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01 October 2017

A Return to Love

The Mother’s Nature has always been about love. Love for our families, our children, the world that teaches us so much, moments of insight and experiences of inspiration. Love for my lovers, love for art, love for the creative spirit, for the nutritive wealth that is love and creation and acts of creativity in service of nurturing our children; creating things tangible and intangible that we call “art”—painting, music, afronauts, street art, poetry, hip hop; and seeing the world in another way—seeing one another in new ways.

Cornel West once said, “Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public” (in private, this is tenderness). And his words have resonated deeply in me for decades. Even when I write about art or romantic, even intimate, love I see them as revolutionary acts. When I talk with my 6 year old son about our world and some of its deepest violences—injustice, hate, anger, racism, bigotry, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia—I think what I most want him to hear is that love, tenderness and justice are doing right by one another. I teach him that we all come from Creator, because that is what I believe; we all come from Source and so we are all of and by Creator and we share in Source. Source binds us and therefore we are one another. If we do not know this spiritually, perhaps science and nature can teach us.


The Mother’s Nature, like all my writing, is about love: tenderness for my child and lover, justice for my sisters and brothers. Love and justice are revolutionary because in and through them, we manifest our best, most Source selves in the world. Giving what we are on Earth, here and now, to give is revolutionary—transformative; being exactly what Source has made us to be is revolutionary—we re-create ourselves and the world. Real love, real justice, real creation are all of these. They are the mother’s (and father’s) nature: to make, to give, to nurture, to encourage from soil and flesh the very best in us, in all living things.

It is in this spirit that I rebirth the Mother’s Nature now, at harvest time when we look back to all we have created and reap what we have sown and nurtured. A time when we bring from our gardens squash and apples where they deliver their gifts to our bodies, and we are re-created.

I have in many posts talked about love, art, and culture, and diversity and justice—tangentially and transparently. Whether either or both, this was always intentional. The time has come to step out from my own shadow, the fear being misunderstood, and bring into the world a gift I believe I have been given. Because, if I don’t, my own life loses meaning: I am not delivering what Source gave me to give.

It’s time to talk about love-justice in a new way.

Michael Harriot recently wrote, perfectly, "White supremacy is the structural mechanism built into American society that values whiteness over everything by default." This is what I want to talk about. Many of us know we must #endwhitesupremacy, what we may not know is exactly how. As I learned real quick when my son was about 2 years old: if you want to course correct, you will need something “right” (healthy, harmonious, balanced) to focus on in order to move away from “wrong” (toxic, imbalanced, supremacist). No, he cannot throw metal toy trains across the living room. Yes, we can go outside and shoot baskets. Move the energy, in earnest and with intent, in the direction we want to go.

Righting balance means there are things we—especially white people—must stop doing, and other things we must start doing. I’m here to suggest a new direction. Stop white supremacy, and start #mitakuyeoyasin.

I’m a privileged white woman. One way I was allowed to thrive due to that privilege was to have been told repeatedly I could go anywhere. And they were right: I could go nearly anywhere. White supremacist bullshit, however, also tells white folks they can go anywhere and behave any way they want. I was at least distrustful of the system enough to know that was bullshit—because in a white supremacist system, only your own [white, male, hetero, etc, etc.] feelings and values matter. That never made sense to me. Of course others' feelings and values matter. Therefore I was often welcomed into black and brown spaces because I at the very least valued what they had to say, who they were, what they had to teach me. I’m not perfect, I made mistakes, but I also went to those places—black and brown spaces—and learned more than I could possibly have imagined—because I wanted to learn. Primarily because I recognized very early on in life that the culture I was living in not only wasn’t nutritive or healthy, it was toxic in a million ways. I sought other cultures not only because they were beautiful, because something in them resonated in my own chest, but because I knew I needed to learn from them if I wanted to thrive and if I wanted humanity to survive at all. Humanity, mind you, not human beings.

So, when I suggest we turn our energies in a new direction—mitakuye oyasin, “all my relations” or “we are all related”—know that right here and now I am doing exactly what I recommend: that we, white people, white supremacist systems and institutions, and everyone begin to value and learn from cultures that have been resolutely put down, devalued and attacked from every side in white supremacy’s effort to annihilate them.

2010, Standing Rock, pregnant and gathering sage from downwind, because plants have the sense of smell
Learning other cultures, and coming to places where we can adopt their practices in mind, body, heart
Unci Rita Long Visitor Holy Dance
and spirit—without engaging in negative appropriation (yes, there is positive appropriation)—is hard work. I’ve made mistakes in this realm, hopefully learned from them, and expect to make many more—but only because the desire to learn more, to learn better, to be better and to right these wrongs we are surrounded by is more important than pride, than appearing perfect. It requires, in every way, being humble, attempting empathy, and being willing to face our own shit. But it’s worth it. I’m better, my life is better, my child’s world is better because I have been willing to fuck up and learn and change. Because I want better for everyone, for you, for children, for wingeds and four-leggeds and all living and growing things.

I invite you to come with me down this new road in coming posts. I invite you to join me in learning more about mitakuye oyasin from the grandmothers and others, so that we can learn to create a new harmony together, in society and between one another: as brothers and sisters. You can start here by listening to the International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers.

05 September 2016

Fly by Barangay...........by @tomasmoves

I’ve been watching #NoDAPL, “no Dakota access pipeline,” going down this summer like a hawk.
What’s horrifying is that the culminating political and personal moment in progress right now is the confluence of environmental and ethnic destruction we’ve been watching since the industrial revolution.

What’s amazing and beautiful and hopeful and strong about it, is that over a hundred Tribal Nations, locals and non-locals, Black Lives Matter activists, neo-hippies and boomer hippies, as well as artists and journalists of our day now are there.

I pray this won’t turn into Wounded Knee III (see Pine Ridge Reservation history 1890 and 1973), but I pray this will shake the hills far and wide, and our hearts loose from their rib cages where, apparently, they are not working hard enough for the blood, bone and flesh that is our only home, Earth.

I’ve always believed that it was one and the same spiritual disconnect that allowed European “conquerors” to annihilate Native peoples, enslave African and Indigenous individuals, and strip the earth of her flesh with little or no remorse, let alone acknowledgement of the consequences—today or tomorrow.

But was it that blindness, that disconnect, that spiritual vacancy from creator and / or creation that made generations of white people capable of slaughtering spirit, connection, being and bindedness to other life?
Or was it committing these atrocities that so disconnected them from spirit that our society persists in these horrifying, institutionalized habits: tearing earth to pieces in a self-selected ignorance of the consequences, while shooting black children down in the streets, and performing hysterectomies on the new Native mothers who gave birth in the hospitals of my own birth year?

I’m not perfect. I make mistakes. And they say form follows function, but one thing I learned the hard way is: you can make good things happen one of two ways. 1. Form can follow function. You know what you want to accomplish and so you create the form that allows for that. Or 2. Function follows form. You know how you want to live, and so all of your choices flow from that awareness. My father called it “awake, aware, alive” and he said it to us every time we took the car out as teenagers. You can call it mindfulness, yoga living, Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind – whatever you want. But it means choosing wakefulness.

And that’s where @tomasmoves comes in. He has several paintings hanging at The Civil Service Café in my neighborhood on Nostrand and Clifton in Bed-Stuy.

@tomasmoves at The Civil Service Cafe, August 2016
I don’t have to tell you why I love this one. It feels like a starry universe of words exploding, and it explodes right from the Bronx graf scene that I have returned to again and again in life—not only because the aesthetics bring me alive and the colors rewrite my world, but because I will today and forever be a woman and a lion for amplifying the voices who have taught me so much and need to be brought to their seats at the table of decision and leadership in this very world we are running bloody with oil and bodies.

But it’s a cosmos of words exploding! Words! My friends, since before I was born, who made meaning of the world for me, but also who gave me the power to MAKE meaning of my world. Yes, they are the second option. They are Function Follows Form. We can choose our meaning; we can choose. We can choose.

