CAIRO TO YOSEMITE
I make art about human relationships, identity, and sexuality. I have always been fascinated by how we interact, how we treat each other, how we fall in love, and how we hate and judge. My paintings are an accumulation of characters and objects that have escaped from all different parts of my psyche. They are born from daily experiences and interactions with people and the urban and natural landscape. I nurture them into another life through imagination and experimentation, by allowing my subconscious to take over.
I imagine worlds colliding, characters slipping in and out of their assigned societies, and forming new existences together. Sometimes they clash, sometimes they are all alone, and sometimes they harmonize in a strange chaos. And it is from this point that I can begin to tell a story.
Strong light casts sharp yellow lines across a room. Arched doorways on either side are lined with little blue tiles made by a ceramicist at the market. Pillows lie where the floor meets the wall. Round and square, each have a little button puckering their center. And the rugs. Oh the rugs, triangles and squares and lines bending and folding into each other each filled with a devoted color. Red dirt reds, oranges as if you stole a scoop of earth from a mountain side in Kauai. Rusted blue like an unpolished stone found on a beach. And the yellows, warm and subtle, whisper to all the other colors to stay calm. Yellow knows they are too boastful and unbalanced without her keeping watch.
Shapes lock in with their neighbors guiding your eye on a woven pathway that began thousands of years ago. On a small table there is a gold water jug, filled fresh this morning. Snacks of olives and homemade cheese sit covered, ready for consumption. The air is strong and soothing. Sweet herbs and musk, moroccan oil that was left by someone’s skin who passed through the room not long ago and lavender drifts from the bedroom next door; all mixes together to unearth a smell you have known before you were born. It settles your mind and wakes up your heart. There is a painting on the wall of a man grasping a woman. They are deeply in love and have not seen each other for years. Perhaps he is returning from war. She has thick dark lashes, and her brows arch deeply towards each other. Thick wavy curls, and thick wavy lips, and thin long fingers hold his shoulder tight. He holds a striped staff and lush fields give way to mountains in the background. The painting has faded to olive green in the years in the yellow light.
But something odd is happening. As if someone has woken you from a fantasy in an early morning dream, the painting rattles slightly against the wall. And soon the windows follow. The water jug starts to shake and falls off its tray, soaking the silky pillows below. Plack! Tiles from the arches crack off and collapse. Whack! The shaking gets stronger. And soon creatures are smashing through the window frames, crawling down the chimney chute, slipping through mouse holes. A once peaceful room, now crowded and flummoxed.
In this New World there are new problems. It is loud and echoing from all the whispers. People move fast and secretly and do strange things. Computers and pyramids crash into each other. Palm trees whip from side to side. Ghosts and sarcophagi can be hostile. Cigarettes and fern plants stubbornly occupy space. Everyone and everything shoves right past you. And then there are the masked men. The masked men have their own story. The self-proclaimed rulers of this abyss, of this disordered land.
THE MASKED MEN
The masked men must wear masks because they have no faces. Sometimes they are missing lips so their teeth stick forward like little piano keys. Some of them have beards or hats and glasses. The masked men rarely show emotions. But they yell at you when you pass them.
‘Why don’t you smile?’
‘Look at those legs’
‘Damn!’ They’ll say.
They like to sit in their chairs with their tropical plants and wait for ladies to stroll by. Almost always the men choose to not wear pants because it is quite hot sitting outside in their plastic lawn chairs next to their fern plants under the tropical sun. They like collecting toys as well. Captain America dolls, empty bottles, and skulls, giant hats and magazines. The problem is, with these masked men, the more they call to the strolling ladies, the more see-through they become. Their bones start to be revealed, cold and true. Their shirts start to disappear and their skin fades until you can see the pretty mountains behind them.
One day, a masked man decided to follow one of the strolling ladies. He walked behind her and watched her. “Hey you!” He said. “Come here!” The strolling lady ignored him like she was taught to do. “I just want to talk. You know you’re so beautiful…You ladies can’t even take a compliment, can you?” Slowly the man’s beard disappeared. The bones in his hands erupted to the surface and his cheeks thinned.
The masked man began to get angry. He was insulted. Was he not handsome enough? Not good enough for her? He was being so nice, he thought. Soon the strolling lady walked into a coffee shop. The man followed and sat across from her a few tables back. She ordered a coffee and an apple turnover and proceeded to read the paper. He watched. And watched. The lady got up to use the restroom. The door closed and the man walked over to her coffee. In his hand he held a white pill, and he remembered what his friend said. Just put this in her drink and in thirty minutes she’ll be complacent. “Won’t it hurt?” he asked. “Oh, no, no, no” he said. “It will put her in a dream. Make her sleepy and happy. Sometimes I take it for fun.”
The masked man cracked open the pill, slipped it in her drink and sat back down. Soon he was almost all bone. After about an hour the woman couldn’t move her arms. They became heavy like lead. And then her legs! And her eyelids too! She wanted to call for help but could not remember where she put her phone. Her mind became like a black hole, where she swam around in darkness trying to grasp something real. Everyone in the shop was stuck in their virtual world and did not even notice. Probably just a tired student, they supposed. She started to throw up in short hard gags. Tiny piles of barf in little circles around her. The masked man had no more legs, no more arms, he was disappearing so quickly he began to forget who he was.
