LOVE L-E-T-T-E-R-S (Part One)

by Hills Snyder June 26, 2021

Isolation suggests its opposite. Family and friends more than come to mind; they haunt. It’s a relief to return from the land of ghosts. Families of artists, artist couples, artists that form families out of friendship, enterprise, or both. 

Letters gather in an alphabet like good luck at the bottom of a strange attractor. They accumulate in a tin box on a pole at the curb. They disperse like so many things unsaid, for better or worse, evaporating envelopes of opportunity. They find their way into art, marks of mystery and redemption. They may collect in a specific place, like less-than-eager roofing nails in a tool belt left in the sun. Could be they may be a song. Or a grocery list. Or a howl.

Bloodletting has a history 3000 years long, exhausting its credibility as recently as the 19th Century. But words and hearts can bleed. We let them. 

Today, those gathered here in Part One, and those soon to gather in Parts Two through Four over the coming weeks, are trying out 21st Century leaks, vulnerabilities, confrontations, possibilities, eventualities and inescapable grapples.

We are gathered here today to replace bloodletting with love-letting. 

Let us bleed, in courage, truth, whimsy, insight, aspiration and ambition. And whatever else.

I’ve asked a growing number of people two questions, followed by a third in response to their answers to the first two.

Question 1: What is at the top of your mind?

Question 2: What is in the bottom of your heart?

Read on.

Ricky Armendariz (artist, San Antonio, TX)

Hello Hills. Some Chicano / Lantinx haiku poems in response to your questions.

1. What is at the top of your mind?

Hoy Rasquache style
Nurtured in spite of contact
Sparrow fights a crow

2. What is in the bottom of your heart?

Thoughts drift to regret
Animal chewing ankle
Warm rain is coming

3. These haiku are so like your art, a lens of words through which to view your storied spaces. Each is anchored by an animal. Is there anything else you do that is not writing, not art, that could also serve as such a lens?

Ever since I can remember I have had a serious interest in poetry, so I write. I also write stories, nouveau mythologies that help me get into my visual work. For years I have written hooks to songs that have the same purpose, they feel like the plank that I walk and jumping off into who knows what is the art… It’s an artistic strategy that keeps me from overanalyzing everything.

I have for years customized cars. My Dad gifted my brothers and I with ’50s era cars when we were young drivers. I’m applying the same technical and esthetic zeal to the cars I work on. I’m more of a body guy then a mechanic but I can do the basics. Actually, I just sold my ‘57 Chevy custom so I’m in the market for a new project.

I’m into plants and up until recently had about 80 different kinds of cactus succulents and euphorbia. I grow herbs and I cook for the household.

I’ve studied with a curandero for more the 20 years now and try my best to walk the red road.

All of these aspects to my life enter the work because they are just part of my DNA.

Jessica DeCuir (artist/musician, Belleville, IL)

1. What is at the top of your mind?

The health and safety of my family is at the top of my mind. As an emergency caregiver to my folks during the pandemic, there have been major health issues and big transitions to manage. I am a constant guardian and advocate for their health and care.

The pandemic and other unforeseen circumstances led to nearly ten months apart from my husband, bandmate and soulmate, Jeff. To say it was hard is an understatement. After finally being reunited in our new home, we are now faced with an even greater challenge in the form of a serious health issues. The universe is definitely telling us to slow down and take care of ourselves and each other, and to never live apart again.

I’m also thinking about how Jeff and I left behind an irreplaceable community of artists, musicians and mentors in San Antonio, a place that will always be home. I’m looking forward to seeing friends again and establishing a sense of community in our new locale.

2. What is in the bottom of your heart?

Grief mixed with gratitude is at the bottom of my heart. I’m full of empathy and sadness for those hit hard by the devastating loss of family members, friends, and beloved pets during times of isolation.

So many of us are still mourning the unexpected loss of San Antonio’s South-town performance artist, S.T. Shimi. Her intelligent voice, talent, and community advocacy were an inspiration. Her enthusiasm for my own singing voice and creative endeavors boosted me to the moon and back.

As a virtual community on social media, many have shared hope and determination to weather the unexpected during the loneliest of times. Here’s to the unflappable troubadours who sang songs to us from home, humble heroes of our time. Thanks, Jason Trevino!

