Archive | January, 2012

Thighs, calves and feet

31 Jan

… of my biggest fan, who now weighs in at 680 pounds, down from a record 800 when he had an aggressive feeder in his life:

Life at 800 felt too extreme even for him, although he misses it in a way. It wore on his joints and he felt generally lousy. So the healthy foods he had previously incorporated into his diet (in massive quantities) — salads, vegetables — returned, and he lost some tonnage.

It takes remarkable discipline to keep up the caloric intake needed to sustain weight at these levels. This is why I have always likened my biggest fan to bodybuilders, whose discipline around food is rivaled only by his, and in a different direction.

Western states

30 Jan

Reliable Narratives, Western States, 2012. Enamel, iron-on inkjet transfer and acrylic gloss medium on canvas.

I’m staying on another couple nights in San Francisco before starting the return trek to Houston to face the music or lack thereof.

Watching crazy you with your ex

27 Jan

It’s really something to sit next to your San Francisco ex watching YouTube videos of yourself acting crazy just two short months ago.

My ex was known in the original Devon’s Diary as the gay Malcolm X, causing some readers to believe he was African American. The nickname stemmed from an argument we had during our five-or-so-months-long relationship: Some political discussion we were having had me taking a position that he said was the conciliatory gay Martin Luther King position, while he, in turn, was the gay Malcolm X. I wish I could remember what the issue under dispute was. Anyway, the gay Malcolm X is a blue-eyed white cantankerous artist who used to come to do the door with a pistol — a Lady Derringer, I believe.

“I got rid of it,” he said. “After awhile it just made me nervous having that in my house.”

When I was racing along the East Coast in summer 2004, running on the last vapors of what meth resin I could find clinging to the pipe, I left a rapid-fire, blisteringly incoherent tirade on the gay Malcolm X’s voicemail. (Others got theirs live.) Where he had previously only skimmed the diary for references to himself, the gay Malcolm X became hooked and followed its sketchy report of my hospitalization and subsequent descent into depression. He never held the tirade against me and came to relish telling me about it. And the time I wrote about screaming “I llllllllooooove it!!!” while I was in restraints later prompted him to tell me, “That was art, puta.” (The performance got favorable reviews from my fellow patients, although some complained about its 2 a.m.-ish timing. It was, as I wrote in another entry, a labor-intensive way to have to go about being given Benadryl.)

Point being, the gay Malcolm X has never shied away from my crazy side, and he high-fived me during certain highlights of my guerrilla action on The Art Guys’ tree at the Menil Collection, but even he was looking at me as if to say, “What happened?

I watched it again with one of my oldest San Francisco friends whom I’ve known since moving here in 1997 and his ex, and they really reacted to how crazy I looked. And I was, as I noted at the time, in a sleep-deprived delerium. Watching it two months later with friends drives home how the dark circles under my eyes and the exhaustion drown out what I was actually saying in the road-trip introduction.

The thing is, I still agree with what I actually said, even if it was during some kind of breakdown, which affected my inhibitions — that is, it removed them — much more than the content.

Moreover, if that episode was what launched this journey, the journey was also the “cure.” I recovered pretty quickly on the road by taking my time, getting adequate sleep, eating nutritiously and exercising, and seeing art and enjoying the landscape along the way, including the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Even my mother noted the improvement in an email urging me to get counseling, among other things.

Still, people are persuaded by what they see, so most criticism has focused on the videos. I enjoyed this riff by Buffalo Sean, which made me nostalgic for our occasional critical skirmishes when we were both blogging, I for the Houston Chronicle and he independently. But he joins the general rush to put the whole thing behind us and fails to take the Menil to task — or to note who’s ultimately responsible for that the fact that “the Chronicle has no art critic and will not get one for the foreseeable future.” It’s one thing to blame the artists first — “The art guys are stupid, you’re stupid, blah blah blah” — but b.s. continues the Houston tradition of attacking artists exclusively and giving institutions a pass. Naturally, his dismissal of me stems mostly from the videos, not from my writing of the same period.

I guess ultimately I’m glad they’re there for what documentary evidence they provide of my mental state at the time. I got out of the habit of making them because people, even most readers, weren’t watching them, but maybe it’s time to do a new one in order to have a less crazy version of me floating around YouTube.

