Friday, February 26, 2010

Yo, I'm a baller.

But not that kinda baller. Basketballs flee even my shadow. If I walk into a game, point guards shiver. I am talkin' about the weepy kind of ballin'. And I have no problem coming clean about that trait. Tonight as I was sketching my finals for this new book and trying to watch a movie out of the side of my eye, I proved yet again that I cannot keep a dry eye at the movie, 50 First Dates. Specifically, this part.

I don't know what exactly it is, but I am gonna say for sure it has to do with Izzy's beautiful song, "Over the Rainbow" and maybe a little with the sweetness of Drew's smile when she sees her daughter, and the whole idea of seeing your whole life new and fresh, like for the first time. An overwhelming concept to me. All my blessings come rushing at me and my eyes start doing their thing. I am telling you, even on an airplane sitting next to two large gruff men, I cried like I was winning the lottery at that part. It slays me.

I don't cry much at sad parts of movies too much. I can handle myself just fine in those circumstances. But, it is the happy stuff... The "Life is so beautiful I am gonna break" stuff.

Because, damn it, life is so beautiful I am gonna break. And I break often. And I like breaking. When I hear my boys giggling or speculating or even whining. This is the good stuff! And despite the fact that I am a feast or famine artist with absolutely no retirement on the horizon and despite the fact that my wifey put one gallon of gas in the car today, despite the fact that I have been sick for three and a half weeks... this is the good stuff! The struggle only makes the beauty that much more sweet, the victories that much more important and the pleasures that much more savor-able.

So, sing it, Iz. And GOD bless your sweet soul, bruddah. I'll see you some bright morning.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Under Way

My first photo shoot for the upcoming picture book went so well. Thanks to the families and models who helped me get some great reference material to work with. I loved letting my wife and dad take some pics while we just played soccer.

And what a day. Sun from ear to ear.

I was lucky/blessed to find some great Haitian models for my book. Since the book is about kids who live in Haiti, I am pleased with the special connection. And so close to my home, just a ferry ride away.

I am grateful for how much of this book's process is falling right into place. Often I have to struggle and fight to get things to fit. But this story is determined to be a book and it is bending fate to accomplish its goal. I am happy just to be watching it all unfold.

More soon...

Thursday, February 18, 2010

White Boy

Watched an interesting flick. Blacking Up by Robert A. Clift.

I loved seeing M1 from Dead Prez talk about white rappers and seeing the parallels drawn between certain white artists and minstrel shows back in the day. There were great perspectives from all over the spectrum, from Chuck D to the president of the Al Jolsen Fan Club. There were also some horrendous examples of exploitative commercialism. It barely scratched the surface of how big media has done that to the rap industry from day one, however. Real hip hop has always been underground and on the streets. Real music of any genre, too. Most commercially successful music is trash. Almost anything tailored for the masses just aint gonna fit me. I am a prissy bitch when it comes to culture. I like good art, good music, good coffee, damn it.

The film brought up lots of good questions without trying to answer them for the viewer. This idea of modern day minstrel shows without the makeup strikes a chord with me when I hear white (or Jewish) reggae artists, particularly the ones who sing in an accent adopted only for the mic. It is as unnerving to me as hearing garage bands from Tulsa go British when they try to sing their punk rock. Now, with some kid like Collie Budz who is white as the day I was born but is a native of the Bahamas, his accent is as real as his sunburn on hot days. Great. But when I read in the bio that this singer or that rapper is from Toronto, and then I hear the voice of someone from South Bronx or Ocho Rios...

Now, vocabulary? That is a different thing entirely. The English language is in constant evolution and so adding to your vocabulary phrases from outside your neighborhood is just fine with me. That is just natural and in fact, distinctly American. But when you have to put on a pseudo accent to make the music work, then clearly there is something broken with your music. Why can't you sing your songs about Ras Tafari in your own accent? If you did, I would listen. If you are singing hardcore punk rock and you are from Orange County, then go with it. TSOL did and they were bad ass. Even Sublime did the music they liked but didn't try to front. They laid down reggae lines and went over them with their white boy voices and it was great. It wasn't Jamaican reggae, it was their own interpretation.

Even more grating to me is going to reggae shows and seeing some white dread who can't smile. The pressure on the outside is as high as it is on the inside so the poor dude cannot relax and enjoy himself. Folks like this are battling to show that they are the real deal. But if you have to fight to show you are real, maybe there is something telling in that. Forget trying to get people to see how real you are and just live your life. They can't enjoy themselves at shows because their persona has become a lead mask. Instead they should take lead from people like Ras Elliot, who though a devout Rasta doesn't try to fake his lineage. He speaks in an east coast accent because he is from the east coast and he keeps it real. He will reason with you but not in a borrowed voice. And that is why he gets lots of respect at home and in Jamaica.

People have come at me with that accusation in the past. That I want to be black because I paint a lot of black people. One lady asked me why I didn't paint my own kind. I talked with her for a while and she ended up buying art. She even recently looked me up to buy a piece after a number of years. I knew why she was asking. But the thing I am doing is not a black thing. I am not taking on the painting styles of a certain black way of doing art. I just paint what I like. And I am a rebel. Are you gonna tell me I can't paint black people? Why?Do you tell black painters they can only paint black people or do you let them paint white people too? Sounds ridiculous, but honestly, I think there is too much of that. Too much compartmentalizing with artists. You, you're Jewish, only paint Jews. You're Cuban, only paint Cubans. It is one thing to celebrate your culture and keep it alive through your art, and it is another thing to only paint people like you. That is just living small. The future is togetherness and the world is growing over with vines that connect all of our races. We artists have got to get excited about this. More opportunities to portray the beauty of the world and not just our block.

