Facelife

facelife logo

I’m excited to announce that my inaugural quest as an artist building himself a grassroots art career has a name…

Yes, in fact it is Facelife. And here is what Facelife is: I will be donning a nice shirt and putting gel in my hair, walking through my neighborhood, and knocking on all 227 doors, by way of introducing myself to my neighbors.

I use Facebook quite a bit as a means of reaching people and building my audience, and I appreciate the site for its ability to keep people connected in new, strange, virtual ways. I will continue to use Facebook, and I may well take my friend Kerry Bill’s advice and jump into Twitter here before too long; but, I also want to defy the promise and the function of Facebook with this Facelife project, namely, by doing in the physical world what Facebook–really, any social networking technology–allows us to do in the virtual world. I am going to pound some old-fashioned pavement, knock on some doors, and literally say hello to real people whom I don’t know.

I’ll tell you, I don’t know what to expect from this expedition. I imagine no more than 5% of the people I talk to will end up having any interest in what I’m doing. I suppose a lot of people won’t answer their doors, and others will be terse with me, as anyone who makes a point to knock on strangers’ doors should anticipate.

But, I’m excited about it. What’s got my insides all full of the good jitters is that I want to do this both as an artist and a human being. The artist wants people to know who he is and what he does; he wants to build an audience and become a valued part of his community here in north Garland, Texas. The human being just likes to know people. About every other evening I take a walk through my quiet neighborhood, my home for the last 13 months. I like developing a relationship with the land, the weather, the streets, the houses, and the neighbors; and, I credit these walks with accelerating this period of adjustment to my still-new life in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex. Facelife will help me take my relationship with the neighborhood to the next level.

And, each motivation gives courage to the other. The artist is relieved that the human being just wants to meet and greet people rather than try to get something from them, be it a profession of faith, a donation, a sale. And the human being is emboldened by having a pretense for the visit; I’m not just there awkwardly to say hello, but to introduce myself as a local figure who does something the stranger might find interesting.

Of course, I want for these Facelife efforts eventually to engender sales so that I can make that ever-elusive living; but, as any visual artist knows, most of an artist’s audience is comprised of non-paying constituents. And that’s okay. Art can and should be enjoyed for free much of the time. If you’re really good, you figure out ways to scrape rent together each month.

So I’ve gotten my appearance as settled as I can for now, I have a name and a plan for what I’m doing, and I’m working on the map to help me keep track and share my progress as I go. I’ll continue to prepare through August–researching tips for door-to-door types, and so on–as we do some family traveling and wait for the heat to ebb, and I expect to hit the sidewalks at the end of August, just as JPG gets started in third grade. I can’t wait to see this play out, and to share it with you.

A Respectable Haircut

jim public got a haircut 072411

I’m happy to share with you that I’ve made some progress since my first Jimmy, Meet World post, in which I took a look at my look to see what I could do to make myself less freaky-looking as I introduce myself to people in my community. I got a haircut.

I’ve spent most of my life with hair that draws on the “bell” motif. At first, the bell was the result of my mom cutting my hair to fit the times–think Luke Skywalker. Later, I was just reluctant to maintain a coherent and/or respectable appearance. My mind was usually on other things, things like art and what song lyrics mean and, later, how best to parent a short-tempered daughter, and so on. Even mirrors conveniently have shown me only what I want to see, which is just enough of my features to recognize myself as I wash my face or check for pepper in my teeth; my scruffiness is edited out by a brain that hasn’t cared about scruffiness until now. Only in photos did I see myself as I looked to others, like a sad sap from the ’70s.

What I have now is versatile: it can be styled back or up or forward. I can probably get it to stand up in an inspired-looking mess, like you see in portraits of old classical composers. But what’s key in this cut is the clean edge around the ears. It acts like one of those slim, solid frames that contain a de Kooning or Joan Mitchell painting: it gives permission for whatever is within–or above in my case–to be as crazy as it wants to be. Most of the time, however, my hair will probably look a lot like it does above, as I spend the day pushing my fingers back through it. But I reserve the option to tousle and texturize as needed.

So, I got a haircut. I tell you this not because I’m in a sharing mood–I like to share, but I have some sense of self-censure, too–but because what’s happening on this site and in this blog is the journey of a virtually unknown artist from his current state of near obscurity to one of public note. I’m drawing up plans right now for the first direct phase of meeting my local public here in Garland, TX, and those will go up soon.

This blog is handy for me. If I say I’m going to do something here, I’ll feel like a jerk if I don’t do it. I’ll be announcing my first venture into the actual, physical public in the next few days.

What to Expect from This Blog

Jim Public in his studio, July 2011

I spend a lot of time in the studio, which some of you may recognize as a standard suburban 2-car garage with paintings and free-standing walls in place of automobiles, a fact that, to her great credit, my wife has endured since we moved into our first house. Do cars really need their own room anyway?

This is where I do a good deal of manual labor (i.e., making art), looking, and thinking. In the photo, I’ve just finished the former and I’m engaged in the two latter. The looking is how I determine if a piece of artwork is good or finished or needs more work, and the thinking includes all of that plus anything else that’s rattling around in my skull.

What I’m thinking about in the photo, besides how close to done the painting on the left is, is how I’m going to establish a sturdy career. One would think that having been an artist all my life, and a professional one for seven years, I would be past that point. People who would think this include me from the ages of around 18 to the early 30’s or so. To be an artist, and I use the term broadly, you have to face the economic reality that there is an absurd lack of demand for contemporary art in the broad market and an even more absurd glut of artists out there to fill it. We have to be persistent, foolhardy, and a little delusional, and we have to distinguish ourselves. This is what I’m thinking about.

