"Dunsmore Park,' Lithographer's Crayon, 5" x 8.5", '09
In the post-mortem dispatching of personal effects, items that were of great value to the Departed may be overlooked, while conventional items may get cherished and coveted by family and friends. So for that reason, I have made a premature disbursement of this little drawing to my dentist and wife, who happens to be his assistant and bookkeeper.
I drew this on site from my truck window with the complete certainty that I had just suffered either a heart attack or some major coronary event. It was Spring of ’09. I returned from a working trip to St. Louis, where I had spent an entire week immersed body and soul in an installation at the White Flag gallery there. The long hours and intense pace didn’t seem unusual to the crew I was working with—all men in their early thirties. I got into the spirit of the event, which was part Dionysian, owing to the free-flowing spirits.
When I awoke on my first morning back in Cincinnati, I couldn’t move. There was a relentless pain and pressure in my chest. As I weighed my options, I was fully conscious. If I lay perfectly still I would experience only a dull persistent central body ache that was semi-bearable. I eventually navigated from being fully prone to shuffling around bent at the waist, clutching my chest. I was in a game of Hamlet, veering between pretending nothing had happened to “something has to be done.” In all likelihood, the latter would include being cracked open like a walnut by interns, followed by the loss of our home. My wife was uncharacteristically panicked by my behavior, which included long stints of sitting on the kitchen floor with legs fully straight. It seemed to help when I pushed my back against the kitchen cabinets.
I was eventually able to drive. Though funds were rapidly diminishing, I persisted in my Do Nothing regimen. I drove to my favorite local haunt, a little park near a Jewish Cemetery. On this beautiful afternoon I took out sketchbook and lithograph crayons, a medium that I had been dabbling with for years, but had never quite mastered. While it has its virtues: tonal subtleties, spontaneity, rich darks, simplicity (no messy tubes, jars or brushes)—erasing is not possible. As with watercolor, there is a narrow tolerance for screwing up.
Through the pleasurable and intense work of looking at nature, even this tamed variety, I was able to deflect my worry about my condition. Of course, I was aware that life was precious beyond all the worth with which I had, up until that point, imbued it. I wanted to record my seeing in that heightened state of awareness. dove into the unfamiliar medium, only seeing and feeling. In that narrow window, I became adept with the lithograph crayon. Truthfully, I would enjoy doing this kind of work exclusively if I somehow had the means to sell it on a regular basis. But I am known as a graphic wise-guy and that is apparently my artistic destiny.
As for the chest pain, with my last $100 I went to an acupuncturist. I told her that I was an old hippie. I wanted her to see if there was any way she could tell if there had been some coronary event, or if perhaps the pain came from another source. To my astonishment, she found that the source of the relentless chest pressure was a nerve trapped under the rib cage. The St. Louis session exacerbated a long-dormant condition that had been caused by an incident nearly three decades earlier. After defacing a billboard, I slipped and fell on the plank beneath, cracking some lower ribs. When I heard the news that all symptoms had a concrete physical cause unrelated to my heart, I began the process of consciously healing. I've never stopped since.
This little drawing, deft and non-provocative, is a souvenir of one afternoon when I stared mortality down and found delightful life instead. It is now in the hands of people I greatly respect, who perform their daily artistry at an intensity few “fine” artists will ever know. I hope it will provide some solace to their patients, lost in Novocain reveries.