Another important motivator in my life was that when I grew up I didn't see paintings of black people almost ever. In art history, even in college, all I saw was naked, plump white women and clothed white men. And a bunch of white Jesus-es. When I began my career in fine art I made a conscious decision to paint my artistic appreciation of black culture, specifically black music. I had just finished college in San Diego, at a very white school and after that my wife and I moved to a very white town. Instead of painting boat scenes that probably would have paid our bills, I painted Coltrane and Sizzla and Sister Carol. It was my own form of shining light. And in a practical manner, I thought that if I limited my subject matter I would be able to gauge my improvement as I painted many images. And I did. After that time of intense study and after doing hundreds of paintings I lifted my singular focus and expanded into what I do now. Anything and everything.

In the end, this mystery of where the line is between the races and how do we each deal with that line or if there should even be a line, is answered by the simplest thing, yet one impossible to judge easily. Motivation. Is Eminem pulling an Elvis? Is Gentleman pulling a Led Zepplin? I don't know. Did Led Zepplin know? Did those Brits know that by taking American blues music and singing it almost verbatim and making millions, never giving credit nor royalties to the source, that they were just creating a legacy of exploitation? I dunno. The proof is in the pudding. There are, to be sure, a lot of white kids running around with a gangsta limp, tryin to rap about the thug life they never had. No doubt. But, I do know that there are some mighty good rappers out there with skin as white as mine who don't try to be black, they just like to rhyme and do it well. Their motivation is simple- they grew up on this music and it is part of their life and they do it well. Ok, cool. The proof is in the pudding. And while I agree that the historical tendency of white culture stealing from black culture with no credit or compensation is undeniable, there is still room for progress. We can come together without patronizing or violating each other. I won't be buying the newest album from the Humbolt County white rasta briggade with their token black Jamaican (to prove they are legit) anytime soon, but I will not make any presumptions about any artist based on their melatonin levels. The proof is in the pudding. If the fruit tastes good, I'm keepin' the tree.

Sunday, February 14, 2010


Will keep this short, but wanted to announce the sale of my brand new picture book to G. P. Putnams Sons/Penguin this week. This is the first book I have written and illustrated that will be published. Manuscript is pretty much done, and now I have to pull a gigantic magic rabbit out of a hat (chewy? sniffy?). Must rush this art double time...triple time... so it can be printed domestically and hit the shelves by fall.

I shall elaborate and give sneak peeks once it gets rolling, but for now... Off to work.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010


Sissy Spacebrain, to be specific. And I mean it in the nicest of ways.

This is my little sister:

She has been the beacon of our family ever since the stork dropped her off to spoil my solo party as a toddler. I tried to encourage her to get lost by smacking her on the head with a wee plastic hammer but she is tougher than that. And she has proved to be tougher than a hell of a lot more than that. I cant possibly go into enough detail on this post to describe to you what a wonderful, resilient sister she is, so I have to boil it down to one story.

I was five, she was three. We rode our bikes through Pasadena to cruise around and enjoy the afternoon at a park. (Not even going into why we were allowed, as mere toddlers, to go alone through Los Angeles.... but hell, times were different back then.)

When we were almost to the park, a group of young brothers surrounded us and one asked me if he could ride my bike. Now, being taught from infancy that when someone asks you for your coat, you give them your shirt as well... (sigh for self contemplation and religious frustration) I gave the kid my bike. He told me he would just ride it around the block. He told me to hold his "bike" until they got back. Faith watched them like hawks, her small face scrunched up in a scowl. I waited, ever the damned optimist, but after a half an hour, she took my arm and told me, "Let's go home, brother. They aren't coming back with your bike."

She wept gallons the entire way. Not only that but she INSISTED (and if you have had experience trying to persuade a Watson woman to do anything she does not want to do, you know what I was up against) that I ride her bike. I say bike, but I mean Tricycle. So I rode her tricycle and she walked the whole way home, sobbing.

Her tears never stopped and when she burst through the door and gave my parents the tale, I was oddly unfazed by it. She had taken the brunt force and absorbed it for me. My precious sister took the theft of this awesome bike given to me by my uncle and made it tolerable for me.

I never forgot that. Nor have I forgotten how she has always made life special for those around her. She has some lucky kiddos and a lucky husband. And if you follow her blog YOU WILL BE LUCKY TOO.

Check out her blog here: Sacred Dirt!

New Paintings

New Paintings
Buy now and get free shipping (within the continental US).

Jamaican Lightning. Usain Bolt
acrylic on canvas. 20x16"

Don Carlos, Rocksteady
acrylic on canvas, 16x20"

Gospel of Judy, Judy Mowat
acrylic on canvas, 16x20"

Greatest in the World
acrylic on canvas, 20x16"

Come to break the Chains, Bob Marley
acrylic on canvas, 20x16"

Bob Army
acrylic on canvas

And for a bonus, I am including a few recent designs that I have done for mi bredren Fari of Culture Yard Productions.

This show is coming soon to Seattle. Lutan Fyah!

And the yearly Bob Marley Birthday Festival that happened this last weekend

And a few oldies.