I am still a smoker even though I have not touched one of those delicious little wraps of tobacco goodness in 15 years. I am a drag away from a pack a day and I always will be.
I am not saying I just enjoyed smoking, I am saying it was part of me. I could do the “French inhale” when I was 14. I could twirl a lit cigarette around all my fingers without spilling one flake of ash. I used to work on my bikes and cars with one smoke-filled eye closed and a three-inch ash hanging off the filter while talking to someone in mid-drag all without missing a beat or looking too stupid.
Yes, at 24 I stained my teeth yellow, my lungs were perhaps a dusty marble gray and kissing me had to be slightly better than kissing an ashtray (with a beard) – but who cared? I could sit with my smoker buddies at a dive bar in Lincoln, Nebraska and flip a cigarette end-over-end from my sternum to my nose before catching it in my lips and lighting up with a wink. It didn’t always work for me like it did for Dean Martin. In fact, when it didn’t work, I looked like a complete idiot. But when it did work . . . it really, really, really did. Just about every other roundheeled sweetheart across the bar would thunder over to see if I would “do that thing you just did again”.
Smoking was a great prop for guys like me who wanted to remind people that we were in fact bad guys. My friends were the same. One of my best friends used to hold a cigarette in his teeth while laughing his ass off in between the shots of tequila and the kamikazes we loved oh so well. It was all part of the package. We knew smoking was bad, but we did it anyway because it’s who we were then and now.
I quit when my kids were small and never went back. But I am still a smoker.
Why did I quit?
It was time.
Simple as that. I had a family to raise and a business to run. I certainly did not need any props to let people know who or what I am, so I caved to Big Brother and quit.
But, here’s the secret . . . I will be 55 next year and if I make it 30 years past that birthday – I will be smoking again. I’ll be smoking so much, Keith Richards will be commenting on how much I smoke. (Yes, he’ll still be alive in 30 years.) If I don’t make it to 85, who cares? I have often said I was flabbergasted to make it past 25. All I have to do is make it 30 more years.
I got this.
Just like being a smoker, I am a writer and a painter among other jobs and labels we all have in our lives. I think it has something to do with a genetic code. Just like anti-parallel strands of DNA, my career as an artist also twists and turns all while insisting on having a sense of purpose and direction.
I have not been posting much writing this past year and I want to bring all of you: old friends, new friends, collectors, followers, enemies, lurkers, forehead-slappers, family members, haters, and any permutation thereof – up to date with what I have been doing and plan to do. If you are a collector or a fan, this will be great news. If you are an enemy, you won’t like this turn of events whatsoever.
An artist I admire said to me in a bar in Louisville, KY one night:
“Has it ever occurred to you that you may be a better writer than an artist?”
Well, frankly, no it had not and still does not – but I do write a lot.
That same weekend, two artists I admire even more (a husband/wife team worthy of much more attention than they receive in the art world) loudly encouraged me to keep on keeping on over the loud music, Mexican food, and multiple shots of Pappy Van Winkle we were relishing.
I used to post a lot of writing under both my name and my pen name on various and sundry art-related websites much to the ultimate chagrin of an old Crone in North Carolina, an even older crone in Oregon, a lizard in Texas, and a manipulative Texan in Iowa. I also have the honor of getting banned from 3 arts organizations because some little “toes-ies” not only got stepped on – but were sledgehammered and deservedly. Over the past year or so, I have pulled back on posting my ideas and perspectives. Many of you have asked in person as well as in writing what has been happening and why.
First of all, I actually have been writing. A lot. Much of it is tangled up in submissions, edits, and re-writes. It will take about another year or so for things to shake out and make sense. In the meantime, I will post a short story for you, (yes, even for you) on Halloween. It will be posted on my website, my old essay site, and on Medium. It’s a present for all of you. Look for it on the 31st. You will also get the annual Christmas essay this year. Hopefully I will be able to think of something in time.
Where is this going?
I just received my acceptance for a little art show that takes place in the Union on the University of Iowa campus. I have been participating there for about 15 years and will probably continue for as long as they will stoop so low as to have me. It’s a quirky little show run by some students from their Fine Arts Council. Most years are so-so, and some years are incredible in terms of sales. It’s always just a nice weekend to sell some paintings and go out for drinks in a college town at Christmas time. I’ll be there this December, and I hope you will be there as well.
That being said, shows are going to be cut back in 2016 and I will be much more selective than in the past. Too many shows have become festivals with “something for everyone” gimmicks and consequently have devolved into craft fairs. I do not know if it’s because of the economy, politics, or technology. I don’t think it matters. I do understand the push the market is making in order to send me to other venues and I embrace it. My career as an artist is on the cusp of elevating and improving more than I imagined back when I graduated and started selling at street fairs.
I am going to spend even more time writing. I am scrambling to get a book out in time for all of you to buy for yourselves and everyone you love, have loved, and will love for Christmas this year. I am hoping against all odds that I will be selling signed copies in my booth at the Thieves’ Market in December.
More writing means less painting. Less painting means better painting. Better painting, in theory, means more value. More value means more sales of more significant work. My goal as an artist is to sell better work to you, my patrons – rather than putting out trinkets and decorative “smalls” just to make a booth fee at a street show.
I will continue to paint, but I will no longer do smaller works. Ideally, my minimums will be 18×24’s, maybe 16×20’s. My plan is to do fewer, but better, more significant paintings as I transition to more writing and illustrating. I will no longer do custom paintings any smaller than 30×30 and even that will be a rare occurrence. This will all begin November 2015.
Many people – too many people, have expressed disappointment and even resentment because I have held back on making prints of my work available. I am now offering prints of my previously sold paintings in select sizes via my site on fineartamerica.com (http://www.fineartamerica.com/art/all/john+stillmunks/all). I am even offering shirts with paintings printed on them until Christmas on the site as a peace offering to those of you who were a bit upset with me.
I am not stopping as an artist by any means. I will continue painting better and more significant work for my patrons as opposed to painting whatever I can in order to fill the booth for the next show. I am also stepping up and writing more for those who enjoy what I do and for those who do not yet know how much they will love what I do. It is going to take about 12-18 months to make this transition go the way I want it. It's going to be a blast and I want you all on to enjoy it with me.
In order to facilitate this metamorphosis, I am throwing in another component. I will return to nursing school in December of 2015. For those of you that do not know, I dropped out of nursing school to go to art school many years ago. The reasons I am going back to school are personal, but I want to stress that working as a nurse is not replacing my work as an artist by any means. It is in fact complementing my plans for future paintings and writing in the short term as well as over the next 30 years – before I start smoking again, that is.
Being an artist, writer, and nurse is as much of my being as it is to be a smoker, or a parent, spouse, uncle, etc. My plan is to be the best there is at not one, but all of these things. An old friend of many years recently said the world is my oyster – and it turns out that is probably true. When I was 18, I had no idea things would have turned out so well at 55 personally and professionally – so far. I would never have believed that I would ever be in a position to even be an artist, not to mention being able to make the decision to evolve and improve as an artist rather than embrace mediocrity and half-assity. (Yeah, that's a word.)
I only have somewhere between one day and about 30 years to contribute all I can to the art world, I hope you will agree that it is time to step things up. I trust as a supporters of my work, all of you will enjoy the ride along with me. If you are a non-supporter or sworn enemy of what I do – I look forward to dragging and kicking you along the same path.
I got this.