But this one, this was the counting coup painting that brought me home. Because while the graf piece is exploding my mind and my world for me, “Fly by Barangay” by @tomasmoves, was the surprise that won me over, took me down, replaced my point of view.
@tomasmoves, The Civil Service Cafe through 11 Sept 2016
A triptych almost—three horizontal panels: a placid sky, a zigzag frame, and the resulting paint dripping down, slowly, smooth and layered: rain from the sky? An exhale from great heights, stalactites underground, showing us where water can be found? I don’t know. But I saw some three levels of consciousness or perhaps three other inseparable dimensions: mind, body, soul…

We are taught in Western European culture that such things are separable, that we can separate mind, body and soul; that there are three distinguishable levels of consciousness; that, until recently, acupuncture was a myth and intuition was not to be trusted, and that women were too “emotional” to be president.

Then comes the falcon: forever inhabiting all threes inseparably. Earth, air, sky; mind, body, soul; conscious, subconscious, unconscious. Here comes the falcon above all three – sweeping wings longer than my child is tall over it all, reminding us of what we don’t know… and what we do: you are intimately connected to all of it: self, earth and others.
And it is intimately inseparable.

This is that moment. This falcon is the No Dakota Access Pipeline moment, and the Black Lives Matter movement, and the Wounded Knee II moment. This is it. You are not disconnected. When you get disconnected, bad things happen. And we can choose to reconnect. We can choose to bring each part of ourselves back into harmony: as a humanity, as a part of the life body that is our home Earth, as part of that river running right now, and the people on its shores fighting for all our lives.

.......................
This post goes out in support of #NoDAPL, with great thanks to @tomasmoves found on IG, and the Civil Service Café found at IG @thecivilservicecafe,
where you can see these paintings and others until 11 September 2016.
To support the Standing Rock Reservation Hunkpapa people, inbox me; I can send you a contact.

..........................................
Recommended Reading:
“Whether it’s gold from the Black Hills or hydropower from the Missouri or oil pipelines that threaten our ancestral inheritance, the tribes have always paid the price for America’s prosperity:” article by DAVID ARCHAMBAULT II
AUG. 24, 2016
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/25/opinion/taking-a-stand-at-standing-rock.html

What's Happening in Standing Rock? by Mark Sundeen 2 Sept 2016
http://www.outsideonline.com/2111206/whats-happening-standing-rock

#NoDAPL #BlackLivesMatter #RedLivesMatter #StandwithStandingRock #WaterIsLife

06 August 2016

Chris Soria’s Track 6

Everyone loses their way sometimes. Your compass gets wacked and the lodestone is off. Your tuner hits the floor and suddenly the D string cannot harmonize for shit.

For me, it is writing. It’s always the writing. If I don’t produce my work, write my mind and the world, everything goes haywire. I literally have to write. I think most people have something like that, something you need to do because it’s in you to do, and if you don’t the stuff of you just piles up all over the place, becomes a mess and a labyrinth and you’re all caught up in it. In your own head, your own heart, winding around the same tall hedges, unable to see over them, unable to breathe deep and turn around and find your way back out.

This is probably why Chris Soria’s Track 6 (ig chrissoria) resonated so deeply for me today at SpreadArt (ig spreadartnyc) in Bushwick.

It’s the antithesis of chaos. It’s organized, it’s tight, it’s balanced, it’s pretty. It’s a mandala for me. The longer you look the deeper you go – both inside yourself and outside of yourself.

Why is that important?

Chris Soria, Track 6, Brooklyn August 2016

Because.... Intuition.
Buddhists, Sufis, Desert Fathers, and Anasazis had clear and beautiful things to say about intuition well before Immanuel Kant. All the same, the old German said that intuition is all about direct contact with a thing, an idea, a piece of art, even a person.

Osho and Eckhart Tolle and the Yogis say that the intuitive – meditative state can be such a deep, profound contact that we are at once – through our deepest selves – in contact with cosmos, sometimes that particular ray of cosmos that is our most essential self, the best of each of us manifested through our practice in this moment. Even western doctors agree that the rest we get in meditation can be more restorative than hours of “sleep.”

And on the other side, there is nothing more exhilarating, nothing that makes us come alive more than moments of intuitive insight – moments when in an instant everything comes clear and we know a thing so deeply and significantly true for us, we are like a match, finally lit, light and heat everywhere… all big, fat, broken out, toothy smiles of a five-year old who has just heard the cricket he waited for all winter. There he is in a moment of contact and oneness with the cricket and cosmos and a song and the night and the streetlights. Just as he hoped and waited, there it was, and he is in the line, caught in the beauty of the world that he just knew was there.

That’s me, when I write. Ayo when he builds. Marthalicia when she paints. Rock when he runs. So why see Chris Soria’s Track 6? Why feel the mandala?

Fall into the art, dwell in its space, and I remember my most real, most spirit self. And she is a fountain and a queen. She waters me, and she leads me. She’s the one the Mandala awakens. She’s my deepest self, and the one who can walk me back out of the labyrinth when my compass is broken and my D string cannot send back echoes to show me where the walls stop.


When I write, I meet my idea so fully, so deeply, I have gone through myself out into the world, and out there was #OneLove.

02 May 2016

People's Champ

..........................................................................................Vince Ballentine                                    

Dodsworth mural. "If you set the bar high,
you can only keep going higher."
The magic in art is vision. Images offer us ourselves, our worlds, reflected back.... but with what more? Is it the sight of what lives below the surface: depths otherwise unavailable to us? What dwells there? What does it know? What happens if I touch it?

Years ago, I set out to become a teacher of the literatures that have given me the most - meaning, clarity, purpose - literatures primarily of tribes that have been marginalized, in some cases to the point of extinction. I said I wanted to ensure that these important voices were heard. I didn’t go that particular road, but it is still my path.

A year ago I realized that a lot of emerging artists around me were also saying important things that I believed the world needed to hear. I write this blog to listen to, meditate on, and amplify those voices. Voices I believe are essential.

I met Vince Ballentine right around the time I realized I needed to add this artist interview element to The Mother’s Nature. He’s one of the people who drove home for me this obligation I have –with pleasure– to ensure that vital artists’ voices are heard. One thing that struck me about Vince’s work was that his street art speaks so loudly to so many people – in my neighborhood, and in others. It resonates deeply, not only for the sheer beauty, the presentation, the sensitivity of the paint, or the ideas carried, but for the presence. His portraits and scapes are living, breathing, they have a pulse. You almost cannot look away until you have fully acknowledged who is looking out of the paint, just as we would not evade the eyes of a living person whose gaze we have met until an acknowledgement of soul is exchanged.

Vince’s paintings are as dynamic as humanity, and for this reason, they possess the power to reflect back to us not only who we are – but, like living water, that which lies below the surface, far more than we have yet conceived. Vince’s paintings are, for me, possessed paint. They show me what I have not yet seen by asking me to look again, not with a shout or demand, but with the powerful gaze of a man who knows himself. Meet Vince…


Vince Ballentine, artist

PAINTING: From the Beginning


when did you start painting?

V: the first time I ever remember doing something creative, I was drawing. I couldn’t be more than 5 years old. And I was so proud of it and my mother, she looked at it and she said, “oh, that’s so good, yadda yada!” I remember drawing the whole thing. It was like the first thing I could be proud of, like, “look: I did it!” And everybody was like “oh, ok, that’s cool! That’s cool! Yay!” and I remember Uncle Andre.
I love Uncle Andre to death, but he takes one look at it and he’s like, “why’s the head so big? Arms all little. Why you mess up the face like that!? You’re s’posed to color in the lines! That’s the best you can do?” That’s what he gave me and I was kinda like, “damn.”

sad face.

V: very sad face, you know what I mean. I wish I could speak emoji right now, that’s what happened.

i’ll put an emoji poop in the interview transcript.

V: right: a little poop, next to my face as a 5 year old: be like DAYUM! Defeated. But it was interesting though because that was my first taste of criticism. That was my first critique at 5 years old.

and plenty of detail along with that critique.

