By Adam Whittier
“No doubt you are as distressed as I am over the recent reports of isolated artistic activity.” —Armond Glasscock, host of The Family Minute
During my time at the Center for Cartoon Studies in Vermont, I was lucky enough to attend a number of private “movie nights,” hosted by one of our instructors. Steve Bissette had joined the faculty after retiring from the comic-book industry, during which time he’d worked on projects as varied and venerable as Swamp Thing, Constantine, and 1963.
Aside from making and teaching comics, Steve’s greatest joy is cinema. He made constant references to both obscure and mainstream films during lectures, and had an extensive home library filled with movies—many of which were rare, foreign, or forgotten. And every Wednesday evening, he would treat students and their guests to a couple of choice films from his collection. I would attend more often than not, walking the short span from my room in the Hotel Coolidge down the stairs, across the lobby, out the door, and across the street to the school. The school’s main offices are located in an old brick building, which had previously served as a Post Office (and before that, a bank—we used the walk-in safe to store our easels and drawing horses).
Sometimes Steve’s movie nights were themed; a favorite actor or director might have an evening devoted to them, as was the case with Busby Berkeley and David Lynch. Other nights were allocated by genre; horror was Steve’s personal favorite, and these films probably made up the bulk of his showings. Actually, it’s because of Steve that I now seek out horror movies, especially the bad ones. (If you’ve never seen Andy Warhol’s 1974 film Blood for Dracula, you really should.) But generally, Steve’s main rule seemed to be: “If it’s a movie, I’ll show it.” He really would show anything, but the rare or bizarre received special attention.
One of these films stands out to me especially: Existo, a 1999 film directed by Coke Sams and starring Bruce Arntson, of Doyle and Debbie fame. In a world in which art and theatre have been outlawed, poets, painters, performers, and the like must ply their crafts in secret, speakeasy-style; otherwise, they risk offending the Nixon-esque “moral majority” that control culture and taste. The majority’s prevailing opinions are doled out each evening during The Family Minute television program. The host, Armond Glasscock, is a folksy Glenn Beck doppelganger who dispenses judgement with just the right dose of paternal firmness. He and his ilk are the tastemakers, forever on the lookout for bohemians and ne’er-do-wells. They have succeeded in banishing artistic expression to the underground, but live in constant fear of its resurfacing. The artists, for their part, live to stage guerilla art attacks on the public whenever possible. Such events are reported by Glasscock and others with a delivery better reserved for shootings or terrorism. One reporter on the frontlines of such an attack noted with sadness that a group of teenagers had been affected. They were taken to the hospital, he said, but would be tragically consigned to “a lifetime of morbid introspection.”
I find myself thinking about Existo a lot. I can feel the same artistic tension in my own life, and see the same culture war playing out, albeit with more subtlety. Artists are always at war, to some extent; a displaced people without sovereignty. We are constantly fighting for school funding, for exhibition space, for time, and for respect from people who demand free labor and then want to know how we make a living. Unfortunately, both the real “moral majority” and the one in Existo also feel oppressed. Their families, their values, their venerated institutions, and the very fabric of these United States are being assaulted at every turn, and it’s up to them to put a stop to it.
But when I first watched Existo at Steve’s movie night, none of this really hit home. I was one of the youngest students at cartoon school, and my political opinions were only just beginning to change: away from those of my adolescence (i.e., my parents’ ideas) and into something formed from my own adult experiences. We were also living in a blissfully pre-Trump era, when I didn’t feel as though my artwork had to be weaponized for the greater good. This is all a long way of saying that Existo’s over-the-top subversiveness not only failed to inspire me, it was actually repellant.
Things look different from the future’s vantage point. I recently watched Existo again, and was completely surprised—by its outrageousness, by its alacrity, and by its frightening relevance to our own time. Even more surprising was my reaction: I found that I now loved and understood the film that I’d previously rejected. The world and I had changed, but Existo had stayed the same, waiting to inject a bit of artistic courage where and when it’s most urgent. Fans of democracy owe Coke Sams and Bruce Arntson a hearty thank-you, and I owe an additional thank-you to Steve Bissette—who seemed to know, all those years ago, that he was giving us all exactly what we needed.