3. So true that those you’ve “left” are an irreplaceable community. Let’s connect right now, right here. You’re landing by parachute in everybody’s midst. Where exactly?

This sounds like a really good dream!  I can imagine myself putting on my old pink jumpsuit and doing a parachute landing at Oscar and Shimi’s former lounge on South Presa Street. There’s a South-town party going on with Shimi belly dancing, Wolverton and Buttercup performing, and Gary Sweeney doing a wacky puppet show. Jeff greets me with a big smile and a body-crushing hug, hands me a microphone that smells like an armpit, and we perform an Acapella cover of the ELO song, Xanadu. Everyone is dancing, singing and smiling, and my folks are young again and in the front row, along with Jeff’s late mom, Barbara. Katie Pell comes up to me and blows my mind with one of her genuine compliments that makes me blush. She says, “You are like Alice in Wonderland if Alice were Blondie.” And I say, “You are Blondie, Katie… you will always be Blondie. I’m Olivia Newton John, and now we are here… in Xanadu.”

Alejandro Diaz (artist, Queens, NY)

1. What is at the top of your mind?

Is making political art that speaks truth to power enough?

2. What is in the bottom of your heart?

That my brother may someday be freed from his heroin addiction.

3. I don’t know your brother, but I hope that too. If art that speaks truth to power isn’t enough, do you do something else or do you make some other art that has its own kinds of transformative powers?

Yes — after reading your question I immediately felt that that is the answer — art that is cathartic and transformative for the artist who is making it and hopefully for the individuals experiencing it. Yes, that would be enough.

I feel there is this artist impulse to leave this world a better place than the one we came into.

Paul Fauerso (musician, San Antonio, TX)

1. What is at the top of your mind?

Global Paradigm Shift to Unity Consciousness

2. What is in the bottom of your heart?

Infinite Ocean of Universal Love

3. Chop wood, carry water, what else?

First Transcend, then Act.

Anjali Gupta (writer/curator San Antonio, TX)

1. You broke my heart.

2. I would love a hot bath but can’t afford it.

3. What’s next?

A comma.

Joe Harjo (artist, San Antonio, TX)

1. What is at the top of your mind?


Every time I breathe, deeply
Every time that cop in my rear-view mirror lights up, his turn signal
Every time I just say no, sugar 
Every time I see myself, smile
Every time I think, of Her 
Every time I speak, Her name(s)
Every time I hear Her voice, laugh
Every time I convince myself I’m good, again 
Every time my car starts, finally 
Every time We danced, Sir Duke
Every time a wind blankets my wounds, briefly
Every time We share, food 
Every time I forget myself, today
Every time I think less, of me 
Every time I want to scream, after
Every time a song echos, through me
Every time I forget about today’s, until tomorrow(s) 
Every time We rise up, again 
Every time I remember to hope, try
Every time We get some, money 
Every time We win, a living 

Every time I get ahead, of the storm on Our shoulder(s) 

2. What is in the bottom of your heart?


Grief was
Passed to me
Was cast through me 
Blast through me
What’s asked of me
It’s blasphemy 
But actually 
Was factually 
Relaxed in me
As if, to me
‘Cause it knew me
Questioned You/me 
Like acid to me
What was and to be
Was last to be
Not how it should be 
Get passed it, please

Rage is
A curse to me
The thirst of me
The worst can be
The worst to see
The worst of me
Not first to be
To learn could be 
To learn to see
His words hit me
The Word split me
Gave birth to me
But firstly 
The worst in me 

Guilt is 
Erasing me
A face to see
A case for We
Replacing We
The space was free
In space, We free
A case to plea
Disgrace of We
Is Slavery
‘Cause they were Freed
But not to We
It has to be 
We won’t be free
Till they are We
‘S what We agreed
So, make it be
So, make them Freed

Pain was
Told to me
How old to be
How bold to be
It’s old, you see
Just scolded me
It’s cold, not me
How hold should be
Was gold to me
To fold or flee

Anger’s shackles
They claim Us
Defame Us
Rename Us
They train Us
To blame Us
Restrain Us
Inflamed Us
Maim Us
They shame Us
We shame Us
They pain Us
Proclaim Us
Obtain Us
They Plains Us
Lone Range Us
We dange’us
We famous 
They strangers