V: yeah, yeah, yeah! Well, see the one thing about a critique is it’s criticism, but it’s constructive. When it’s family members who aren’t creative, they just see what’s wrong with it.
As an artist it’s funny because you always see it wrong and you’re always trying to perfect it. So even when somebody be like, “that’s the most incredible thing I’ve seen!” I’m looking at it and I’m like, “yeah, well I fucked up here, here, here, here and here. That’s bad, this is bad.” Until the point where it’s kinda like some Bob Ross happy imperfections type stuff. You know, little happy mistakes and stuff.
So… I think that’s the constant quest.

what was your reaction to Uncle Andre?

V: the most immediate reaction was, “oh, yeah, well, I’m gonna show you!” So it turns into the next one. And then next one was kinda like, you know, “that’s better.” It wasn’t good, “but it was better than that last piece of trash you showed me!” I mean, like, “Did you burn that yet? You still have that? Why would you even keep that!? It’s horrible!” This one was like, you know, a smidge better than that! So a long story short, that’s what progressed into where we are today.

what’s the next memory after the age of 5?

5 year old Vince
 V: I had other moments in life where I’ve been able to draw something or paint something, but I always remember the messed up criticisms. Those are the ones that stick with me. Those are the ones that somebody was like, “yo, you suck.” Those drive me more than people telling me how good it is.

mm hmm, yeah…

V: so, high school kid, again, the same thing. Everyone’s just like, “ok, you’re good.” I had Mr Brown, Malcolm Brown. He’s just like worldwide dude. Again, love that dude to death, he gave two fucks about teaching us to do art. He would give us a little synopsis at the very beginning of the class: “ok, here’s how you make a landscape. Ok, go make a landscape!” If you missed it, you missed it! Snap – like, “yadda yadda, horizon. Get it! Go!” and then he would sit down and work on his own personal paintings that he was gonna sell later for thousands of dollars. But at the same time though I was like, “well, he’s at least a legitimate artist, out there really doing it so!” Go for it, salut! It wasn’t him, ‘cause he’s the one that actually wrote my college recommendation.
It was Mr Hoffman.

evil eye, throwing shade!

V: Draggin – D-R-A-G-G-I-N-G! Mr Hoffman down the street by his nostrils

by his flaring, smoking nostrils!

V: punk! We’re going around the room and everybody’s saying what college they’re going to, this is AP Art. So this is the only advanced placement class I got, you know what I mean! Everything else is like… I was in Science. It wasn’t even like it was special or nothing. Was like, “you in biology?” What kind of science is it? It’s science! Dude, science class. Yo, they took our frogs away! They were like, “if y’all can’t get it together, y’all ain’t doing shit!” We didn’t dissect shit, we just watched shows about it.
So, we’re going around the classroom, we’re all asking, “where you going?” One guy’s Parsons, another guy is Carnegie Mellon, “I’m going to Cooper Union.” I’m going to these different schools.

those are some swanky schools!

V: exactly! And then uh, at the time I had got accepted to the art institute in Chicago.

that’s good!

V: yeah, I felt somewhat proud! And the thing is, it’s not like we went and visited a bunch of schools. We went to Chicago, to that school, and I got in, and that was it. It wasn’t like we visited eight schools and all this. Naw: “you wanna go here? Ok, you gonna go here then!” And, um, everybody’s going around the classroom and he gets to me and I was like, “yo, I’m going to the SAIC in Chicago.” And he’s like, “how!?” It was like, “hey, you’re my teacher!” It took everything in me not to like jump scissor kick this dude smooth in his neck!
“Bruh, what- what do you mean, ‘how?!’ cause I didn’t get a recommendation from YOU?” Dude, how did I, like, manage that? I know other people besides you, punk!

Which actually leads to the next story of rejection when I was at the art institute. Literally, in Chicago it was the first time I did a fine art spray paint piece and the first time I got arrested for the shit, so… it was a nice little flip, you see what I mean? Museum… Jail…
Coming from Cleveland, we had our artists that I really respected and I was able to connect with and all this good stuff, but again, it was just in Cleveland so I knew what that was. Going to Chicago was mind-blowing. I’m out in Chicago and I show my art work, and the teacher goes, “eh.”
“Eh?!” what, what do you mean, “eh?” This shit is nice, like I did the – it’s fresh.
“No… no… do better.”
So I felt like, “this motherfucker just Uncle Andre-ed me!” Dayum! But at the same time though, he was critiquing everybody. So the people that I saw – there were people in the class that I was looking at like, “this motherfucker’s incredible! Why are you here?! Why aren’t you out there making money already?! You have no business being in art school, period. Cause, cause, just cause – for what?!”
And then he would look at mine and give me an accurate critique – it wasn’t necessarily under the critique of someone that was really refined. So I felt good about that. But long story short is, I saw his work and I respected it, so it was ok.

And then he tells me, “go take the train north, sit by the window.”
Again, I’m a young punk kid, so I think I know everything. I’m the dopest shit in the world. I get on that train and my face was glued to the window ‘cause it was like, “oh, that’s incredible, that’s incredible, that’s incredible, holy shit, that’s dope.” I wanted to stop the train and get off and walk from that point, let me just examine this shit, by myself, for myself. What is this?
Uniqueness and individuality – lines that people were using, the depth of the images, expression of characters, colors and styles, the different letters, and all of it happened in the cloak of night, couldn’t see shit, getting bitten by rats…. And you still achieved all that!?
That realllly exploded my head. And I hadn’t done that much, you know. I started to understand – with the help of art school for sure— line weight and how to find parts. Art is very mathematical as well, visually mathematic.

yeah, we had classes where she would hit the clock and you couldn’t pick up your pen for 27 minutes or whatever it was. You had to commit.

V: yeah! Yeah… Ink pen, that’s like my favorite medium in the world because you can get so many variations of depth with that one tool: you can go really dark with the pen, you can go light; it’s amazing.
But that’s where it starts to lead everywhere else, so – left Chicago, went to Philly. Philly: learned a whole bunch, oh my god, what’s going on. Moved out to Cali. Cali: learned a whole bunch, oh my god, this is crazy. Go to New York, same difference. And the beauty of it is that I can finally see different.

It’s immediate: you can see your progress. I wish I still had the Uncle Andre piece to be dead-ass honest with you!

why are you so motivated to get better— be better?

V: everyone has a purpose; everyone has a reason to be here. I want to be acknowledged, I want to be recognized for what I do. I could be considered the best to like 8 people, but to me that’s the base. Always wanted to be great at my thing. I always was a niche person… in the niche world that I’m in – I want to be one of the best to do it.

SEEING: Believing


V: I’m starting to see things— I mean, it’s always a progression of seeing things, but, since I quit that job: hooray!

hooray!

V: i’m not gonna knock on the job ‘cause that shit was there when I needed it! But, getting out and being able to paint, my skill set went from zero to 60 real quick. I started to develop so fast! And then having to work fast – over the summer I did a piece for NYC Spread Art on Dodsworth — that was the one that you came to help me with, the two story one, with the scaffolding, that was two days. To be able to do a piece in two days now- meant you had to commit to a stroke and leave it. It wasn’t a bunch of fixing, tweaking, this, that and the third. There’s a high, there’s a low, move on! Colors just stack on top of each other. You’re cutting within that, move on! As opposed to, let’s say, before even with characters where you have to push it to find what it is, to find the shapes…

pull out the personality…

V: yeah - having all of those elements together now, just through the progression of seeing.

one thing I hear is: you’re deep in the actual physical activity of making work, which is not the case for everyone.
 
V: you mean they don’t actually like painting!?


no. some artists are just more concept-driven. It’s more about “I have an idea, I have something I wanna say, I’m just gonna find a way to say it.” You talk about the involvement of getting into a line and following the line, developing a line.

V: yeah

and clearly the challenge of having to put something on the wall, let it be what it is, right? You can’t tweak it. It’s gonna be there and you gotta work with it and then you’re gonna walk away.

V: you have to believe in your line.

yeah! And you have to be able to see. you have to have more vision sooner.

