Behind the Scenes
Every morning I pass a paint splatter that makes me think of the Misfits, but in my version the man had syphilis, an affliction which eventually corrodes the skull. I don’t like punk, or at least I don’t understand it; feels bourgeois almost, like not wearing a shirt and screaming seems like a privilege, and if you still have food at the end of the day, then thank you Safeway and why you bitchin’? When I was 17, it was a pretty bad year. I was listening to hair bands, reading Penthouse letters, and testing my small yellow middle-finger for the first time.
What you don’t see are decaying leaves on the pavement, as I cropped them for aesthetic reasons. So a long time ago on Tennessee and 22nd st. in the “Dogpatch” area in Potrero district, a painter spilled some white paint on the sidewalk, maybe even accidentally stepped in it, then walked away; he was a contractor probably, who just painted a house he didn’t live in so it didn’t really matter. Maybe that’s god, some guy who painted skin on us, then walked away.
Damien Hirst’s “For the Love of God,” (2007) is a platinum cast human skull encrusted with +8000 diamonds costing $21.7 million dollars to make. It opened in London’s White Cube gallery at the asking price of $77.5 million [adjusted from English £ to US dollars], a 3.5x increase in value attributed to the auspices of his, um, genius. If you know Hirst, you know this is an indictment, or at least mockery, of the art industry. When the artwork’s “intrinsic value” is not only tangible, but an itemized receipt, then the sale value, imperatively higher, points to the empty economics and perhaps fallacy of the art industry. People say he’s crazy, he’s got diamonds on this fucking skull.
Van Gogh’s “Skull with Burning Cigarette,” (1885) popularized by the David Sedaris book cover, is just as facetious and silently angry, but valued much less, both in the artists’ lifetime, and currently. This is how the Van Gogh myth goes: suffer and die, and if you’re lucky they’ll put your name on a mug. The joke, of course, is that smoking will kill you. Or maybe the joke, the deeper one, is that your painted skin will peel off one day, exposing a bony stupid smile.
When I see a kid wearing earphones, moving his head or knee to it, maybe even the occasional crash of an air cymbal, it makes me feel good inside, like maybe hope is a good thing. I say this because punk is a feeling. It’s free. It’s fleeting. If a 12 yr old girl listens to Miley Cyrus and fucking wants to fucking fuckd move with it like fuck shit agh, then that is punk. Punk is dead, God is dead, Painting is dead. And I’m sort of tired of it all — how eager we claim the death of things, like a lazy God who wants to rest on Sunday, like a funeral home director short on business. There is no such thing as Sunday, because the earth isn’t keeping track of how many times it turned. I like to joke about how great it would be if the big bang never happened, but really, it’s no joke.
In 1915, when Malevich painted “Black Square,” I doubt he was thinking about censoring out shaved snatches of all these girls, our sacrificial lambs led to the slaughter. The tragedy is that these girls think they are empowered with commerce, fame, and transient beauty. And we let them think this, then sit back and watch the parade. Malevich’s problem is he didn’t cover the entire canvas in black paint (thus turning the canvas itself into a black square), but instead, actually painted a black square on the canvas. This has a lot of theoretical implications about modernism and the canvas as object vs. surface which I shant get into because it’s besides the point. If there is a point to any black square, you know where it’s pointing.
My point, if I can remember how I started this thing, is every morning I walk up a large hill to get to the bus stop, and I see a skull on the sidewalk. I think of my own skull, the one trapped inside my face, and wonder if the broken smile underneath also looks retarded.
The sun rises in the east over the bay and at the top of the hill I feel like Hemingway, thinking to myself “the sun is on top of the hills.” The slow rising sun seems to apologize for doing so. And then, maybe for five seconds until I see another human being, I love the world again. The sun isn’t so bright yet, it’s dark pink as some syphilitic sore, and I can finally bear to look.