Shame has
Arose in me
Came close to me
How those should be 
Was ‘sposed to be
Jus’ chose to see
Jus’ froze in me

Sorrow’s breath
Was waked in me
Has taken me
Has shaken me
Is breaking me
Forsaken me
Forsaken She
Forsaken We
Forsaken thee
For shaking me
For the sake of We
A place to be
To take from me
They take from We
A break from me
A break in me
A stake through me
The hate We see
The hate We keep
Was blatantly 
Was making me
Cause ache to me
For hatin’ me
A case could be
They faking We
They claiming We
They taking We
Mistaken We

3. How hopeful are you?


Every time We breath, deeply 

The taste of death 
A waste of flesh 
The fate We met 
Taught Us best
To booze Our breath
An’ bruise Her flesh 
The chase of meth 
A plague or test
The face of West
Our fate, no less
With haste, We’re blessed 
They’ll save Us, yes
Our faces, pressed
The same, I guess 
We faced the mess
So place your bets
No place to rest
The Place, We meshed
They faced Us west
And trained Us, West
Erase Us, yes
They take the dress
But hate the flesh
The hate, caress
The Gate, arrests
To make Us less
Creator’s stressed 
The Savior’s left
Our faith, ‘s what’s left

Caus’ Hope, is a weapon 
A trope, for the less than
A mirror, not a blessin’
To quiet, what is kept in
A pot, to put the flesh in
To hold, what is left then
A mind, just for guessin’
The rope, was a lesson
Our hold, was a test then
The cold, it refreshens
But hope, is still a weapon 
So go an’ count your blessin’s
As your told, an’ don’t question 
The Colonizer’s, obsession 
To justify, oppression
An’ Manifest, Our Destin’
An’ teach Us, a lesson
To present-day, no question 
Their Hope, is Our regression
To know, is Our weapon 
To grow, what was kept in
Hope, is just a weapon 
Hope, begets oppression 

Another breath, “Stop The Bleeding”
Another breath, it’s worth repeating 
Another breath, the hearts still beating
Another breath, the wounds, We’re treating 
Another breath, the flood’s receding
Another breath, the breath’s still feeding 
Another breath, the breast’s still feeding 
Another breath, the bread’s still kneading 
Another breath, the drum We’re beating 
Another breath, the Dance repeating
Another breath, the Songs We’re singing 
Another breath, in dreams we’re meeting
Another breath, Ancestors greeting
Another breath, with love We’re needing 
Another breath, the Darkness, fleeting 

We’re Still Here, the case We’re pleading 
We’re Still Here, hoarse from repeating 


Mira Hnatyshyn (artist, San Antonio, TX)

1. What is at the top of your mind?

Equality for all. A world where every human has the freedom to live without fear of discrimination, violence, and oppression because of their race, gender orientation, sexual orientation or religious beliefs.

2. What is in the bottom of your heart?

Home. Home is where we should live without fear of who we are. Home is where we should feel safe from family, friends, workplace and community. No one should have to live in a community that does not accept them.

When I was a child in rural Maryland, my family was different from the rest. My parents were immigrants from Ukraine and Poland, and my siblings and I were first-generation kids living in 1970s, post-Vietnam America.

Maybe it was my parent’s accents, or that we were The Brady Bunch Eastern European style, but late at night, the same neighborhood kids who rode with us on the school bus would throw rocks through our picture windows. No one was ever punished; I remember the police officer telling my father: You can’t take fingerprints from rocks.

I never want anyone to awaken to the sound of breaking glass. I never want any child to feel the way I felt those nights. Home is where we should live without fear of who we are.

3. For your first decade and half in the US the Cold War was still in play. And recent years are bringing those kinds of energies back with ugly variations. If you’ve lived long enough to see the pendulum swing in both directions, you might be tempted to take a step back from the idea of progress. What do your parents or their friends and relations of that generation say about what’s been going on?

For Americans, the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 was the end of the Cold War. For Ukrainians, it was the beginning of a new war for independence from Russia and its billionaire dictator, Vladimir Putin.

