It was an insane task I had set before myself. But you know - when you decide you're gonna do something - you just take it step by step until it's done. It was coming down to the wire and I had a ridiculous pile of things to sort out before leaving.
One: I had to move out of my apartment of 15 years. This was the big one. There were other loose ends and some of them were nothing to shrug at but this, without question was the big daddy-o. I had to do this in enough time so that the landlord could look the place over and the lawyers could do their thing so that I could get my buy-out check in the bank before I got on the plane. I won't get into the details of the move - there are few writers on the planet who could make this back-breaking grunt work seem interesting and I'm not about to assume I'm one of them. But it's safe to say that the two weeks leading up to my departure were some of the most humid and ease-defying days of the year. I was literally slipping on my own sweat which had spattered on the marble steps of the tenement stairwell while carrying furniture and overstuffed boxes down 4 flights over and over and over ad nauseum. I was soaked with sweat and exhausted to the bone for days on end.
(the art fair)
At the same time, we were wrapping up the art fair on Governors Island. And this is more work than most folks imagine. 120 rooms of exhibition needed to come down in a few days and the site would be emptied, patched, painted and cleaned. I needed to make sure there was enough wood cut, logged, split and stacked in East Granby for my roommates to make it through the first months of winter in my absence. And with 2 days left in the month, I hadn't paid the mortgage. I had about $60 in cash and nothing in the bank. I needed a couple grand to magically appear in the next 2 days. Actually since the check had to be overnighted to arrive before the 1st, and I was leaving on the 28th, it needed to happen now.
(harbor to guvs)
Against the "logic" of my past patterns of belief, I kept my cool. I rose above the persistent temptation to completely freak out over the fact that I didn't have the money and could slip into default on my loan. I knew that if I could just keep my mentality balanced for a few more days I would make it through. Drenched in sweat and running from chore to chore, I kept my eyes on the prize, busily convincing myself that somehow, someway, it would all work out. "It always does." Just then I got an email from a friend. She had been at my last party on Suffolk Street and wanted to know about one of the paintings I still had hanging in the living room.
We would make a deal. The art fair would get wrapped up. The apartment would be swept clean. The buy-out check would come through. I would find a new housemate for the farm who would cut, log and stack all the wood for winter. I would get new sturdy luggage. I would pay all my bills, put all the temporary systems in place, say my goodbyes, hug and kiss my sweet Oriah, and leap headlong to JFK just in time to take my seat on the plane with a raging stress headache.
I had been doing way way too much in the past few weeks and had physically pushed myself ambitiously beyond my threshold. But by some miracle, I had accomplished it all to the best of my abilities and with the pain in my head promising to subside, I'd settle into the uncomfortable straight-back seat of a humungous skyliner.
Through it all I had felt a presence pushing me - something timeless, vast and insistent was undeniably there to jettison me through this gateway. That's what it felt like.... like I was blasting through a violently spiraling portal - willingly thrusting every limb into the unknown - and I was being helped through. I was at war with my past and shedding it fast. No wonder my head was pounding. But I was being guided. I could feel it. There's little possibility I could have done this all on my own. I could tell just what was happening - this deep shift - and I was fully accepting a vague yet indeclinable ride downstream.
There was no rest to be had on my flight. 6 movies, 4 tv shows. I tried to make it through Tree of Life but just couldn't. I could see the beauty in it but really. Get over yourself. It was unbearable. I watched a film called Limitless about a drug that makes you super confident and sharp. I liked the premise and stuck it through. The Borgias was pretty fun - especially for you 'Jeremy Irons' fans. Bla bla bla I didn't catch a wink.
My head light and swirling gently, I sifted through the first pages of Castaneda's Tales of Power (a travel gift from Oriah) in a cafe in the Madrid airport where Sean Bono came to meet me. We met up with Ill Spoken and Don Rimx - both from Brooklyn. Ill is an MC who was just passing through Madrid on his way to kick off a big tour in Barcelona. I remembered him after realizing he'd cut all his dreads off. He had MC'd two ArtBattles I'd been in... Stuytown and Brooklyn Museum. Rimx (pronounced: Rhyme X) was a mellow Puerto Rican cat with long braids hanging down from under his ball cap. We met on the common ground of being exhausted and out of place.