Watching the videos Ari, my friend since 1997, registered a look of “oh shit, you’re unemployable now” early on but before long was saying we should find somewhere in San Francisco to play them on an endless loop. Then he took a sample of me talking gibberish while mimicking my 2004 craziness and looped it. That cheered me up to no end.

Keepsakes from several occasions

25 Jan

At Jol’s 40th I met a young artist who works in various media but whose performances have included knitting naked. He came by my motel my last night in Los Angeles and agreed to appear in a sex-tape painting. I’ve been doing them since shortly after participating in the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston’s 2010 restaging of ceramicist James Melchert’s 1972 performance in clay slip. Wanting a keepsake from the occasion, I transferred video stills to unprimed linen:

Reliable Narratives, Melchert Reenactment, No. 1., 2010. Iron-on inkjet video-still transfers and acrylic matte medium on unprimed linen.

This lead to thinking about how to use imagery from the early Devon days:

Reliable Narratives, Keepsake, 2010. Iron-on inkjet video-still transfers and acrylic matte medium on unprimed linen.

Because the photo-paintings, which did soon become more painterly were primarily seen by people who saw me naked, I soon began asking viewers — that is, visitors to my apartment — if they wanted to be appear in paintings. Credit the power of the canvas as a signifier of art, not porn, but sure enough, they agreed, although in this case the man with me is Devon Hunter.

Reliable Narratives,Trust Exercises, No. 1, 2011. Enamel, iron-on inkjet video-still transfers and acrylic gloss medium on canvas.

Anyway, the knitter is my latest collaborator. He was also the first guy I’ve played with off-duty since resuming escorting last month. We gathered source material Sunday night that I’ll later incorporate into paintings.

The joke behind sex-tape paintings is that they’re porn and video art with the boring parts — that is, all but four frames — edited out, but I think their thin slices represent real sexual chemistry more accurately than porn, which involves a lot more staging than simply turning on a lamp, placing a Canon Powershot on a desk and hitting “record.”

And while porn memorializes an encounter through lighting, staging and direction, the canvas does that job in sex-tape paintings by saying the event it records belongs there. Ironically, because I use t-shirt iron-on paper to make the transfers, the canvas will resist it, causing areas of crackle and crumbling in the final image that underscores the sense of an encounter’s ephemerality.

Doing the painting will make me more sentimental about both the occasion and my collaborator. How will I ever forget the knitter now, let alone once we’re in a painting together — even one in which he is mostly obscured? Implicit in the act of memorializing something and/or someone is a declaration that they’re special; doing that, in turn, makes them more so.

LA serendipity-do-da

23 Jan

My stay in Los Angeles has come and gone in a flash — great exhibitions, especially the Getty’s Pacific Standard Time: Crosscurrents in L.A. Painting and Sculpture, 1950–1970, which, among other things, shows why the paintings of Ed Ruscha, Richard Diebenkorn, David Hockney, Lee Mullican and Sam Francis are perfectly at home cheek-to-jowl with one another; incredibly sweet clients, both new and from the early Devon days; and the kind of serendipity this trip keeps effortlessly popping out.

In this case, my Echo Park motel turned out to be a two minute walk from my old friend Jol Devitro’s 40th birthday party. My shopping spree at Art Palace shortly before leaving Houston turned out to have paid off: I was able to give him a can of Anthony Thompson Shumate‘s Capitalist Soup, specifically the Lucre flavor.

Jol aptly posed with the can under a Cuba’s Soup poster that happens to hang in the host’s house. May your next 40 years be lucrative, yet revolutionary, Jol.

Off to San Francisco, home of the early Devon days, for a week.

Phenomena(l)

20 Jan

Spoiler alert: If you have time to make it to the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego’s La Jolla, Calif., building before Phenomenal: California Light, Space, Surface closes on Jan. 22, don’t read past this text I immediately sent the first woman who almost married me about the exhibition’s ultimate crescendo: “So worth hauling ass cross-country to experience.”