(The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of DrewBoy Creative)
By Saul Martinez
Nothing gives a higher sense of power than the grainy wooden handle of a broom, or a real baseball bat in late adolescence. I remember being nine years old and feeling my heart pounding in my chest. I was the next batter up, but this was no baseball game. Not whiffle-ball. Not Stick-ball. This was a different sport. La Pinata!
Will I miss repeatedly, without ever connecting broomstick to pinata, and embarrass myself again? Will I approach this year with a new strategy? Who is pulling the tethered rope this time? I think it’s dad. I can feel his evil plan lurking in his eyes. He’s a trickster and will make me swing for my life. Will I ignore the savvy grown-ups and their auditory directions? Nerves strike as I wonder if I will ruin the party by accidently nailing an innocent bystander. Parents are warning the littlest kids salivating over candy that will surely rain down from a shattered pinata. Dulces Mexicanos and American candy if we’re lucky. I can’t disappoint them, but they better back away and let me do what I came to do.
The blindfold goes on. Little do they know I am way smarter than my tia, who is dulling my vision with an old bandana. I shake my head just enough to see through the gap created between the blindfold and the bridge of my nose. Adrenaline sets in as I fool the crowd into believing I am truly without sight. I can see my feet - a clear upper hand in the game.
Large, warm hands grip my miniscule shoulders. OF COURSE! How could I expect my family to take it easy on me this year? Surely it would anger my dead Aztec warrior - Conquistador ancestors to skip the traditional vigorous spinning of the young pinata matador. I’m dizzy now. Don’t they know how dizzy I get. Years later I learn that this is what is referred to as the “fog of war”.
Dad, the pinata puppeteer, is intent on not letting junior get a few licks in. He floats the cardboard sculpture adorned with vibrant tissue near my face. I have an adoration for this pinata, as it bares a close resemblance to Michelangelo (the ninja turtle, not the Renaissance artist), my favorite of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. He floats it long enough for my little nostrils to detect it’s presence.
I wind up for the swing. I take aim.
Laughter ensues, clearly this blinded boy needs help. The crowd offers assistance-
“Esta detras de ti”
“Ritchie back away!”
Along with every other preposition imaginable, that disorient and bewilder. With every bit of my being, I summon Babe Ruth, I summon He-man Master of the Universe, and I summon Leonardo (the ninja turtle not Renaissance artist). I swing. Yet the target is elusive. I swing again. And again. A little side note: official pinata rules are non-existent and thus the crowd determines how long this embarrassment goes on. I swing again.
Alas! After an exhaustive number of misses this Charlie Brown kicks his football. I connect and in a few successful chain of swings I begin to feel like I have drawn candy-shaped blood. Have you ever seen a nine year old get a taste of rage?
Someone has taken me and put me in a submissive hold no kid can squirm out of and they remove the blunt shaped object from my tiny white knuckles. The blindfold comes off and the broomstick gets handed to the next valiant fighter. After a brief survey of the situation I see that the pinata remains mostly intact. A small gash exists on Mikey’s turtle shell. Clearly a worthy adversary.
In customary fashion an older kid will have to finish a job. I am happy to contribute. And even more eagerly so, I will be ready to reach for the swath of candy when it comes crashing down.
By Dee Boyle
Hi, my name is Dee. I am a 20-something Tri-Cities native who would have never imagined she would be found in art gallery, let alone be on the board for one, or writing a 600 or so word article about said gallery. But, here I am and I want to tell you how I got here.
My connection to DrewBoy started with the people. Through the three-degrees of Tri-Cities I was connected to the man behind it all, Davin Diaz, who knew I am a writer of sorts and asked if I would write a short piece to read at the Orange Show. I was a little intimidated – scratch that – SUPER intimidated. Davin was/is someone I truly respect, and I was honored, but I wasn’t sure it was for me. I was shy about the idea of showing up at an art show, let alone showing up and reading my own work. I had always felt I was an arts supporter, but this felt out of my depth. But, life is about what happens when you are out of your depth. So, I thought, why not. It’s not like I ever have to go back.
