I returned to making art in 2010 following a six-year layoff brought on by a brief, wildly destructive crystal meth addiction and its subsequent meltdown; a period spent keeping my head down and earning a communications degree from the University of Houston; and a several-year stint as the art critic and a society reporter for the Houston Chronicle.
Up until 2004, the art I made – umpteenth generation abstract expressionist paintings – was less interesting than how I interacted with its audience and market: clients of my escorting business and readers of Devon’s Diary, a popular blog on the masthead of a wildly popular male escort review website. Updated daily, the blog interspersed sexy anecdotes and racy photos with dispatches on the business side of the business; my friends, whom I gave pseudonyms; art I had seen and art I was making; gay culture and its discontents; politics; books and movies; and whatever else was on my mind.
My notoriety as the author of Devon’s Diary – coupled with the fact that some readers, even those who hadn’t hired me, liked having “a piece of Devon” hanging on their walls – did more for my paintings’ market value than for my escorting business. I’d get apologetic emails from readers explaining that they loved the diary but would never hire me, because they liked me, respected my intelligence and sensitivity, enjoyed my quirks, even found me fascinating – and all that ruined me for them. My persona became too “real” for them to project their fantasies onto.
The last year of my escorting career, I actually made more money off my paintings than off escorting, though that was partly because the meth had begun to give my diary entries an uncomfortably stream-of-consciousness, sometimes menacing tone. Still, I had forged a kind of underground art career for myself. Clueless about the gallery system, I neither sold my work to “real” collectors nor split my earnings with a dealer.
This art career outside the art world – along with my subsequent exposure as a newspaper reporter and critic to that world’s inner workings and my experience of both physically and psychologically embodying a volatile “brand” – has informed everything I’ve done since 2010. With respect to process, I favor methods that allow for both structure and deviation, for both planning and chance, for both reproduction and the handmade, for both autobiography and appropriation. I take the two-way traffic between, and interchangeability of, high art and sleaze as a given, freely taking part in both.
These tensions are at play in photo-paintings created by ironing inkjet video stills to canvas using transfer paper meant for t-shirt irons (since 2010); in my legally binding wedding (and subsequent no-fault divorce) to Reese Darby on the stage of a gay strip club in The Art Gay Marries a Woman (2011-2012); and in white-on-reflective-white text paintings that slip in and out of legibility with changes in the light and the viewer’s orientation, intertwining issues of physical and interpretive perception.
A Tumblr with some of my photo- and text paintings and source material is here.