In the last post I was examining my appearance because the career I’m building is a public one, and I need to do what I can to be presentable. My goal isn’t to make public artwork–though it doesn’t exclude it–but to find ways of being an artist in the public, a presence in the community, a local artist. Becoming familiar with the people who live and work where I live and work is a big part of this vision: I want a grassroots art career. I’m not interested in ingratiating myself to the elites of DFW and beyond in order to have a shot at a blue chip art career, a career that most of my neighbors will never know about, because contemporary art is an exclusive world. It’s an exclusive world I love, but one I want to expand to include everyone whose interest I can spark with a little pavement pounding and neighborly goodwill on my part.

And this process, which has the potential to go in all kinds of directions, and which I’m really excited about right now, is what you can expect to be documented in this blog as I go along. And, your reading is an important part of the whole thing. Now I need to nail down my game plan for getting out there with the good folks of north Garland…

Jimmy, Meet World

I want my artwork to reach a lot of people and a lot of different kinds of people. Working toward building a large, diverse audience helps me achieve two goals: 1) I’m more likely to make a living doing this, and 2) I satisfy the drive that artists–all people, really–have, to cross the barriers that separate each of us, to make that human connection. Self-expression is just one half of why I make art. It’s not enough just to pull up for a jump shot, release the ball from your fingers, then turn and walk away: you want to see if you make the basket, and you want to see the crowd’s reaction.

Thinking about this stuff is always going on in my head. But, in my years of being an artist, I’ve given very little thought to what’s going on on my head. So let’s take a minute here to reflect on where I’m at on the outside, the side you see. If I’m going to be an artist with any kind of public presence, appearance deserves some scrutiny. If I can get the way I look a little more under control, maybe this grassroots art career will be a little less tricky.

I give you, Jim Public…

Jim Public headshot 1 July 2011
  1. The overall shape here is thin, so far. This is good for public relations, especially since I’m still relatively young. As I gain years and weight, I can pull off a rounder figure if the career’s doing well: we assume that heavy poor people overeat because of their failures but that heavy affluent people overeat because of their successes. Also, if we use U.S. presidents as a barometer, our last overweight commander-in-chief was Taft, whose term started just over a century ago, while President Obama today is right up there with the lankiest. So, for me, slight makes right. And even though Santa and Buddha are both popular and portly, they have much to give and ask nothing in return, so they’re on a rather different, jolly plane from the rest of us mortals who have to make a living.
  2. The hair is mouse brown and limp, and there’s a definite bell shape happening. It needs attention, be it lots of product to lift it up while keeping the length for some Depp-effect, or a good trim to expose the ears and give the head more of a strong, recognizably geometric shape. The hair must be dealt with realistically, however, because time spent doing hair is time spent not doing art.
  3. The heavy-framed, dark glasses lend an educated, yet disabled look. You see people like this every day, who leave the inner animal in us thinking, “Good for him, carrying on bravely in spite of his impairment, and he hasn’t been killed and eaten yet!” As an accessory, the glasses work okay, imparting a thoughtful, physically nonthreatening presence that will help me when I greet people.
  4. Face shaved = good. And some thin chops to strengthen the line of an otherwise vague, rounded jaw. I’m not thrilled about the gap separating the burns from the hair, which make them look like dangling, hairy earrings, but the sideburns will do for now. This face does not exude masculinity on its own, so the framing facial hair helps a little. But only a little: better for the mind to be virile and the body to be just manly enough to pass. Plus, in this photo, the burns define the cheekbones, which I didn’t realize I had.
  5. The facial expression is neutral in this photo, and I’m happy to see that it’s not too weird or sullen or cranky. Adding a touch of smile will get me closer to the safe-zone for the grassroots art-career-building. The smile needs to be sincere rather than ingratiating: nothing’s worse than a stranger approaching you with a grin that says, “Hi. I want something from you.” My goal as a friendly neighborhood artist isn’t to convince anyone of anything but my existence. The world is full enough of folks whose greetings reek of opportunism. I’m serious about this: if you know that I exist and make art, then I’ve done my job. So, yeah, this facial expression is close to what I need to introduce myself to you, I think.
  6. One last thing before the scrutiny ends and I’m all done looking at my own photo is the shirt and collar. It’s blazing hot in north Texas this summer, as always, and I had thought the light-weave, collared shirt was only about survival, but once again I’m pleasantly surprised that it looks okay, too. Especially note the collar, open one extra button for ventilation: while the shirt itself is a sturdy classic style, the open collar suggests a hint of unbridled creative passion. Striking that balance between refinement and savagery may just be the key to making it as the artist I want to be.

To conclude this self-critique, let me say that I’ve tried to be fair and practical about what the photo shows, and, unless I’m more delusional than I realize, I’m not as bad off as I had expected. I will keep eating vegetables, getting haircuts, using product for texture and body or whatever it is that my hair needs, sporting spectacles, remembering to shave, practicing good posture and smiling just enough not to look crabby. And I’ll get more of those shirts. Maybe half-roll the sleeves for that getting-down-to-business look.

As for the business I need to get down to, there will be more on that. Things are going well in the studio; it’s outside of the studio that needs the work.

One last thing. I’d like to thank Jim Public’s Girl and Jim Public’s Son–JPG and JPS henceforth–for their technical assistance with the photo shoot today. I couldn’t have done this without their eagerness both to pose as stand-ins and snap the pictures.

Jim Public's son sample headshot July 2011Jim Public's daughter sample headshot July 2011