Ukraine has struggled in the last three decades to establish a fragile democracy despite political corruption, a collapsed economy and constant skirmishes with pro-Russian forces. Most Americans had their first look at Ukraine’s struggles in 2014 when its people took to the streets to push a Putin-backed oligarch from power during the Revolution of Dignity. Blood was spilled by snipers on the Euromaidan, but the people prevailed through sheer numbers and will.

As a first generation American, my perspective was tempered by 6000 miles of separation. But the experience was visceral for my father, who lost family members to Stalin’s forced famine in Ukraine in 1933, a genocide called the Holodomor, and knew decades of collective suffering through war and poverty.

“At last the whole world knows about Ukraine,” my father said as he watched the televised revolution.

The 2014 victory was short-lived as Putin ordered the invasion and illegal annexation of Crimea, which continues today. With Russia threatening to invade beyond Crimea, and meddling in American politics through Ukraine-based disinformation campaigns, the Cold War seems hot again. Which is, of course, the broader tragedy. Human misery repeats itself.

Despite their historical persecution, the Ukrainians have succeeded in preserving their culture through religion, art and story-telling. My mother used to take me to visit her oldest and best friend, Nadya, in the Ukrainian section of Baltimore. They would tell stories for hours of Ukraine and Poland before and after the war. Some were happy or tragic; some were personal, while others were more collective as they remembered the many tribes of Eastern Europe, all fighting for survival.

I have explored story-telling and Ukrainian heritage in my work, most notably The Braidbasket (2015).

Carol Ivey (artist, Ft. Worth, TX)

At the top of my mind
Screeches and howls of war, of injustice

At the bottom of my heart
Dwelling place of the grace experienced in sublime works of art 

3. Given that one can’t hide that grace behind a protective wall; or maybe it’s just that one shouldn’t, even if a fork lift is waiting to remove it. Given that, how do you move something that light? 

Well, I do love the physical world and gravitational force. I can (and do) attempt all day to paint the illusion of an object on a table. Does the object rest securely on the plane, or does it threaten to tip or to float away?

As to grace, I’m defining it in a biblical sense. It can’t be seen but only felt. I am powerless to lift and move it. In my experience it appears at random and not so frequently, weightless and moving in mysterious ways. Walls are no obstacle. There is no hiding.

Wilton James (musician, Los Angeles, CA)

1. at the top of my mind is shame.

2. at the bottom of my heart is acceptance.

3. I know you were recently in search of a piano. Do you think there might be any resolution under the lid or is acceptance the resolution?

There is definitely resolution under the lid, and acceptance is as inevitable as resolution.

Ken Little (artist/musician, San Antonio, TX / Kona, Hawaii)

1. What is at the top of your mind?

Searching, watching and working towards something that feels interesting, beautiful, and/or sublime. Something that surprises me, makes me feel alert and alive. Always looking, searching for beauty in the earth, in the people around me, the plants, the animals, and the rest of the world.

Shaping a form, making a mark, painting a shoe, drawing with an extension cord or a belt, tuning a pattern over a surface till it sounds just right, singing a song, writing a lyric……

2. What is in the bottom of your heart?

A deep abiding love for my family and the amazing friends that I have made over the years. Loving each other. Having a conversation, sharing a story, sharing our dreams, making and sharing memories, finding and giving comfort and joy, supporting each other, joking around, having fun…

3. “Tuning a pattern over a surface” sounds pretty synesthetic. Do you ever seek yourself combining visual pursuits with those of your music, not to mention those straight up performance pieces you do on occasion? — putting it all together as William T. Wiley used to say. Or maybe you’d just like to tell a story?

Or both? As a matter of fact, I cannot remember ever seeing a really good work of art (my own or someone else’s) that didn’t trigger a very synesthetic response in me. I love to listen to paintings, and feel the bristle up my back, when I am looking at the patterns on my sculpture, or any other good artwork. I like to think these objects are invested with a voice and a body that stimulates meaning and experience. Not just a collection of signifiers that can be interpreted through language, read like a book. In fact, it is the way we experience the world beyond, or around, and including language. You definitely can’t leave language out. The point is not to leave your body, your senses, and your “experience” out either.

My first distinct memories of this as a child was listening to locusts drone in my grandparents’ backyard, and feeling the rush of the west Texas wind on my skin, and watching the trees and clouds swaying with me in that wind.