Cut to the Orange Show. I was full of nerves. Would I fit in? I am cool enough for this? What if I don’t get it? Will they (whoever I thought ‘they ‘was) know I don’t get it? Oh yeah, and I have to read own work. No pressure. But, then I walked into the sweet little space and realized I was so wrong. The place was bursting with life. The good kind of life. It was on the walls, it was on the faces, in the conversations, life was everywhere in all forms. I was welcomed and I was wowed. There was no ‘secret’ to get, it was just about what you felt when you were there. I was blown away by it all.
I kept coming back. Show after show, soaking in life. There were shows that made me feel connected through similar experiences, like the Invisible Show, where artists shared their experiences with mental health. There were shows like the Immigration Show, that took a subject I thought I knew, and gave real perspective. I was touched by stories told by individual artist’ shows, like The Shedding - An art show by Denise Bowles that expressed her experience with an autoimmune disease, and Ayleen Wood’s show that represented scenes in the Tri-Cities in the way I knew them, not how the tourism brochures display them. At every show the art hanging on the walls had a way of hanging in my heart, as corny as that may sound. And on top of all that, I always meet the greatest people in a space, you can’t help but be genuine.
Needless to say, I was hooked. DrewBoy gave me a place to appreciate and soak-in art, something I had never truly experienced in my life that way, where art is not an ambience device, but the true focal point. DrewBoy Creative has made my life richer, and there is plenty more of this life-wealth to share. The future of DrewBoy Creative is to stay the course, give artists a space where their work is the true focal point, and give people (even if they aren’t looking for it, like I wasn’t), a place to experience more life. I encourage you to come to our next show, even if it feels out of your depth.
I am truly grateful for this space, and hope to share it with you at our next show.
By John Roach
I’m a founding board member at DrewBoy Creative, where over the last three years we’ve energized and transformed the Tri-Cities community by showing work from more than 135 artists at over 26 art shows. I’m passionate about DBC because art changed (probably saved?) my life, and I’ve treasured the opportunity to help create a space where the same kind of effect can be facilitated here in the Tri-Cities.
In the Summer of 200 I had an experience with a single painting that is also very reminiscent of what we’re trying to do at DBC. My younger brother Luke and I were in Vienna, Austria. We spent all day at Belvedere Museum, home to many artworks by Gustav Klimt and Egon Scheel. It was a long, physical day of museuming and we were ready to be done when we were stopped short by one of the final paintings we encountered-”The last Contingent” by Franz von Defregger. It depicts a group of old men marching out of town off to war, farm implements in hand, with looks of terror and anger and shock and defeat on their faces and those of the women and children watching them go.
The painting captures the horror and futility of war, and independently we were transported to thinking of our grandfathers and uncle who had fought in WWII and Vietnam. We were emotionally leveled by the painting, and we each bought a print of it. Later that year when Luke died suddenly while running the Chicago Marathon, the painting and the awareness catalyzed by it became a permanent thread connecting me to him. It’s not a happy painting, but
it explains *so much*, and that 20 minutes I spent with my brother contemplating its depths in Vienna is among the most treasured moments of my life.
The DBC show inVisible in 2017 was a culminating experience to what started 17 years ago in Vienna. For the show, we convened a small group of exceptional artists who created works meant to illuminate experiences of mental illness and health. We placed written prompts around the gallery encouraging people to share their own experiences with one another, and we filmed an intensely personal documentary on opening night that we debuted at DBC’s first film festival later that year. Hundreds of people gathered to bear witness to the art and to the shared experiences of struggling through, living with, and transcending mental illness. Many audience members spoke to me afterwards of the catharsis, communion, and gratitude that they experienced as a result of their participation. The collective experience of it all fully validated for me the mission of art: its singular capacity to serve as a vehicle for self discovery and transformation.
