Sunday, April 7, 2013

Don't Quit Your Day Job

Bill, Antonio and I had lunch at Dusmesh today, this little Indian restaurant near Cincinnati State in Clifton.  The buffet is amazing.  I wanted to touch base with both of them about the idea of supporting creative, hard-working, unconventional people (like Raymond) to get jobs, using Thunder-Sky, Inc. as the platform.  So I asked Antonio what he thought, and one of the first things he said:  "Don't quit your day job." 
He also said, "You can be an artist but you can't sacrifice yourself."  I asked him what he meant by "sacrifice," and he said, "You have to make yourself a living.  You have to have a roof over your head."
We talked about employment for people with disabilities and how Raymond was a prime example, and how Antonio is a living example.  Antonio went through his mental Rolodex and out came all the jobs he's had since high school:  a lumberyard, a Blockbuster video, Goodwill, and since 2002 where he is working now, Frisch's Big Boy Restaurant.  He said he has been there at Frisch's so long that he now trains in bussers, showing them how to do tables right, how to unload tubs, and where the trash goes.
Bill and I also talked about how Raymond used to go to Goodwill over in Woodlawn, and Antonio said that he and Raymond sometimes used to work side by side there, before Antonio got his job at Blockbuster.  What a beautiful image that is:  two great artists and people working very hard during the day, and individually making works of art whenever they could.  Evenings, weekends, afternoons after work.  If made me think about how working a job sometimes helps people produce better art because it gets rid of the BS and the procrastination inherent in being a fulltime anything.  You only have a certain precious amount of time to create, because you're either going to collapse from exhaustion or you have to go in early to cover somebody's shift.  That creative time to make something gets prioritized and you truly know what you are making has to exist, not because someone is paying you for it but because you have sliced out this moment of your life to do it and it has to get done.  The pressure applied is your own, and that beautiful pressure can be seen in Raymond and Antonio's art:  there's no excess to their drawings, paintings and sculptures.  They seem preordained somehow, because I bet you they were thought about while doing the work they had have to do to get a bonafide paycheck. 
Joseph Cornell, one of the best known self-taught artists, had day jobs.  A whole lot of them.  He worked throughout his life as a wholesale fabric salesman, a door-to-door appliance salesman, a worker in a plant nursery, and a defense plant janitor. He also, when not working for a living, helped take care of his brother who had cerebral palsy.  Somewhere in there he made his shadow-boxes and dossiers and photographs and movies.  He was reclusive, creative, a little strange, and yet he lived his life like most of us do, earning a paycheck, taking care of his family, and making art.  Probably in that order.  And yet he was able to produce a body of work that boggles the brain.  The point isn't that all of us are versions of Joseph Cornell.  Most of us aren't that talented and inscrutable.  The actual point is that most artists have to do what Cornell did, piecing together an existence in order to make what they need and want to make.
I guess that's why I think pulling together an employment agency/organization for people with disabilities using Thunder-Sky, Inc. as the foundation makes sense.  I'm sure most people will find it odd, but what I love most about Raymond, and Antonio, is their unpretentious, completely organic merging of art and life, so that the two interchange seamlessly.  In Raymond's case, he used his desire to make art and to make a living as two forces that combined to create his iconic persona.  In Antonio's case, when he is at work bussing tables, he is thinking of all the drawings he is going to do when he gets home, and when he has time time to do the drawings he remembers the toil and frustration and joy of working and that informs what he does.
Don't quite your day job is not a presciption.  It's a formula for success.  And creative artistic people who happen to be labeled with some kind of disability often don't need that much help with making art as much as they need assistance in making a living.
April 26, 2013, 6 to 10 pm, we're doing the opening reception for Antonio's next gig at Thunder-Sky, "She Blinded Me with Science."  This one is a collaboration with Pam Kravetz and Matthew Waldeck Sr.  It's going to be a blast. 
In the basement we're going to have a makeshift "whiteboard" for people to write down what they think Thunder-Sky, Inc., as a non-profit organization, might look/feel like in the future.  One of my main contributions is going to be that Antonio quote:  Don't quit your day job.  And under that I'm going to write:  "Thunder-Sky Industries."  That's the name I'm floating for this little endeavor.
Stay tuned.