V: not even, you just have to be happy with how it lays. There’s abstraction to everything, that’s where stylization comes from, so, if I make an eyebrow, for instance, right? I make this eye and then I put this thick descriptive eyebrow on it. Now if you do that with one stroke then it’s, depending on how that stroke is – is it wavy, is it straight, is it curved– that becomes dictated by your style. Your style becomes how you see, create, flow. You know how they say your first impulse is usually your best impulse. That’s exactly how painting is. So the same way as you could make a line and then wanna correct it. No, you made the mark already. What’s the next mark after that?

So, you’re looking at balance from the very first line. It’s like the game of chess even. The game starts with the very first move. That very first move is pivotal.

perfect metaphor

V: it’s life or death right there.

PRESENTING: Stepping In


V: Sometimes the conceptual artists: that’s all they got! And, for what it’s worth, I don’t always respect that, the overly conceptual artist, for the simple fact that anybody can do it. It becomes a point where if it’s open for interpretation, then it’s open for interpretation. If you can’t immediately say if I like it or I don’t like it, that says something right there. There should be an immediate reaction.

that person didn’t have an authentic experience?

V: yeah. Yeah, yeah, but at the same time, be able to cross different platforms. I know some conceptual artists that are very elitist; it’s like they got on some special 3-D glasses that nobody else has. It’s like, “I see the world for how it really is; you’re just too dumb to know.”

so, what do you want, what type of experience do you want the viewer of your work to have?

V: immediate! If you think about it, predominantly, my work is on the street, so it’s for people that don’t have background. For people that could even give two fucks about some art work. So if you’re gonna give ‘em something , you gotta give ‘em something! They could have walked by something for six years, and until you point it out, they’re like, “I never knew that that was there!” So, knowing that, you have to immediately already engage people.

so they shouldn’t have to do any digging, no context, nothing?

V: no. There should always be levels. Let’s say it like this: the presentation of it needs to be finely crafted. That’s one thing that can’t be mistaken. If something is finely done, you can see the curves in it, the line, the detail – that’s immediately gonna get your attention. And after it has your attention, then what happens?
That’s what I mean. I’ll do a piece and it’ll immediately – even just by sheer size— it’ll be so big that you’re just like, “this is big as hell!” And that’s actually a good way to think of it, too: it’s so big that you can’t get it, ‘cause you’re IN it!
You have to take a step back, and I think that metaphor reflects on most art in general. Some people’s concepts can be so big that they can’t get into it.

yeah, for sure!

V: but it’s not a matter of stepping back, it’s a matter of stepping in.

absolutely, yes!

V: and I don’t think that a lot of people care to do that, especially when it’s an extremely conceptual piece that isn’t immediately finely crafted. I’m gonna quote this guy’s work, Dasic Fernandez. He does these mad colorful images, of let’s just say a woman, for instance, and she might be in a puddle or something so you see her reflection in the puddle, and they’re massive. He has one over on Broadway, but the beauty of it is, it’s immediately engaging. The first thing you do is look at it and say, “ho! Whoa!” but then you keep saying, “whoa!” And you start realizing the drips are coming off of her so, where is gravity? Why is the gravity negative? Why is she in this position? Why – the conversation just continues, and continues and continues and it can open up doors that other people don’t see. You know what I mean?
As opposed to (laughing), the flip side of that is a lot of modern conceptual art, it’s just like, “bruh, this is a blank canvas! But I’m not smart enough to know what you’re doing with this right now?!” (teeth sucking) Get the fuck out of here, kick rocks! (laughing) You know what I mean?

YES!

V: ‘cause if that’s the case, if I’m not smart enough to understand your art, then – you’re not smart enough to survive where I live every day. If you can’t walk a mile in my shoes I won’t walk a mile in yours! Meet me half way and we can both go there.

ohhhh!

V: so, long story short – if you see that painting with a red dot, anybody can do it! When they have to differentiate between “is this a well-known millionaire artist” or “is this a 5 year old,” and people are confused about which is which, that should tell you something about what it is that they looking at.

As opposed to if you see some of these street dudes who don’t have that same education, that same background, they don’t have the same motivation, they just wanna go do some dope shit, and you walking past some shit, like Dasic’s or uh, Dasic and Ruben have done some work lately; uh, there’s Danielle Mastrion, she’s done some fantastic stuff; Shiro does the same character over and over again, but I love it every time I see it. But it speaks to the people that are lookin’ at it.
And there’s a lot more of us walking that block than there are people who have season’s passes to the Met. That’s for real. There’s a lot more people that are playing pick-up basketball than have been to Madison Square Garden. So let’s take it out of their hands and let’s give it back to the people.

so that’s who you’re painting for?

V: the people. Definitely. Definitely.
 
Halsey Dreamway: "Mine is out in the world, yours is in a museum."

VINCE: The Anti-Narcissus


we’ve talked around a good amount of space without actually talking about what you wanna say.

V: the mural on Halsey, on the Dreamway, with the big Indian headdress girl, ‘cause that one set it off in so many different ways. So a kid walked by. And one of the organizers, actually, yet again, Tatu, man, love him to death! He was the founder of Xmental Inc. He was one of the ones sponsoring the wall. He said, “we have homework on everybody else but you! We didn’t know about you.”
“Oh, word!? Alright, just let me paint first, and if it’s not good, then shit on me then.”
Halfway done, he was just like— his boy was even like, “yo, if you use these caps you might be able to-” and then Tatu was like, “man, you should be teaching!”
A kid walks by and says, “I wanna paint.” Say, “I wanna paint.” That’s dope. I got that kid wanting to paint. And the beauty of it is, I want the kid to say, “I don’t wanna mess it up, though,” which means that “I’m really gonna concentrate right now.” That’s what I want.

And then the second one was one of the promoters comes by like, “if I was a little girl seeing this, I would be so impressed. Because it’s not many images of us out there.” You don’t see large, beautiful pictures of black people. It just says something when it’s inclusive, when it speaks to everybody! Instead of a lot of pieces where if you’re not this black person, you’re not Rakim, if you’re not Biggie, if you’re not – this type person, we ain’t got no holla for you. I really should stay away from that.

so, what’s the conversation? What’s your conversation?

V: that’s exactly what I’m saying, is the fact that everybody is on their expression, and I don’t wanna be brutal, but – fuck your expression.
Your expression should be reflective of what you’re coming from. So, when I’m in Bed-Stuy, I’m doing Bed-Stuy shit. I’m doing shit for the people that live there. Cause after you leave, your piece is still there, but you are gone.
So, true and deep: think of it on a level of graffiti, cause graffiti gets wiped out, but I do a piece of art that’s actually gonna be there for a minute and represent some shit, do something that’s really gonna be there and represent some shit!

so to you it’s really more about holding up a mirror.

V: holding up a mirror and exposing things that people don’t see, like colors. There’s a lot of blight – so people are used to these drab colors, rusted out, blown out buildings, you know what I mean. And there’s this bright spot. It’s not for everybody, but when I was a kid and I got Uncle-Andre-ed, and I got crapped on by the high school teacher: let me have a piece that I can go to and reflect on and say, “ok, but this is the type of stuff that I wanna do, because this is the type of stuff that I admire.” And actually have something in the world that exists. It exists so someone else can exist with it, and not have to go to a museum. Not have to go to a gallery. Not have to know somebody who knows somebody to get a glimpse of this thing that’s supposed to be precious ‘cause Banksy did it!
See something that wasn’t there before: that’s the main thing – it was a dirt wall before. Look at it now.
I don’t understand how people can not like that. How do you not like that?

i think what you’re telling me is that the conversation is actually: you’re painting to have a conversation. That’s what the painting is about.

V: definitely, definitely. When I leave, what am I leaving? Once you know how to paint – what are you painting? When people look at it, what do they say?

Bushwick Puerto Rican Community Mural."I'm a conduit."

THE PEOPLE: Listening


so, is you getting better as a painter about you being able to hear and respond better?