I have worked toward these kinds of “environmental” pieces. They are very difficult to assemble and need constant “tuning.”

The other thing that enters here is the difference in artists and their target audiences. In the ‘70s we used to divide them as “innovative” artists (like Marcel Duchamp) and “synthesizing” artists (like Pablo Picasso). They were both good but in very different ways. The “innovators” were about search and discovery. A lot of their energy was about taking apart existing aesthetic directions (search, destroy, create!). The “synthesizers” were about discovery, appropriation, and the “development of a product.” Each artwork was a little different (developed and based on the last) but all were basically the same in an array of sizes and designer colors. You had an inventory of a marketable products. A “body of work.”

The other thing that enters here is that the arts were mostly separate in terms of audiences. There are the “popular arts” — music, theater, and so on, that were designed for large audiences. The more the better regardless of their level of appreciation and interest. The Beatles made records, each one an exact copy of the other and sold them relatively cheaply. But they sold Millions of those records. Duchamp made one Large Glass aimed at a very small “targeted audience” of informed and intelligent Art “insiders.” He sold it to single patron who agreed to keep it  mostly secret until he passed away. He made a modest but decent living on it. He admitted he was “amusing” himself.

Dave Hickey has called these two kinds of artists: “Farmers” and “Pirates.” He made very stark contrasts between the two. He used to say you either liked the Beatles or The Stones! (I have always liked both). And I thought of myself as a sort of shape shifter: sometimes a pirate, sometimes a farmer. He did not think that was possible. We talked about it a lot.

I have tried to fold it all together at times, with modest success. But I have also moved from one to the other as a way to see things, contrasts, checks, balances, audiences in a new way, every day. It has kept me alive, on my toes. It has kept me “amused.”

Karen Mahaffy (artist, San Antonio, TX)


I have to start by saying that for me these positions flip like a reversing polarity. What is at the bottom of my heart often reappears at the top of my mind after having sunk to the bottom of that other ocean. To keep mixing metaphors currently at the top of my mind, the closer I move towards an idea the more the needle becomes unmoored; like a compass approaching a magnetic source.

1. What is at the top of your mind?

Polar exploration: For a few years now, I have been scratching a life-long itch related to the details of polar expeditions. I have been reading anything I can find, and in each instance, non-fictional accounts win by a nautical mile. Ideas that attract me to, and have kept me enthralled with, the subject, to name a few are:

a personal fear (and love) of the sea. In particular, a visceral pull related to very large things in or on it.

moving towards the unknown

the unfounded longing for a mythical paradise

where romantic notions meet unimaginable realities

the lack and import of identity and self in an alien place





2. What is in the bottom of your heart?

Stay: In seeming opposition to my other answer, the notion of stay is a recent meditation. It is a deep one for me; more difficult than it sounds and one that has ultimately been a source of boundless reward and opening. The recognition that staying — making the choice to stay, to be still — longer than my mind would tell me to, is not the opposite of moving forward.

3. A certain well-known Texas singer got it from T.S. Eliot, — “still is still moving.” I’m struck by what you’ve said about a compass approaching a magnetic source. It suggests sailing around a circumference that erases itself when observed. Is your staying more like lying down dying or wishing you would not observe yourself letting go?

I also like the notion that the needle points away to other places the closer you get to “center.” The circumference relies more on the anchor than the arc. To quote T.S.E., “…at the still point, there the dance is…” (thank you for that reference).

The notion of lying down dying makes me incredibly sad and more than a little scared. I’m not ready for that brand of living.

Staying is surely a letting go but I think also the polar opposite of wishing. Wishing seems like an impossible scrutiny of what isn’t. Staying is more an awakening that a moment is always more than what you can think it.

Matthew Rose (musician, San Antonio, TX)

1. My ever-evolving sudden recent life change.

2. My wife and my son.

3. I’ve see your version of The Who’s The Kid’s Are Alright photo in which they are draped in Union Jacks asleep in front of the Carl Schurz Monument in Manhattan, but for you the backdrop is the Rosie’s Fish & Chips food truck. Do you see the food truck and your music coming together in the ever-evolving future?