We shuffled all our crap over to the Citreon minivan rental and hit the road. On our initial approach to Madrid, we were all amazed at the dark grey cloud of heavy smog that hung ominously over the city. It was weird to voluntarily drive straight into it, but we did and I could feel the filth of the city integrating with the cells of my tissue stream, making me one with this dark imperial monstrosity of carcinogenic and magnificently delicious activity. We eventually arrived at the hotel to drop our bags. It was in a mall.
The mall, I was soon to understand, was where we would be battling for the next two weeks - a short drive outside of the center of Madrid. The excitement I felt for being on this amazing adventure took another kiltered skwarnk (like during the smog realization) as I tilted my head and squeezed an abnormally profound questioning crinkle onto my face.
"Why a mall?" I asked myself. "Why a mall?" I'm a true stalwart from the old 'everything for a reason' school of thought so... I just had to stop and ask myself one more time... "Why a mall?"
(fountain spectacle de ParqueSur)
I found a crappy map of Madrid covered with hotel and El Corte Ingles logos - so much so you could barely see the streets - and I tore out the section containing the center of the city. I had been here before. I was in Madrid twice in 2005 and I remembered it very fondly. I recalled immediately the visceral earthiness of the people - ruddy, proud, dark and beautiful. I remembered the main streets like Atocha, Alcalà and Gran Via. I remembered my favorite street - Fuencarrall. I remembered how everybody - no really everybody - smoked like chimneys. As I watched a fully pregnant gal in her 40s pull heartily on a cigarillo, it all started coming back to me. I remembered the jamón, the tinto, the tortillas and the tapas. I remembered the Prado and the Reina Sofia. And I wanted to experience it all once again. Of all the places in the world, I felt like I had been literally picked up and sent here to return to Madrid. I had no option other than to enjoy it to the fullest.
One by one, the other members of the crew began to show up. Ill Spoken had already gone on his way - maybe we would hook up with him in Barcelona. Along with Sean and Rimx, there came Max Bode and Max Neutra. There was Flaco Navaja, our proudly NueroRican MC and the Spanish graffiti artist from Granada, El Niño de Las Pinturas.
(Max Bode, Flaco y Rimix)
We all began to realize right away - that everyone here was pretty damn alright. There were folks from all walks of life. Max Bode, the blonde guy born and raised in the west village came in with his twisted cartoony style. Max Neutra - a successful artist in his own right from LA - was on the trip to document and network the event. Sean - hailing from New Jersey - was the ring leader running the show. Flaco was from Spanish Harlem - an actor and singer whose easy-going upbeat vibe was reflected all around him. And Rimx, when he wasnt beat-boxing or talking smack in Spanglish, would settle into his quiet, poker-faced position, quickly earning him the name, Default. He seemed to just reset into Default mode. This was our crew and one was just as bewildered as the other to be all thrown together into this unpredictable adventure. Not a diva or prima donna in the bunch. Che bueno!
We tore into Madrid, devouring the food, the sights and the street life that so richly swept through the royal ciudad at night. We watched as the plazas all filled to the brim night after night with earthy, beautiful young people drinking and carousing. These same plazas were patrolled by Chinese and Indian friends proffering ice cold cervezas to the revelers - "Super Fria!" And they were kept busy. The tall street lamps glowed from every corner of these ancient and perfectly disheveled squares. There were cyclists spinning their wheels in twists and stunts that baffled the simple understanding of physics we held in our guts. Couples with raven black hair and colorful clothes grappled passionately in the dark. Kids rolled by on skateboards and futballs pattered announcements across the worn sanded stone. An old white-bearded caballero perambulated his elderly female companion across the park in a wheel chair. A threesome of scrawny little dogs dashed rolling headlong after a rock thrown across the plaza for their amusement.