V: definitely, but I think that’s inherent though. That’s just a part of the process.

oh, it’s not, my love, it’s not!

V: if your journey is to get better then you have to be able to soak in so much – and be able to give a LOT.

the reason why you’re getting better is so you can see better, so you can hear better, and so you can respond better?

V: yeah

i’ve never heard that. And you actually started saying this at the very beginning of the conversation when you described the train ride. You really want this engagement.

V: yeah!

because there’s actually no conversation without the engagement.

V: yeah… yeah, yeah! I want 5 year old Vince to look at this and be like, “man, that’s what I’m gonna be like in the future!?” I’m gonna be looking at my Uncle Andre and then I’m gonna look at 2016 Vince and be like, “I’m gonna be that!? when I’m thirty-something years old!?”
“Word! Let me just keep going then,” you know what I mean?!  Really push the envelope! Do something that’s really gonna be provocative, have a conversation.

Case in point, we’ve talked about this before. We can talk about all types of police brutality, we can talk about disenfranchisement, we can talk about prison industrial complex, but nobody’s actually gonna talk about racism. Let’s just talk about that. Let’s just talk about what the core problem is. Let’s just talk about money, and how these people got it and these people don’t.
It’s like if – let’s say somebody has a malignant tumor in their leg and someone says, “ok, we have to go through her neck to get there.” Like, “what?” That doesn’t make any sense. Like why would you – just go to the tumor and knock the tumor out, ‘cause then in the process of you going through the neck to get to the leg you done fucked up all types of shit on the way down! Now you gotta fix everything that you fucked up trying to get to the initial problem.

another perfect metaphor.

V: you still got a limp, like, “why am I dying!?”

people like to do that, we like to get our ass kicked all over the place before we make any changes.

V: honestly – I feel like black folks been saying it forever. We’ve been like, “no, the problem is you keep smacking us in the face” and other nationalities, whatever, will say like, “well, we don’t understand.” It’s like, how about this, “leave me alone, first. I’m not trying to get revenge, I’m not trying to come back and hunt you down, I’m not trying to rape your women and sell drugs in your community. That’s not what I’m trying to do.”

TALKING: Coquis, Black People & White People


V: i’m a conduit. That’s what I do. I’m gonna represent y’all. If they call me to do me – then like the Indian headdress, that was more me. I felt like these are things that can be represented in a different way without exploiting it, you know?

If I go out here and paint pictures of black people on the walls, it gets looked at funny. Real talk. People look at it like, “huh,” they don’t necessarily get it. Let somebody else go up here and paint some African people and people love it. Because of the stylization, because of this, that and the third. I was like, “no, it’s because you saw who was doing it.” That’s some real shit that I go through with all the time.

Flip of that, a friend was in Brownsville working with this group, doing this thing at the bottom that says, “black girls matter.” And a black girl approached: “how are YOU gonna tell ME about ME, in MY neighborhood!?” She was immediately offended by the whole thing. And the painter turns around like, “well, first and foremost, I do have a biracial daughter.” What’s actually a smack in the face to you, chick, is “I’m doing it. What are you doing?” Done.
Washed up! What can you say after that? You can complain about it, but you’re not gonna do shit. And I think that’s where the conversation needs to start. Instead of having a bunch of shit to say, NO, go DO some shit! And let’s talk about what you did.

so, what’s the next piece of your conversation?

V: first I don’t like the fact that murals have the stigma of painting dead people. I think we should immortalize people while they are still alive and they can come and see it and see what impact they’ve had on the world. In a huge mural that anybody can come and see – that’s something – so they can see if people love ‘em or hate ‘em! I still wanna do my Blackstar piece, Mos and Kweli, I want that really bad.

from here it’s definitely – show people that we can still hold onto now, push, get behind, you know, be motivated by. I think the THINK BIG piece, in a sense, it was different for me, cause it was all letter based.  When we were sitting around knocking the ideas back and forth, it was, “well, we wanna do something Biggie,” and I was like, “I’m not painting a mural of Biggie!” No, no because it’s like 9000 murals of Biggie already! And he was like, “ok, well it’s gotta be Biggie related.” So I threw this, he threw that. The thing was though, to come out and to just say, “Think Big.” It just, it stuck with me to the point where it was: “no, I HAVE to do this now!”

I’m making landmarks. I don’t know who I’m affecting. I have no idea. I could be affecting you positively, negatively- don’t know. But, the fact that I am affecting people is what makes the difference. The fact that I am causing conversation. The fact that somebody’s looking at that and they either think it’s dope, or they don’t. They don’t have to think- for what? Why should I care? Make ‘em care. That’s where we come in.


THE ARTIST: The Line


is there anything that’s lingering?

V: the fact that I feel much more the people’s champ than I do fine artist. I don’t speak of art in these highbrow conversations.  I just want that to be appreciated.

is that part of the reason why you wanna be as good as you can possibly be?

V: no, the only reason that I do this is for me. I don’t do this for women, for money or fame. I do this because I – I really have to do this. It’s just that if I don’t do it, I’ll die.

yeah. Yeah, yeah!

V: that’s it.
It’s little nuances that just get you and keep you.

no, I get that, when I really get in, get in the flow, there’s definitely something that happens – everything’s on fire, your face is on fire, your heart is on fire. You can feel those words coming! You’re just in the line, right? You don’t wanna get out of it.

V: yeah, yeah…

i feel like half the work I do is just – writing can be just bullshit, it can just be work! But I work that hard for the moment to get into the line!

V: yeah, you gotta get through it…

and that moment is rare, and it is precious and it doesn’t last that long, Rafael’s gonna wake up or whatever is gonna happen. But I get that, I get that.

V: yeah, yeah, yeah… Or better yet even, sometimes I’ll black out doing stuff, it’s just a blur – I don’t really know how it happened, or what happened – but I know that’s what’s left – and that’s kinda dope!

yeah, yeah!

V: it’s funny cause I saw something recently that I did and it’s just like I’ve done shit from last year – and looked back and like I’m ten times better than that now – from last year! So, whatever we’re doing we have to try to stay on this path the best way we can, somehow.  The best we can.

yeah, when you’re standing on the trail – you really like can’t step off the trail. You have to keep – wherever it’s going, it’s going. You just gotta—

V: yeah, you have to pull things on your trail, you can’t go get it!

yeah, no, you really can’t!

V: no. sometimes it even means food. Days will go by and I’m like – I haven’t eaten, fuck!

POWER: What’s valuable?


is there anything that I didn’t ask you that’s important?

V: I’ll say this, a friend has a gallery that just opened. I gotta take it out of context and put it back in context. There was a joke where the guy says, “I hate it when people find out I’m a comedian because then all of the sudden they just want me to start telling jokes,” and he’s just like, “yeah, well… you know, I could just do some jokes and make y’all laugh, but usually there’s a microphone, a stage, an environment set up, maybe someone serving drinks. It’s a set up for me to be able to be successful in this environment. As opposed to, you know, being at a bar in front of a bunch of drunk people who could care less if I’m funny or not. And I don’t get paid for this. There’s no win-win for me right now.”

It’s the same thing for art. It’s like unless you put it in a gallery or a museum and have cosigners – then it’s not respected and appreciated the right way. And that’s what happens with collectors versus people who just buy art. People who just buy art, they buy things based on do they like it or not, not realizing if they bought one, and their friend bought one and then their other friend bought one, and then their other friend bought one, you’ve just increased the value in what you bought! Real, whole, right, left side brain thinking on that one, though, which we don’t get past.

Collectors will go out and decide, “ok, this guy’s hot. We’re all gonna go in on this collection.” And now that this collection is bought, it has an increased value. So now, when I wanna trade this in, I spent a hundred bucks, I’m getting back two grand. That’s the kicker. That’s what a lot of people don’t get.
The artists are the creators. We are the ones that bring those things to life. Or the writers, the musicians. What people pay for! But the people that have the money are the ones that feel like they hold the power.

yeah, they determine the value.

V: it’s so the other way around! But that’s how society looks at it.

right.

