Progress: Dead Rock Hair, a Zine

Back in January I resolved to draw every day. Alan Rickman died around that time, as had Lemmy Kilmister. I drew Alan Rickman, fulfilling my productivity promise. David Bowie died not too long afterwards, and during a cancellation at work I drew him. I liked both drawings well enough to add them to my SoMe feeds, and put David Bowie up on RedBubble, where he sold as a sticker. Glenn Frey died, and I made a more formal portrait of him in pencil, taking far longer than I had with either Rickman or Bowie. It seemed that I had a project going.

But the seduction of a new project is the glowing feeling that with the birth of the concept, the work is already done. I fell for it, and in so doing drifted from the difficult creative task of exploring the unmanifest urge behind these efforts, of finding the depth in the drawings and the topic. Time passed. Other topics emerged, and eventually I realized that the project, if it was one, lacked.

Then the very excellent Jessica Chao told me about Graft Gallery’s upcoming Hair show and invited me to submit something. Somehow the idea and the invitation stuck, and at the next morning’s drawing session I copied/riffed on images of rockers. Simultaneously I stumbled onto the work of Cairo & Amsterdam-based Egyptian painter Essam Marouf, whose endlessly layered, almost-collaged portraits fascinated me. Something about the flattening effect of hair as a shape stuck onto an otherwise average human being propelled my little thumbnails. I posted the images to Instagram, and then sent them off to Graft.

Graft replied, suggesting that I make a zine out of this work. Absolutely! Thank you, Graft, for your willingness to include my work in the upcoming show!

I drew a thumbnail of Depeche Mode’s Martin Gore circa 1985 today, ripping off an idea from Kiki Picasso’s 1977 punk comic page, Skrriiiii—BANG. The hair has that Colorform feeling, like a contour drawing of a peony stuck to a pouting young man’s head. I listened to music from the dawn of the British punk era–Buzzcocks, Clash, pre-Midge Ultravox. I delved a bit into the computer-emo music of Japan ca 1981, Gary Numan ca 1978 and OMD ca 1980, all the while searching out the feelings of this stuff. Punk has died again and again, endlessly coopted and commodified. And punk keeps coming back. Those who birthed it surfed its energies into the maturation of own voices, escaping the movement’s frothing orthodoxies by shooting ahead of them. As it should be.

What, then am I doing with these things?

Part of what I’m doing is drawing hair. Hair, literally. Hair is immensely complicated, requiring lots of shorthand to represent. It presents an overwhelming amount of form. In art school I didn’t pay much attention to hair, or to being exact about anything. I was working in “the Expressionist mode,” as some might say. So drawing hair is somehow a part of returning to drawing in general, and at the same time a gateway into levels of focus and skill I couldn’t imagine at 20.

Another part of what I’m working through is the loss of my own era. I’m 45. Music was hugely important personally and culturally as I grew up, being a primary means of peer-group definition in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, the time in which I was moving through middle school. Jocks = metal and, oddly, rap; Heads = what is now Classic Rock; proto-Skaters = punk; etc. Everyone hated disco, until in college we found hip hop and house music.  The visual effluvia of these subcultures have been rippling through fashion, visual art and music over the past half-decade, sending spasms of glitter, hot colors and shag haircuts through this moment’s youth culture. Through them I get to re-live formative experiences with the artists, philosophies and politics that shaped the first half of my life. And this is bittersweet, because though I love these artists–generally men who could have been uncles, elder brothers, cousins–I love in a much broader way than I did at 12, 15, 18. I think wider. I feel bigger, and it is good to be so. I want to gather up the spirits of my youth and walk with them. We will let go of one another this way, if we need to.

At the same time, the artists of that period are dying off. My drawings are elegies to the periods these artists helped to create, paeans of joyful thanks, laments, and last calls. I love Joey Ramone, and I loved him. I love David Bowie, and I loved him. And goodbye, boys… bide well.

And lastly I think I’m just fascinated by the relationship between the artist as limited human and the artist as representative, celebrity, icon. Observing artists who have wrestled with fame as Jacob wrestled with the angel. Observing myself as I imagine adding the glow of fame to the work of my hand

Or something in there.

Article by English/Canadian anthropologist CR Hallpike PhD, connecting long and unkempt hair with many archetypes of wildness, political revolt and spiritual rebellion:

“Anchorites, witches, intellectuals, hippies and women all have long hair, but there is no single quality which they have in common besides the negative one of being partially or wholly outside society. There is however one characteristic which is often associated with being outside society, for whatever reason: this is animality. (Hallpike, p.9)”

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