My father liked to move, a lot. We lived in 14 different houses by the time I graduated from high school.
One of his better changes took us to the small South Louisiana town of Patterson, on the Bayou Teche. Quaint and sleepy on the surface, Surrealistic below. The fifth generation Italian immigres were the bankers and lawyers, sugar cane farmers and seafood shippers. They managed the big money from the City. Cajuns and blacks supplied the shrimp and labor for the cane. No Jews as I recall but a large, busy synagogue in Morgan City, two towns East where the Teche flows into the Atchafalaya and the Atchafalaya becomes a river again. A few Lebanese merchants and theatre owners added to the gumbo of the parish. There was a big influx of Cubans in the early 1960s when Fidel turned tyrant. The common crop of sugar cane brought the Cubans to South Louisiana. They have certainly added to the jambalaya/pialla. Then there was the great diaspora from Vietnam in the mid 1970s. The common interest in shrimp brought them to the area. But I was gone by then.
There was a very distinct sub-set of light skin Creoles across the Teche from Centerville, one town up the bayou, a few with freckles and red hair and all speaking some dialect of English / French that my wife, who grew up only 20 miles away, could not understand.
Racial identity in this area was very important but very confusing to some, especially for an outsider. I had a friend who was a spitting image of Jimi Hendrix but with ivory skin. He and his sister always wondered why they never visited their paternal grandparents. The parents finally told them the grandparents were way too black and they would never see them. The sister later wrote a memoir about finally meeting the estranged pawpaw and memaw.
Our bus driver, Miss Tee Alouisia, good Italian name, started her political rule running for dog catcher (I swear by Mary Karr) and was elected unopposed to Mayor within 10 years. Openly butch, (we really didn't know what to call here back then, other than "Yes Miss Tee, Yes Ma'am, I will never cuss on your bus again".) She also owned a welding shop and was an integral part of the town. She was one of our own and that made all the difference.
By the Grace of Chance my newspaper route on an used Honda 50 took me right by David Butler's house every day. Mr. Butler was just part of the town. No big deal to the locals. This before he was "discovered" by collectors later on. My recollection is that he lived right on Hiway 90 at Sawmill Road, by the Teche swing bridge. But that was in 1962 and this is 2014. He taught me it was ok to be expressive and put it out on the road for all to see.
The Listi Bros. Meat Market's story was another loving, bizarre part of this town that even Eudora Welty couldn't dream up. They weren't brothers, they were a gay couple. I donŐt think anyone in town knew this until they both died and the will was read. No matter, they were our own and were good Catholics of course.
Living in Patterson, La. taught me that nothing is as it seems and all the interest is just under the veneer. I hope this shows in my art.
I always went to segregated schools until another Father move took us to Cairo. He was in the Oil Bidness by now, making big money diving for petroleum in the Gulf of Suez, part of an American-Egyptian venture. I felt at home the day we got to Cairo for some reason. The culture shock was in returning to the States 3 years later, in 1967.
I would skip school every other Friday, to get out of trying to bumble my way through a supposedly memorized French poem. I just couldn't get my Texas / Yankee tongue around those French vowels and my French French teacher hated anyone from the American South. We were so dèclassè. She was certainly right about some of the oil field trash over there. I would take the train into Cairo and walk and walk and walk, immersed in the sights, sounds, tastes and pleasures of that huge, vibrant city.
We spent a lot of time in the mosques of Cairo and the Coptic Monasteries in the desert. The Coptic icons, especially the colors, and the mesmerizing geometric patterns of the mosques' interiors certainly influence my art today. I made two trips to Mount Sinai and St. Katherine's monastery at the foot of the mountain. More icons, this time Greek Orthodox. And the charnel house. Maybe this is where the use of bones in my pieces comes from. And then to Jerusalem for more incense, chanting, icons and relics.
I came back to the States for college in 1967. That's when the culture shock set in. This Summer of Love seemed like a summer of total chaos, division, violence and pretension with a haze of impending doom. But maybe that was just me. I slimed my way out of the draft with psychological deferments. Nothing I am proud of. I certainly didn't take the noble, honorable approach of Muhammad Ali. Someone had to go in my place. I look at the men and women returning from the economic draft of today and wonder if some of them won't be so lost and gone in 40 years like some of my friends are today. These thoughts are reflected in some of my pieces but that is about as political as I get. I get bored with topical art as Dylan did of topical songs.
I am a totally self-taught artist, for better or worse. When the creative urge struck I didn't know anything about acrylics, oils, canvasses and artists brushes. I knew about house paint, wood, wire and hammers, drills and saws from my construction years, so that is what I used. Most of my materials are salvaged. When I have to buy materials I go to the local hardware store, not Texas Art Supply. I spent 40 years in the landscape business. I learned a bit about drafting and combining color, form, texture, movement, sound and fragrance. I try to use these elements into my current art.
I don't know where, if anywhere, I fit in the art world. Raw art or art brut seems to fit.
Damn, I just realized I put myself in the same company as David Butler, St. Katherine, Mary Karr, Eudora Welty, Muhammad Ali, Jean Dubuffet and Bob Dylan. That's about all of myself I can take.
I hope these ramblings give some clue to my art.