V: and if I can make any segue in that, understanding what is valuable…. This money that you just gave me, that was mass produced, with a dead president on there, made out of some flimsy piece of paper that if it catches on fire, I have nothing now! As opposed to this creation that somebody did, which is unique, one of one. This person might want it but I bought it first, so now I can sell it to that person, for a hundred dollars more. I just made money off of this creator’s person. You can’t give me a five and I’ll sell it to somebody else for ten!
So, that’s my thing right there: understanding value. Treat people well.  Stop trying to undercut people. Cause you’re only decreasing the value of it for yourself.

if there’s one thing I should get right, what is it?

V: how about this? Sometimes it’s face value. Sometimes there’s nothing else, besides “what do you see?” Immediate reaction. It’s like a Rorschach test. What do you see? “Oh, I see this. And it’s – I see a kid with glasses, and I see the flag in there, and it looks like, kinda like a liberty type thing going on.”

Alright, good, carry on.

"The unidentified become the leaders of these situations."
_________________________________________________

This is the easiest interview I’ve done yet. Vince is deeply thoughtful, illustrative and insightful; his work speaks for itself, just as he does with his stories, language and metaphors – elucidating what he sees, believes and manifests with far more than color, line, depth or character.

How generous of him! Not only to give work away on the streets of Chicago, Philly, LA and Gotham, but to basically let me roam anywhere I like in the territory where I demonstrate why seeing art is so important.

Raised in a tight nomadic family of six in a highly individualistic, capitalistic nation, I’ve long struggled with what Amurika tells us is a paradox: my own desire to be distinctively, recognizably individual while also equally the member of a tribe, a pack, where I belong– and an integral member of my herd.

Vince describes himself as wanting to be recognized for what he does. I think this is a desire we all possess. He works hard to be good, to keep getting better, not only so that he can be the people’s champ, a real and insightful conduit for the community, but also so that he is acknowledged for what he does. For many of us, creatives included, what we do is who we are. Vince cannot separate himself from his need to create. Without his ability to make art, he would perish; he would cease to be himself. In other posts I’ve referred to that inner voice that tells him to paint, intuition, as the voice of the soul, while his motivation is the will, or the muscle of his soul.

And therein lies the answer to the paradox we’ve been sold. Humans were never meant to be self-sufficient, separate money-making incorporates. We were born pack animals and that’s unlikely to change if it hasn’t yet over so many millenia of evolution. We still want one thing more than anything else: connection. The answer to that connection was and is ever present in the urge to be what we are made to be – whatever that is. When we do what we are: we can be seen for what we actually are. We manifest ourselves in the world. And those manifestations are our gifts, gifts other people need. When we give what we have, we become necessary members of our tribes – we connect, we slip into our places like the missing pieces of a puzzle. We give our part, one of the whole needed by the tribe to thrive. The desire to be both distinctively individual and deeply connected to the tribe is not a paradox, but the necessary marriage of yin and yang that allow and feed one another, making it possible for each to fulfill its potential.

In giving what we have, we become the individuals that we are, we become recognized—and through that recognition we connect with our tribes. The tribe sees itself more fully in those deep pools – the eyes of the artist; the artist sees his vision more deeply through the tribe, in which he chooses a waking submersion.

It is so easy to be Narcissus, to see everything, including ourselves, as we want to see them. Vince's work calls us awake, makes us want to look again, to see again, to think again.
................................

Vince’s work opens at MoCADA
80 Hanson Place, Brooklyn, NY 
Saturday, 7 May 2016 @ 7pm 
with the work of Nia Love, Jasmine Murrell, and Everett Saunders,
curated by Marjani Forte-Saunders


You can also see his work all over New York City, at ig vballentine99, and http://vballentine99.wix.com/vballentine, and

24 April 2016

Sleeping on a Rock


You could palpate the sadness in me tonight.
Sanford Biggers, Blossom, Brooklyn Museum
My stomach is hard with it.

What small creation of my own making
Is growing in that space?

A rock of sadness…
With a life of her own
Waiting to fly free of my womb
And rain for satisfaction.
She would return back to earth from the clouds
And settle into black soil,
Ready to grow something beautiful.

Death comes in a hundred million forms, sister.
If you think it’s only cancer, or a car accident, or the wrong needle,
That can kill you, you’re dead wrong.

Breathe your rock back to the skies where she will rain for you.
If you’re alive, you will breathe out a thousand deaths
and wake again to a thousand and one suns.

21 February 2016

GETTING WOKE with MARTHALICIA

There’s a saying: “if you can hurt an animal, you can hurt a man.” That statement refers to the condition of the predator, not the prey, but I’m going to flip it for a moment. That predator sees no value in life. But what is the condition of the prey?

For me, it’s not so much that animals are like us, as that we are so much like them… in many ways. In the ways that animals can be far better than humanity, we tend to ignore the lesson and debase the teacher.

I join a growing cohort that cannot say it enough: a lot of white western culture has taken up debasement as, if not its primary goal, its primary method for accomplishing its goal: gaining power and control. Trees, rivers, women, Africans, First Nations, Puerto Rico, Guam, you name it… if you can lynch a black man, or send small pox blankets to the plains peoples in the dead of winter, you probably also raze mountains, poison rivers and stack defecating chickens in coops so small they cannot stand up straight.

Getting woke is getting Conscious, right? It’s about seeing how the system that keeps black folks from getting home loans and cuts the fallopian tubes of Native women after hospital births works to maintain a certain white supremacy – systematically.

Ta-Nehisi Coates’ dreamers, though, are not just lawmakers, J Edgar Hoovers and McCarthyites. And waking up is a long process. Marthalicia Matarrita is just a bit closer to high noon than many.

Marthalicia was born in Harlem to a Dominican mother and Costa Rican father. She has two brothers, also both artists. After studying at SUNY New Paltz, she joined the Army National Guard to serve our nation and pay for art school. She is now the mother of two beautiful boys and many beautiful powerful works. Come with us on a studio visit to her cold midnight basement.
We’ve lost our sense that we’re close to God and close to nature.
 I introduced myself to Marthalicia by telling her about this blog: what I write about and why I do it. Starting with my own brush with death in 2012 when I was diagnosed with a 15-year-old cancer, I woke up – not to what others go through (I’d been studying that since I was about twelve years old) but to what I had put myself through. We promptly got into a hot conversation about the real real.

MORTALITY of the SPIRIT

MS: I’m raising my son; you have to think about how to talk about all of these things that you never thought about having to teach them before: to a little kid, right!?
So one of the things that I’ve been very open about with him since he was very little, was death. Because I didn’t want him to see death as this really terrifying, unnatural thing. But then when I had cancer, it was, “okaaay, oh, shit!”

MM: Wow!

MS: So I try to be more casual about it than I used to be because I feel like the fact that people don’t talk about it, and can’t talk about it well with one another is part and parcel of our inability to just talk about ourselves as mortal, spiritual, real, earthen things!

MM: Yes, that’s why the Mexicans do the Día de los Muertos! And they don’t have fear – they don’t put that idea, día de los muertos, as zombies coming back to life. But rather, that’s like your grandma! She’s the one that fed you and changed your diaper when your mom wasn’t around!

The Peruvians, they carry their grandparents’ bones and skeletons in your backpack. And they have to talk about it because we as humans have so much power and we can change different things.
So, when you’re gone, that’s it – but what you leave behind is the footprints of positive activities that you help along the way so other generations can succeed.
But western philosophy with death is more either related to zombies or what have you, but coming back to diseases and such like that, it’s a wonderful thing to talk to a child early on about it.

I tell my son, I talk about schizophrenia. My mom has schizophrenia. That dialog had to be done, but later as the years progressed, I found out that schizophrenia and bipolar is linked to spirituality. There’s so much layers of that conversation that I was stunned. Because when you’re a vessel and you’re bipolar- or if you’re mentally weak, self-doubt – that affects your body. What happens is your spirit wants to leave, and when you feel sick or out-of-it, you start feeling like a drone, and the spiritual world, there are forces: negative forces and positive forces.
People ask me, “why do you draw children?” Because we don’t
heal ourselves when we’re in trauma, we don’t
have a big mom to take care of us. We have to take care of ourselves.