(Feeling a bit guilty, I immediately followed suit with a similarly worded text to the filmmaker, who happens to be the second woman who almost married me and now refers to me as “that married gay whore I almost married,” hilariously feigning a tone of aggrieved Midwestern sensibilities. I’ll get around to texting or Tweeting the woman who actually did marry me later today, or perhaps tomorrow; it’s that kind of marriage.)

Of course, both texts were misleading, since hauling ass cross-country is well worth experiencing in and of itself. But I might not have hauled my ass all the way from Boston to San Diego if not for Phenomenal, and certainly not at as brisk a clip if not for its looming closing deadline. (It had taken me from Nov. 28 to Jan. 5 to get from Houston to Boston, where I then spent five nights; by contrast, I left Boston on Jan. 10 and arrived in La Jolla Jan. 19.)

Then again, the experience of squeezing your way through Bruce Nauman’s Green Light Corridor (1970) — a 10-foot-tall, 1-foot-wide, 40-foot passageway lit by green fluorescent bulbs — seems like a strangely perfect distillation of that leg of my journey.

What it’s like to skedaddle from Boston to La Jolla with deliberate speed as a married gay whore, undergoing as many climate shifts as museum visits and alternating lonely moments with one of blissful solititude — all of which in turn are sandwiched between probing interviews with the filmmaker; a dreaded encounter with your Santorum-caucusing parents, who feigned ignorance of your new/old career while knowing everything, that turns out to be as anticlimactic as experience should have taught you to expect; the realization that the cantankerous Clyfford Still was right to hold out more than 30 years after his death, because my god is immersing yourself in those paintings in that museum sublime; snapped photos of the high-altitude landscapes out the window without looking through the viewfinder as you pray you don’t hit an ice patch; one-night stays in one-star dives you prefer to the Chicago boutique where you saw just enough clients to break even; the unexpected email apology received at your whoring address from a high-school crush who outed you after you told him how you felt and has felt guilty about it for years and finally couldn’t take it anymore because he read one gay-teen suicide story too many — all while trying not to read or think about the very show you are rushing to see before it closes?

Sidle your way through Green Light Corridor, looking, as the friendly guard suggests, only straight ahead at the wall or up at the green light, and not — NOT! — at the piece’s entrance or exit, even though you know that on the other side you’ll emerge into Robert Irwin’s legendary 1° 2° 3° 4° (1997), and you’ll kind of, sort of know.

And even though you know sidling through the green corridor is worth it in and of itself, emerging into Irwin’s environment — which is created by three rectangular apertures cut into the oceanview gallery’s tinted windows, effectively framing parts of the Pacific Ocean and the palm trees outside and is a masterpiece in and of itself that you’ve always wanted to see — to experience it bathed in a magenta afterimage thanks to the Nauman is like arriving in improbably balmy La Jolla on Jan. 19, nine days after you scraped snow off your windshield in Boston and hit the road.

No thanks; I’m all set

19 Jan

No, really. I’m good.

Now, if you’ve got a divorce chapel, that I can use. When the time comes.

In related news, Art League Houston’s Jennifer Ash reports that the shoes my wife Reese Darby wore at our wedding are the “top pick from eState Sale donations so far” and touts them as “a piece of art history.” (Take that, Shouse.)

California, here I come (updated travel dates here). The lingering question is whether I’ll continue on to the Pacific Northwest or turn around and head home after San Francisco. If you’re in Portland or Seattle and would like to see me — or would like me to stay away — now’s a good time to let me know.

Flashback: My biggest fan (literally) — Nov. 30, 2001

18 Jan

I met a client who became one of the most popular recurring characters in the original Devon’s Diary just over a week after after launching the blog. His willingness to let me write about him over the years — as well as post pictures of the two of us together that obscured his face — kicked off many discussions about gay men and body-image issues. (In my view, they were much more interesting and substantive than the treatment gay magazines and blogs give the topic.) The entries about my biggest fan also reassured many prospective clients that they were truly welcome regardless of their shape or size and that my body was not a critique of theirs.

When I asked my biggest fan if it was alright to post the photo-painting below, he hesitated before agreeing because he was a bit self-conscious of how small he looks in the pictures. Nowadays, he says, there’s no way my little IKEA bed we used to frolic on could support his weight.