The lady was on the floor, dumb, silent, and sick. A tear rolled down her cheek and she felt so alone. She felt so scared.
Then the masked man was just a mask. Nothing more, just a red outline, with red eyes, and red teeth. And they were there, alone together, in silence.
The strolling lady woke up. She shook. She rumbled. A great tremble, starting at her feet. It moved up through her knees, into her groin, past her stomach, up her throat, and down her arms. Her mouth opened slowly like a drawbridge being pulled up by its lever to let a boat pass through; all of the little cars rolling off into a mass of water like ants in a gust of wind. A breath slipped out building, building, building, until her vocal chords broke in, ripping, rising through the air into a long, slow ROAR! She was ready. She got up. She was ready, but didn’t know what she was ready for. She was not going on a stroll today. She was going on a march. She had no tools, no weapons, no technology. She had but her bare hands, and her big swinging breasts, and her long sharp white teeth, and her hairy vagina. She was ready to tear shit up. Through the streets she ran. And the masked men tried hollering, and she clamped down her fist, and with a power she never knew she had, she punched the first masked man in the face. His cheeks blew apart, blood splattered on everything. Shards of bone were left in the street. She stopped, and looked around. Looked down at her hand. She hadn’t known she’d had this power before. And she began to grow. There was no battle. The taunts and cat calls only made her grow stronger and louder. And soon the streets were filled with turmoil. The masked men were running, hiding in corners. Their lawn chairs trampled, the grass underneath she dragged apart with her toes. She ran, clearing the town, past the last road, past the foothills. She ran past rivers and cliffs. Until she reached her new home, in the mountains.
STICK AND BALL
She stepped with a roar. Crushing pines and planting new ones with her toes. Tonight was the night of the red moon eclipse. Half dome moaned in the back. Stroke my spine, it called to her. The cliffs crumbled for her in attempts to impress her with their most chiseled face. They begged the glaciers to return to help them with this feat of boastful perfection. Like brawny men in gyms, whose breasts push swollen against steamy air. Oh to gain the deepest honor of beauty and strength.
She was no monster, nor a saint; but part of the landscape. Then came toward her a bowling ball and a stick. They rolled and rolled down the mountainside, flipping and cracking along the hostile foliage.
How fun! She yelled. And the birds trembled in ecstasy to the sound of her call. She brought out her paint brush which was tucked in her bosom. And the stick and ball rolled right to her feet, like little magnets. Like little boys calling for their mother’s milk. Thud! against her big toe. Frightened and in awe, the stick lay back, wide eyed and flaccid. And the ball lay ajar, cigarette hanging from gappy teeth.
You are mine now! She cried. And they did not budge. She began to extend her foot, black boot oiled in mink oil, to crush their heads and penises like boiled cherry tomatoes. How easy it would be...but perhaps not as pleasurable. So she decided, I will grow another leg. And she grunted and pushed. And out from her thigh emerged a thick bone. Like shifting tectonic plates the muscles and ligaments followed. And stick and ball cowered and waited for their end. Four stiff white toes reached out for them like four falcons at play. And just before she reached them, Ball yelled out.
What? She said
Wait! Please wait!
They talk! She exclaimed. They are not half-witted and useless afterall!
Please! I am an artist too! I say!
Are you? She asked, fascinated. And what is it that you art? She proceeded.
I am a painter, said Ball. I paint what I feel, I paint what is deep inside my head. I paint and let this dance through my arms.
And she shed a tear and felt merciful. And gave him light from the red moon from which to paint. And stick wrote about it in a journal, sharing his thoughts over tea and chili in the cold night air.
THE RED SEA
‘What did I like to do when I was very young, Ma?’ without a pause, Ma replied, ‘You loved to put on Opera and dance naked in the living room.” And she remembered hearing the strong haunting voice of Kathleen Battle through the speaker. Mozart pumping, echoing throughout her whole body. And she remembered how if she started to sing along she would weep.
The next day the girl decided to play Ave Maria. It had been ten years since she’d heard the song. The music started and it floated heavily from below her stomach to the front of her head. She took off her clothing so that she was bare in the afternoon light. As she spun and pointed her toes her whole being turned salty. As salty as the teary Red Sea. And she floated, floated away.
Once the world ends, once california is burnt to a crisp, and New York a permanent winter land, and the oceans devour the coasts, and the jungles shrivel up, and humanity disappears...God will bless us with another Adam. But he will be named Aaron this time. He will have a beard and a polka-dot bathing suit. He will live in a cave called “Kaja’s Cave” which will protect him from the elements. And he will have two best friends plant pillow and dead dog. One day Aaron will meet Guy, and they will fall in love for a little bit. One night, Guy will find a bottle. ‘Don’t drink from the bottle!’ yells out Aaron. But Guy will not listen and he will drink, and drink, and drink…And soon Guy and Aaron will be stuck in the ghost world.
I paint lots of pink penises. Chody ones, bulging ones, some that are soft, some that are semi-erect. Sometimes they seem like they have a mind of their own. Changing and undulating with the heat and the cold. They always know when I am staring at them, sometimes they wink at me. I paint the men that are attached to these penises--live--which usually ends up being my boyfriend, because he’s cheap.