Isabella Russell-Ides (writer, Dallas, TX)

1. What is at the top of your mind?

At the top of my mind is the Amazon, murky, treacherous river of commerce. I ferry the two books I wrote, then lose my way in the great surfeit of other books that pass us by. Stuck in the muck, I come eye to eye with a crocodile. She smiles.
“Never smile,” I hear the Neverlanders warn. But I am tempted to hitch a ride in the belly of this beast.
“Uber me,” I say.

2. What is in the bottom of your heart?

At the bottom of my heart is an octopus. I watched her go ghost, watched her let go of her colors. Watched her let the other fishes feed on her loose and lucent limbs. How elegantly she gave herself back to the ocean. At the sandy bottom of my heart is a desire for such a death. No, don’t mistake me. Not today. But when it comes, let me go ghost and float with the puckered world nibbling, taking its last taste of me.

3. So you’re passing on the lucent. Is it readily digestible?

Goes down like a golden bowl of laughs, like glass noodles spun on a fork, like sun drizzled over hotcakes, like moon dressing on arugula, like star salt on fat ideas, like snowmelt on free verse, like pages in the rain.

Ed Saavedra (artist, San Antonio, TX)

Those prompts just tapped a few wellsprings. —Ed

1. What is at the top of your mind?

The KKK burned a cross in Travis Park [named after the exalted scoundrel who illegally sold a five-year-old boy on Christmas, 1834] the night before Richard Howard Hunt ordered a ham sandwich and Coke at the Woolworth store lunch counter “without incident.” Today, the Smithsonian Institution calls Hunt “the foremost African-American sculptor and artist of public sculpture,” but that day it had been less than a month since the transformative Greensboro [North Carolina] sit-in at another of the chain’s lunch counters [now the International Civil Rights Center & Museum], less than a week since a young Houston man had been kidnapped and tortured for attempting something similar there, and a mere three years since MoMA had purchased one of Hunt’s works while he was still a student at the Art Institute of Chicago [where his current exhibition continues through September 20]. Though a Private stationed as an illustrator at Brooke Army Medical Center on Fort Sam Houston, Hunt’s supplemental art income enabled him and his wife to live off base, and his association with the Men of Art Guild and luminaries such as “Tower of Americas” architect O’Neil Ford afforded him work space at Mill Race Studio, a converted Nineteenth Century pump house on Brackenridge Park Golf Course in which (only a few decades earlier) noted Klansman Gutzon Borglum had developed models of what would become Mount Rushmore. In a 450-million-dollar attempt to impress tourists from Lampasas, the City of San Antonio leased Alamo Plaza (for FIFTY years to the State of Texas [Greg Abbott, Dan Patrick, George P. Bush, et al.] in 2018 and set about making plans to “reimagine” Mission San Antonio de Valero — aka The Alamo: dig up bodies, cut down historic live oak and anacua trees, encase the entire mission perimeter in glass walls, eliminate the use of the plaza as the city’s preeminent First Amendment soapbox, and move or demolish historic buildings like the old Woolworth to make way for a museum housing a trove of Alamo artifacts amassed by British musical scourge and purportedly reincarnated “Alamo defender” Phil Collins. Many of these bone-headed proposals have been scrapped or modified in what some have called the 21st Century “Battle of the Alamo.” It now looks as if the Woolworth Building and its story [Second Baptist Church congregation, NAACP members] might be preserved and celebrated, though recent acquisition by the Texas General Land Office has further complicated those possibilities. Woolworth San Antonio’s quiet integration [and that of six other downtown businesses] is a story baseball trailblazer Jackie Robinson said “should be told around the world.” We can begin on site across the street from the Alamo [without permission from the Texas Historical Commission, or the terminally-diseased legislature] with a sculpture commissioned from Hunt [by all accounts the lone integrator that day] as a more interesting way to celebrate his part in that story and its place within the rich historical tapestry of our city. And while we’re at it, why not add an additional sculpture with a plaque outside what is now known as Borglum Studio?

2. What is in the bottom of your heart?”

“Never meet your heroes” was a proverb I either hadn’t heard or couldn’t comprehend in the pre-internet age of phone books and rotary telephones. Even the simplest among us are complex, walking contradictions composed of billions of microorganisms perpetually acting upon and reacting to wondrously terrifying external stimuli. Reason enough to agree with Barbara Kruger that “WE DON’T NEED ANOTHER HERO.” But we do need elders (and a culture that cherishes them), and I hold my love for mine (warts and all) in the bottom of my heart. These folks disproved the lie that only the young can be courageous, idealistic, and creative troublemakers.