We sat down for pizza in a cafe in my favorite spot, La Plaza de Los Dos de Mayo, and Max Bode opened his sketchbook for all of us to collaborate on a long foldout drawing. The waiter introduced himself to us. He was a graffiti writer known as Mars - just off the next day to Morocco for a 3 month residency of painting. He took a shine to us, buying us dinner and muchas cervezas. We were pleasantly stunned by his blatant hospitality. We thanked him robustly.
The first battle at the mall - ParqueSur (which we quickly determined translated as South Park) - started with a bang. Flaco stepped out on the stage where the canvases were all set to be attacked, and led in with an acapella salsa number to warm up the crowd. As he did, people began to stir, directing their attention and their feet to the source of his song. Through the applause following, Flaco began to announce the rules of the game.
"Welcome to Art Battles - La Battella de Arte!" He continued in a WWF/monster-truck voice announcing that artists had come from New York and were here to face the hometown heroes representing Madrid and that after two 40-minute sets, they - the audience - would decide the winner.
He gave us a count-down and the first artists were off and running - painting like locos to the blasting music. There was a Spanish dj working behind the artists on stage. There were 2 teams. "NYC" - Max Bode and Don Rimx vs. "Madrid" - El Niño de Los Pinturas and 3TTman (a Frenchman living and painting in Madrid). Bono and I were in the merch tent this first run, banging out stenciled t-shirts and small canvases for the crowd. Armed only with a few spray cans and a matchstick, I turned out a volume of requests from gothic letters to fast portraits.
The crowd was into it and standing strong for the hometown heroes who took the win. The audience dispersed and we began to break down the set. Within minutes, everything was packed up and the stage cleared. We shuttled all our gear up to the mall's storage area and headed out to Madrid in the minivan. This would become our usual routine - put on a show, pack it up and get the hell out of the mall ASAP. Madrid was calling and we loved it.
The next day we were invited by El Niño and his friend, Seleka, to join them and a few other graff artists for a jaunt to an abandoned warehouse outside the city. We drove out through golden brown sprawling fields across gently rolling hills of olive trees until we pulled down a gravel road and swung the van through a clanging corrugated iron gate.
We drove right in to a massive warehouse/factory complex that seems to go on forever. We walked through its abandoned rooms, massive wide open floors with natural light beaming in through the discarded debris that was strewn about. Staircases creaked and then left us all dangling above a cement floor in mid-air. We followed our guides as they brought us to a very long concrete wall where we all chose a section. I'd never done a spray mural before - especially not with a crew of pros - but I felt like painting and it didn't matter if I had a dead fly and a bucket of mud... I was gonna make something big and crazy. We tore into the wall for a few hours until, noticing the time, we blasted back across the fields to ParqueSur.
I ran to the stage in a hurry after I had just scoured the entire vast and endless corporate mecca of a mall for a print shop. This was the day of my first battle and I needed a source image. Apple Store? Check. Aldo? Check. G-StarRaw? Check. El Corte Ingles? Check. Print shop? Copy shop? Nada. So we had no source photo to work from. We wanted to paint Ganesh but all I had was the one inch tall metal figurine that Oriah had given me to travel with. He was meant to bring good fortune so I politely asked him if I could paint him. He didn't say "no" so along to the stage he came. I would try not to get any paint on him.
Sean and I were a team and we mixed his spray with my acrylic pulling a bright impasto Ganesh out of a violent azure and Prussian blue sky. El Niño and 3TTman did their mix of 'primal clown mask' and 'expressive portrait through Mandala portal' to take the prize again. The hometown crowd was super supportive but in truth the Spanish artists' work looked great and they instantly functioned very well as a team. We were happy with our piece but we still needed to learn to work together. It was something neither one of us was any good at... yet. A few times we did solo battles and after my visit to the Prado, I was stuck on the old maestros so, in the two 40-min sets we had, I busted out a pretty fun Velasquez tribute with heavy heavy impasto and made a big old mess all over the stage.
After the show we again headed straight into Madrid where would again dine, drink and sponge up the rich nightlife of these regal streets. And so it would go for the next few weeks.
(possibly the greatest unstaged photo of all time?)
Buenas Noches! :)