Discovering and being moved by art together, in a space designed for interaction and shared experience, is foundational to DBC’s mission. In the last 3 years we’ve held dozens of shows creating a forum for the life-changing moments like the ones I shared. Our signature color show opens on February 15. We launched the space by celebrating the color red and have celebrated a color annually ever since. We follow the color spectrum (or rainbow) and at the beginning of our fourth year of operations we will celebrate the color green. In May we will celebrate
Latino culture, inviting artists from all walks of life to create piñatas. In July we will host our second film festival.
For years, I succumbed to the all-too-commonly-held belief that the Tri-Cities was a cultural wasteland. I am here to proclaim, without reservation, that this formerly prevailing view is bunk. Alongside many other life-giving and life-changing organizations, initiatives, projects, collectives, and heroic individual efforts (many of which you can find right here in Tumbleweird!), DBC has reinvigorated and re-imagined the role of art in transforming our community. It has been my great honor to be a small part of it, and I cannot wait to see what happens next. I hope to see you along the way.
By Ashleigh Rogers
A little over two years ago, when I had my first experience with DrewBoy Creative (DBC), I was struggling to find my voice. I saw myself as a mother, a wife, a friend, a teacher even-but couldn’t quite find the courage to embrace who I was apart from my relationship to others. I knew that art made me feel alive, that my hands itched to create every day, but using the word “artist” to describe myself was a terrifying concept-too bold an assertion, and too presumptuous a leap into territory I wasn’t sure I had the right to be in. My cheeks would burn when my husband introduced me to people as “an artist”, and I would quickly go to work dismissing his claim, afraid that I couldn’t live up to such a lofty label.
Webster-Merriam defines an artist as a person who professes and practices the imaginative arts, or a person who is skilled in one of the fine arts, and my fickle ego always becomes entangled in the implications and ambiguity of the latter. What does skilled mean, and who gets to decide? The artists? The buyer? The public? Does skilled mean classically trained or in possession of a BFA? Does skilled mean your art is pretty? Realistic? Pleasant? All of these qualifications build rigid parameters that can have a stifling effect on the creative process. When a laser focus is placed on the potential sale or public perception and artist may stop taking risks, and stop listening to find their true authentic vision. In a society where identity is so entangled with achievement, and achievement so conflated with sales and marketability, identifying as an artist can easily feel like it comes with a plethora of conditions.
While art does serve an aesthetic role in our culture, and creating art for people to buy and hang in their homes and businesses- to beautify, decorate and celebrate nostalgia and sentiment, is valuable and important- art has other jobs as well. Art connects us, communicating ideas that transcend language. Art reflects and shapes our values, art serves as a record keeper, art gently guides us to consider new perspectives and elicits powerful emotions that enact change. We need art, and we need artists who feel empowered and unencumbered. John F. Kennedy said “If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him.”
My first show at DBC, the State of the Union Art Show in 2017, after a divisive election, I remember feeling that freedom. Walking into the space I was terrified because I had made something that didn’t fit inside the rigid parameters I had for “good art”, it wasn’t pretty, or pleasant or technically excellent, but I was immediately accepted as an “artist” by the DBC. As I looked around the room, I felt excited and inspired- I saw art hanging on the walls that was different, I saw art made in a hundred different voices in a hundred different ways. Art that was beautiful, art that was shocking, art that was pleasant, art that was sad, and I felt the room vibrating with conversation and energy, buzzing with an exchange of ideas and a distinct feeling of connection and community. I heard poetry that night that moved me to tears, and saw art that expanded my knowledge of the human experience, and I when someone approached me at that show and asked me if I was an artist, I said yes...even though my cheeks burned. I said yes, and remembered the visceral truth, that I was an artist because I made art, that I was an artist because I had something to say, that I was an artist because, as Emile Zola said, “I am here to live out loud”.
DBC has created a space for artists of all kinds to live out loud, to follow their vision to the end, a space that prioritizes the artist and the art above all else. If you have a vision, something to share with the world, a desire to connect, to be inspired or gain a different perspective, consider attending or entering a show at DrewBoy Creative!