Rest in Power, Beloveds!

Glenn Ellison, Jr. (1942-2019)
Catherine Fahringer (1922-2008)
Donald J. Barnes (1936-2019)
Carlos Guerra (1947-2010)
John W. Stanford, Jr. (1924-2013)\

3. Really glad you’ve brought with you the elders. There are a lot of ways that seem diminished, neglected or forgotten in the culture at large. A person can control to a great extent their immersion in it and an artist can add an organized push back. You are already well known for combining art and activism and that kind of communication can open individual growth which then spreads in the community. Your research seems exhaustive and your involvement inexhaustible. Is there something you are up to right now that you’d like to share?

Thanks for the kind words, but everyone has their limits. Like my departed loved ones, my days and hours on this rock are finite. And I have a monster body of work to deliver this fall/winter. After I meet that deadline, a serious assessment of my process is in order. Although I’ve self-identified as a multimedia artist for years, my subconscious provincial ideas about what kind of art I should make has no doubt hindered my creative output. And I think I’m done jumping through bureaucratic/curatorial hoops for gatekeepers who might as well be selling Louis Vuitton purses. I’m really excited to exhibit Sergeant Woodard Was Blind But He Could See, a sibling to Beast [acquired by the McNay Art Museum in 2020], which more explicitly drives home the point that an institution “whose primary function… is to reproduce inequality along race and class lines” * is incapable of reform.

*quote from Alex S. Vitale, author of The End of Policing

Ethel Shipton (artist, San Antonio, TX)

1. What is at the top of your mind?

How to change things that seemed unchangeable in the past and change things to a new way of moving through this ever-changing world.

2. What’s at the bottom of your heart?

The people I love, those in the past and those who walk with me and those I have yet to meet. People.

3. I don’t figure you mess much with ghosts. Pretty sure I’m right about this, but sometimes those auras linger. Do you banish them or embrace them? 

I let them be. And we can walk along together for a bit.

Hiromi Stringer (artist, San Antonio, TX)

1. What is at the top of your mind?

When can we go back to pre-pandemic life style? How will be the transition? I wonder if I am missing opportunities to grow as an artist?

2. What is in the bottom of your heart?

I am getting used to living this new normal — not going to attend art openings, teaching on zoom (no commuting time and no need to look for an open parking lot), not meeting friends living in the US and family members in Japan. Am I becoming, being lazy or I might be starting to feel some kind of comfort for not interacting with people?

3. Is it possible that all that has gone on — the pandemic, the failures of government, the ruptures in the social fabric of the country; is it possible that all this is blooming from the same ground as some kind of corrective to what was thought to be normal?

Regarding the pandemic, I feel that just like the Spanish flu (aka 1918 influenza pandemic) and cholera pandemic, this kind of pandemic has been repeated many times throughout history, and the current one will earn its place in history in not so many years. Additionally, I think that there’s no perfect government, meaning that all governments have failures in various degrees. It’s difficult to imagine some sort of corrective action coming from governmental sources.

James Surls (artist, Carbondale, CO)

What is at the top of my mind, is like asking for a definition of words like forever or always. At least once a week I have to go through my mind and gather up all the thoughts I have that are not possible to take from the here and now into the future. I have to discard all of the “I just can’t do that” projects I would like to do and leave the ones I maybe can do. There are several things that rise to the top, the first on that list is heading up and helping in the organizational reality of an exhibition out in our Splendora woods titled GIFT FROM THE BOWER, this exhibition is spear headed by DiverseWorks, with Xandra Eden taking the lead. We have Thirteen open rooms in the woods of Splendora, each being about 50 feet in diameter, these rooms or bowers will each house the works of a sculptor who is teamed with a writer and a musician. All thirteen rooms have an artist who has made a site visit and all are moving forward toward an opening date of April 19th, 2023, which will be my 80th birthday. This as an event is very high on my mind, but is but one of the highest things ricocheting around in my head. Another is started with a short poem, which became the title of a drawing. This came to the top a few years ago when I made a drawing called I am in the Good Bye Glove, where the Tidal Wave is the Big Wave and what you get is what you gave, using this drawing as a doorway into my thoughts, I will say that I have a concern about leaving this physical realm with a vapor trail that burdens Charmaine and my family. I am making efforts to do things that will ease their lives as much as possible. And above all, that has to occupy the top drawer. This is what is at the top of my mind.