There are demonic entities and angels, which is your ancestors that are there to protect you, you know, guardian angels. Whenever you’re weak it’s easier for, like the same way your soul leaves, something comes in. I believe that if you’re opening a door they can come in.

So, when it comes to life and death, and schizophrenia, in conversation with my son, I like to base it on facts. Because there’s always a lot of traditional stories that you bring from the community and your heritage or whatnot, but it’s another thing when you see it. What I’ve learned about schizophrenia, like you said about cancer, you don’t talk about it. And it doesn’t just hit one person or group. It hits global.

I’ve learned about schizophrenia, I thought it was alcoholism – my mom used to be spiritual. She used to see shadow people, she used to see, foretell things.

How is your son working with you, with the reality of that? I mean, now that- you’re ok, right?

MS: Well, he was only 18 months old when it happened. Every so often it comes up, like the scar on my neck, or the medicine I take every day. And I tell him the truth. I don’t tell it to him in a way that hurts him, or makes him afraid.
I started reading Native literature when I was like 12 or 13, and I just kept reading it. It resonated for me, it fed me. So I actually have this backlog of literature about how to talk about death and how to talk about power: being connected to the Earth and you go back to it. So I actually had a way to talk to him about it.

MM: So that’s great; you have the tools.

MS: Exactly! I have the tools! But you were talking about mother images, too, in your work.

THE MOTHER

MM: The Mother image: I’m gonna bring it back to a point about prediction. In 2003 I was fascinated with drawing robotic mothers holding a human baby. Because I was listening to my [college] peers talking about “my mom got me a nanny, you know, she’s my nana.” This conversation about substitute parents- it fascinated me because even if my mom was physically there she wasn’t really there towards the end. So it hurt a bit to know that other colleagues had a separation of their own roots, their parents.
I started researching imagery of different types of women from tribal to people that you see nowadays. I used to do robotic women holding human babies and would have their ligaments all torn up with levers and such.
So there’s one I did, simple, all sky blue, and then the baby was a little lighter. The robotic mom was kissing but she looked so human, but the bottom torso was all mechanical and whatnot, and I remember painting that one that had this complexion and I was fascinated by drawing this baby’s face.  And it looks just like my son a year later, and I was like, “wait a second!”

MS: Yeah, that’s weird!

The image of the mother and child was powerful
for me because I understand now what she
was trying to do. And then I sympathized.
MM: That was the beginning of a conversation I had – I did some drawings about motherhood and children, but it didn’t click yet because I was a brand-new mom, I was a little bit not ready to be a mom, because I didn’t wanna be like my mother.
The transition from high school into college, that’s when she left. I was in a homeless shelter with my parents and my two brothers. And I never really was connected to my mom then, but it was a fear that gathered within my soul, and when she came back two years later… she appeared out of nowhere and she told me she was in a mental hospital and that’s when it hit me when I had my son that, “wow, my mom did a lot for me.” Then I realized why she was a nag: cause she wanted me to survive.

The more I started to analyze the things she did in the past, I started to humble myself so much. There was a point where she was drinking so much. We were living in one room with five people, but she came in, she dropped two large bags and fell onto the couch. And I covered her, and she had a black eye and kinda like a broken nose. And some real red stains here, not bleeding, but blood. And her hands, when she did this, this whole hand flipped this way.
And I’m like, “what happened to you!?”
And she saw me, “no, this drunk driver, you know” (with her good hand) “he backed up!” She was sobering up; she told me the whole thing. As she was telling me, I got a chair and she told me in pieces. And I secured her wrist, and I used some socks and some laces to secure it, and I called the hospital to pick her up.
But the thing that moved me the most, and why I’m so humble now, was, even though we were dirt poor, she would try her best to get cans, and get change and in those two bags that she dropped on the floor were rice, milk, bread, beans. And that’s gonna sustain three children for one week.
And she said, “I don’t care, I just can’t have you guys eating beans for like…” and I was like, “she did all of this, she got hurt just to make sure that we can live another day.”
I was speechless. That was the epitome, so that’s the pivotal point of where I changed.
This new definition of what motherhood is supposed to be kinda summed it up. Years later, with the recurrence of the image of the mother and child, I noticed the children were so innocent and living in NYC. Either way, the recurrent imagery in my art was based on innocence in children.

FOUR LEGGEDS

MM: The animal series started in 2010 when the first earthquake started.
At that point, our lives had kinda altered with the music being more negative and, I can’t say more violent, there’s just more ignorance out there. When the earthquake hit Haiti, I never witnessed a catastrophic event on Earth- something that we couldn’t blame. What? The enemy is Earth? No, that’s just natural and it happened.
I started to view some videos of what happened. That lead to seeing things that I was not really looking for and what I noticed in all these videos, and also that tsunami that happened in Japan: there was an eerie silence, it didn’t last that long – but it was enough that gave people the hair-raising feeling that something was wrong.

It must have lasted maybe five minutes or so and within this eerie silence, this short time line, you could start seeing the lack of sound from the environment- like in the environment you could hear birds, you could probably hear all the animals along the way. But there was a silence, as if the volume went down and I was noticing that in all the videos it was the same, and so I went back to the same videos. I can see the goats and the cow leave maybe a patch or even the birds would fly away from where the trauma’s gonna happen. I was so surprised, and it got me questioning: if we call ourselves the supreme beings of this planet why are we so disconnected?

We dominate and sustain, but the animals of this planet were here before we were and they have a relationship. I started realizing there’s something physiological that we’re lacking, which is pretty much that our magnetism that aligns us to north, and also gravity, we probably have enough to sustain our life here but, if we were to meditate more, or eat healthier, and be less stressful perhaps we will regain that relationship that we lost along these years as beings.

I started drawing different imagery about chimpanzees who are wearing a human helmet. The conversation was: the chimpanzees were called primitive, but along the lines, they learn and know more about survival than we do.
I had an appreciation then for the animals because they don’t pollute the land, they don’t put toxins in the water. Yeah, there are extremes of animals that eat other creatures in a most gruesome way but there’s a harmony with that – it’s a little bit profound but it is [harmony].

SPIRIT

MM: The more I talk to myself, I feel like I’m talking to God.
It’s very interesting because I answer. This is what someone told me: if you answer yourself, it may appear that you’re- something wrong – but that’s God. That is God talking to you through your own voice.
And that’s why – bring it back to the bi-polar and schizophrenia, that’s where nobody can separate the difference: it’s spiritual, it’s just like air. And that’s when other cultures see schizophrenia or bipolar it’s pretty much when spirits are talking to you, using your own voice.
And I’m not advocating, let’s let all loose it! [But] Are you sane enough to say, “yeah, it’s true”?

MS: I actually do understand what you’re talking about – I understand the nuance and the fear factor, of being willing to incorporate or accept some level of truth to those mythological explanations, but there is truth to them.

MM: Because I try to speak to all the people about it, and as open as I am, I have nothing to really hide. Nothing, because God will take me whenever he can.

MS: No, your openness about you and your mom is the same as me and the cancer.

MM: Women, chemically we tend to be more attentive.
Ok, the elephant – the elephant is a powerful creature, not just in the strength. They are matriarchs: wise women who have been on this earth much longer and they pass on to their tribe, where is the next watering hole. “I’m gonna show you kids where I’m going, but you have to pick it up because, you know, I’m gonna die!”
So women are held so high because their memories are so profound, they can remember who’s who, what’s what, they can dialog among themselves. They have to because if they don’t – nobody else will carry the torch, and that’s another reason why I admire the women!