When I was admitted to the loony bin for a few weeks’ stabilization and observation in July 2004, it was my biggest fan who called my parents to let them know where I was. — Devon Britt-Darby

Had a very interesting client tonight who gave me permission to write about him. He’s what’s known as a gainer — someone who is literally turned on by gaining as much weight as they can.

Reliable Narratives, Weighty Issues, 2010. Enamel, iron-on inkjet photo transfer and acrylic gloss medium on canvas.

He used to be quite athletic, and though he weights 380 pounds now, somehow you can tell. There’s still some kind of underlying physical strength beneath his layers of fat. He used to play rugby and actually knew Mark Bingham, the gay rugby player who helped foil the terrorists on Flight 93. Says that heroic act was totally within his character, which is what you read in the papers.

He wanted to hire me to enjoy the contrast between his huge, flabby body and my lean, muscly one. He was genuinely turned on by my body and also genuinely turned on by his own, and it was a turn-on to be part of his experience. Plus needless to say I was flexing all over the place so I was happy as a clam. He was surprised I wasn’t freaked out or put off by his fetish, but I don’t see it as being much different from mine: we’re both interested in altering our bodies; in fact we both want to get bigger, just in different ways and to different degrees. I’m obsessed with not adding body fat as I get bigger, which makes it much slower going. My little kink is probably more benign in terms of the health consequences, but he does have his limits. He showed me a picture of a 530 pound guy and indicated that he thought that would be a good limit for him. I asked if he’d ever had fantasies of being immobilized and he said it would probably nice for a week but beyond that there were too many practical issues to worry about. He’s very successful in his profession and had an amazing house, so he’s got too much to lose not to be deferential to reality.

But the main thing is, I can identify with the shame and secrecy around one’s passion — I’m actually talking about something narrower, more tightly focused, than one’s sexual orientation, yet somehow intricately connected with it — followed by the sense of liberation after having decided finally to do something about it. Sexual healing of one sort or other has been a frequently articulated motif among many of my clients lately. Maybe they sense that I’ve been doing some of that myself.

Best wishes from one of my 1,528 closest friends

16 Jan

William Shouse — the name doesn’t ring a bell, but apparently we’re Facebook chums — keeps the critical dialogue alive and kicking in Houston:

Philip Larkin was right

16 Jan

Was he ever. But what are you gonna do?

After consulting a close friend who has had to navigate the mental-health system, I decided a brief get-together in a public place — specifically the Des Moines Art Museum, followed by dinner, also in a public place — was a reasonable way of meeting my parents halfway and avoiding a depressing confrontation (at best) or an ambush (at worst). My brother joined us for the museum, which turned only to be open for another 17 minutes by the time we all arrived, and for coffee afterwards before heading off to help his wife prepare dinner for his own family. (My brother, my parents’ last best hope at grandchildren, has produced two of them, who are the reason my Texan parents migrated north.)

Helping matters: A filmmaker who has been following my story since late 2010 for a documentary on art critics joined me for the drive from Chicago to Des Moines. Visits with my parents go better when someone else is around. I can’t think of any parents who could resist her warmth and charm, and this way Dad had someone to talk with about the safety record of chemical plants, which was probably the safest topic we could broach, especially after my parents revealed they caucused for Santorum.

Also helping matters: I got to see the last 17 minutes of Dario Robleto’s solo exhibition. (My Sunday-supplement cover story on Robleto, for which I traveled to San Antonio and Seattle on my own dime, coincided with my being made the Houston Chronicle’s full-time art-writer in 2008 — albeit a contractor at the time. I took more than 70 pages of single-spaced notes for that story, which may have been overkill.)

On the way to Des Moines, the filmmaker and I stopped by a jail for art where I captured three seconds of unauthorized footage of this breakthrough masterpiece.

Surprisingly, the painting, which truly has an awe-inspiring presence, looks greener in person than in reproduction or on video, but it really is one for the bucket list.

Another sight for the bucket list: a huge, ripped buff guy parading around in a tight t-shirt in the bitterly cold wind at a gas station in the middle of Iowa. I had never heard of the gas-station chain before, which is called Kum & Go. And rightly so: I nearly kame when I saw him.

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