. I am not religious, but the strength Mamie Till found through her faith to contribute to meaningful and positive social change is something I deeply admire.

This portrait was based on a photograph that Mamie took of her son on Christmas day of 1954, about eight months before Emmett was murdered. And why same as it ever was? Trayvon Martin, Laquan McDonald, Stephon Clark, to name but a few murdered children.

2018 marker on paper 22×30 inches

nec spe nec metunec spe nec metu

Common graffiti in Caravggio’s Rome, “nec spe nec metu” translates to “no hope, no fear,” which impoverished citizens would scrawl on the walls of their city in the late 1500’s to let the one-percenters of the era know that they were wiling to fight and die for the necessities. Considering the fascism of trump’s “government” and continued gun-related violence, the phrase feels relevant to me.

The second phrase present in this piece, “ut eadem semper erat,” is a translation of the Talking Heads lyric “same as it ever was.” The same shit keeps happening. I want to believe that we will eventually forsake greed, duplicity, and intolerance as the primary guiding forces of our culture, because I am a thread-grasping optimist at heart, and I love people, but confidence is low.

2018 marker on paper 22×30 inches

everything is possible but nothing is real

everything and nothing

“We are the children of concrete and steel / this is the place where the truth is concealed / this is the time when the lie is revealed / everything is possible but nothing is real.”

-Living Colour, “Type”

I have lived in a corrupt and beautiful city for 25 years. So much diversity and potential, so many asses being kissed and palms being greased, and so much sumptuous life continually happening. I love Chicago for all is has given and shown me.

2017 marker on paper 18×24 inches

new american flag 2

new American flag II

Inspired by Jabari Asim’s brilliant book The N Word: “Far more durable is the majority culture’s invocation of “timeless American values” such as individual rights, religious freedom, and equal justice, and it’s simultaneous ignorance of other traditional American values such as greed, duplicity, and intolerance.”

2017 marker on paper 18×24 inches

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