If we only accepted that – ‘cause I was rejecting it when I was young because I didn’t know – what my mom was doing was a helpful thing
We have to pay more attention ‘cause we gave birth. And here’s what I tell my son about my youngest son, what my grandmother said about love and the sharing of love: “it’s a loaf of bread this big, and this end has the same ingredients as the other end, in the middle- same: bread. If I were to cut this bread and you take it, that’s what!? This person has the bread, too; you guys have the same ingredients! Now think about this: my spirit is that bread, I took a piece and I gave it to you, and the other piece, I gave it to the other child. So not only do you share it with me and share it with your brother, you both share it together. And guess what, that spirit didn’t come from me, it came from God.”

So motherhood, matriarch, I had to figure out a way to, knowing certain things that I understand and see, express what I feel without hitting people over the head saying, “pay attention – the world’s dying!”
You know, I can’t do that. People will not respond in a healthy way to that, and I figure that the
healthier way is to marry or unify the things that are going on now with music, or death with elements that they like. For example I did a gorilla with headsets and the idea with the music: a DJ was like a beast, to some degree, really animal, really primal!

SPIRIT and SPACE

MM: We lose imagination; we lose our sense of self.


This is how I see it now where – in your brain, as well as your optic vision, it’s like a projector. Whatever you try to formulate from memory - what a hand might look like, a yellow rose, or a red rose, you already have an idea from memory and when you try to project it, especially when you’re in a bigger place, you feel you have a sense of control and freedom, versus something so cluttered so confined it affects anybody and everybody.

If you are outside or in the forest, you feel that your spirit can go as well! When you’re confined, you don’t feel that you have the same power.

What I found out about illness now, with my mom. She said that, “don’t you know that if you stay home a lot, if you start to feel sick or whatnot, you vibrate that energy. But guess what, it goes back to you, two times again. And when you’re in nature, the earth and the trees suck those things, are filtering those things out of you.” And that’s why when you come home you feel more relaxed. So, being close to nature is the healthiest way to be.

But being close to a concrete location you gradually become unhealthy, especially when you’re working a 9 – 5 in a cubicle or whatnot. You gotta find a place to- something to release, and that’s why you have all this extra other stuff. As humans, we gotta do other things, from sex as a reliever, drugs as a reliever, something.

BROKEN SPIRIT

MM: So, your son must have saved your life.

MS: He really did. In a lot of ways my life was not going the right direction at that time. I had married the wrong person – I wasn’t happy, I shouldn’t have been there. And once I had my son and I could see the way that I loved him, I turned around and looked back at myself, and the first question was: does anybody love me the way that I love him? Because that’s the way that you should be loved!

MM: Amen!

MS: And then the next question was: do I love myself the way that I love him? And when that came together it was like, “oh, no!” It was not good!

MM: That was God talking to you!

MS: Yeah, absolutely!

MM: That’s miraculous, right there!

MS: Yeah, it is! I’m writing a book about it.

MM: Amazing! That’s some questions that a lot of people would not start to entertain.
Like I said earlier, opening when you feel weak, things can come in and entertain themselves. We have a spirit here, and it does whatever it wants to do, but we have a purpose here in this life. I’m very impressed by you and the way you’re managing and control of what you wanna do.

This is my way of doing it via whatever the spirit wants to talk about. I talk about the innocence – the oldest of souls is really a reptile and the youngest of souls of the primitive creatures is us, so that’s a conversation.

Where I’m at now is this oxygen and air and my new journey as to “who is (my new baby)?” And plus what’s happening to this planet in general, the lack of species, the lack of food – this climate!

It’s a great thing to find some type of light in a dark place. I don’t wanna regurgitate negative, because what happens, people absorb those things and find that to be their reality.

What I’m seeing, what I was telling you about the open door – all these negative things: I find it to be demonic. Demonic in nature where the sense of light and love is absent in this vehicle that we have. The negative likes to manifest and grow further instead of finding solutions…
You know, there’s ways to heal but it’s easier to find ways to fail, because it’s fast, it’s efficient; to invest time and love is hard work. That’s what I’m trying to talk about in my art.

And this is my challenge the most: how I can interpret ways to healing. Animals – how can animals find ways to heal us? Because they’ve been here longer than us, you know.

I made one painting that relates to a mom, a mother that wants the child to protect itself. See how
elephants and rhinos develop a horn. Even a deer has horns and they’re the most beautiful, but we transform horns into something demonic. It’s not really. It’s self-defense. So I made an image of a girl, a young child with tusks coming out of the face and people thought it was so bizarre. And my conversation there was, “if I’m not around, my child – how is he going to defend himself?” It has to develop either tough skin like a lizard, or other ways of defending themselves. Talking about it, they get it, but when they see it, it’s so affective. They say that I impaled a young child with things that are unnatural.
I said, “well, there are bunny rabbits with teeth.” You can either be a prey or a predator.

MS: That’s what makes the artist the artist: being willing to conceive of something or feel something out that the rest of us don’t wanna look at.

MM: I noticed that too, yeah.

MS: You do have to sorta shake people a little to wake them up.

MM: I just wanna see the whole scope of things.

I really wanna get into a higher place, just so I can project the message. The message of healing, how can we cope in this changing world? I wanna be successful enough to continue the cycle of regenerating imagery.
And to find a purpose in what God gave me. I feel useless if I don’t do it. And when I do it, I feel a sense of release. I find it to be healing.

WHOLE SPIRIT

Marthalicia left me with this story:

Jesus saw three men, separately, at the seashore and he gave each man something of value, a seashell. And he said, “in a couple months I’ll come back and if you understand why I gave you that, you come to heaven with me.”
The first guy said, “God gave it to me to be happy, so I’m gonna splurge.” So he just wasted it. Second guy was like, “He’s gonna come back for this. I’m not gonna show it to nobody; I’m gonna keep it to myself!” And he’s starving, getting weak and such. The last guy, he’s smart, he took some time to think about it. He didn’t do nothing for a few days. With the net worth, he said, “I have a family, I could feed my family with this. So instead I’m gonna buy several cows and some chickens. This way I can get some eggs for my family and sell it to my community. Same with the cow- sell to community as well as feed my family.” The community there blossomed very nicely.
Because the family was getting fed and he was taking care of others, the harmony between those two things worked well. Jesus Christ said to the first two guys, “neither of you understood the value.”
And over all the whole story of it was: if God give you a gift, could be the gift of reading, writing, drawing, painting, dancing – whatever it is, you have to accept that it is what it is, and do something worthwhile, that will help you and help your community.
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Marthalicia told me that the day she heard that story, she discovered her gift: drawing. And she committed to giving it and taking care of it.

I think a lot of us hear that story, and we notice the people: the man’s family is fed, and his human community thrives. But that’s not what Marthalicia said when she told the story. She called it a story of harmony. Perhaps the harmony we miss so easily is the harmony, not just of person to person in the community, but between the human beings and the two-leggeds and four-leggeds and the living Earth.

If we are truly woke, it won’t be only to human brothers and sisters. It won’t be only to walking and swimming and breathing brothers and sisters. It will also be to sand and sun and air and trees and rocks. And it will be to the harmony or disharmony between ourselves and the organism of which we are a part: this Earth.

Just as Marthalicia’s grandmother described how we share in spirit, and how her mother described
the way we vibrate in our homes and under the sky, and how she herself told the story of the conversations she holds in her art, we are ever in conversation with everything around us, and ourselves. Do we hear those conversations? Do we know what is being said? Do we know what we are saying: to ourselves and to the lives around us?

I lost my gift when I lost my voice. When I stopped taking my gift seriously, I started down the road to ignoring my soul’s voice, my intuition. I ceased to know who I was or what I was worth. My life was wrong because I stopped hearing the conversation I was having with myself. I fell out of harmony with myself and therefore my world. When I stopped giving my gift and hearing my voice, I lost that which would allow me to bring harmony to my life and the world, my purpose.

Marthalicia is here to remind us where we find our own voices. She is here to remind us from whence we come and to what we shall return. She is here to show us the way back to harmony with ourselves and our world.

You can see Marthalicia’s work now at Camaradas El Barrio on 115th Street and 1st Avenue in East Harlem. If not to be reminded who you are, see her work to be reminded of the beauty in the world all around us.