What is in the bottom of one’s heart will change over the years; time will lift them as resolve comes. But it does seem as though it is hard to have a time in life when there is not something deep in the phycological well of one’s heart. For me it does not fall in the realm of personal, my family is good and so is my life in general. But there is something that sinks into the chambers of my being. So, I say on a broad political level, I simply do not understand what a vast slice of the anti-democratic group of supporters of a man who lies and fleeces his way through life is all about. I am a child of World War Two veterans, I grew up with a deep respect for a democratic system. I understand that over the centuries, empires have come and gone and mostly it was due to the kind of things I see happening right now. But I also understand that belief is a powerful thing. I have seen the power of belief be a destructive force in the art community from which I grew in. It is sad when it happens and I feel this is a sad time for our country and even for the world that there are those among us who will step on the democratic system for a small grasp of personal power for themselves.

3. You speak of words that can’t be defined, “forever or always” and you mention empires coming and going. Humanity can imagine infinity, longevity, permanence and yet the daily reality is very different — frailty, limitation, failings, falls. Who is this person that we all are that can contain all these contradictions?

I grew up in a Baptist world, one of my early Sunday School teachers had about ten little extra fingers on each hand, he said God gave then to him. Years later I saw a man who had a big wart-looking thing growing on his left cheek, it had about 10 or 15 very long stiff cat like whiskers growing from it, just sticking out like the legs of a sea creature. He also said God gave it to him for a reason. Then I heard a plastic surgeon say that God showed him how to remove the growth in less than 5 minutes. Belief is the strongest of all the human traits. And focused belief can take many forms and embrace many views. Creative people survive on belief in personal self. I believe in Paradox as setting squarely on the Ball Joint of reality. There are times in my life where I would be running so fast that I went into a high-speed wobble and sometimes an event from out there to in here, would come to bear and I would find myself going the opposite direction in a matter of seconds. Sometimes I move so far into the cosmic distance that I disappear from the Inside Out. Is frailty fixed? Can Sometimes be too much and not enough in equal measure? Are limitations for always? Does Always have limitations? What part of universal failings and falls do we file under Forever? Do we need to fix on down or ricochet with prescribed intent? What of Forever, is that even Real? Is Always a Limitation? There are those who do not doubt and say it is a gift, but Paradox gnaws at the core of the Don’t Doubters, believers with singular focus can do creative things. Who is this creative person? Is each Person also an Every Person? Who is this person that We All Are that can contain all these contradictions? Where do we go when in a Day Dream? Where was Mr. Albert when he road on a beam of light? Day Dreams occupy the least space yet project through forever and always to the very edge of the universe. Where does the light beam live when it is dark? I live in the in-between spaces of all of the questions drifting in the living winds of our being. Maybe we all do.

Jeremiah Teutsch (artist/musician, San Antonio, TX)

I’m happy to be a part of a project. Sort of starved for artistic expression lately, and that old pesky imposter syndrome keeps kicking in.

1. What is at the top of my mind?  At the moment, I have a few things I’m obsessed with. Violin-making is a big one. I write my dreams down, and lately I’ve had some good art-themed ones, and I sketch the installations, doodles, objects, from those dreams. The latest one involved Abby and Seth, so that speaks to your project through-line of creative communities. Also, I’ve started a Great Tapering project with Leo and Michelle, whereby we shall take the fortnight leading into May to gradually taper off of alcohol, so we can ease into a dry May. “The Great Tapering!” Because the Hepar is yelling at me in Latin, and I need to be nice to my body. (“The machine, man. Gotta be good to the machine,” as you once put it.)

2. What’s at the bottom of my heart? I’ve let a new person into my life, although I don’t think I’m quite ready for it, and it’s moving quicker that I wanted it to, frankly. Apprehensions from being burned by a few previous relationships, I suppose, peppered with the aforementioned imposter syndrome. But, I’m going along with it despite that, because, hey, every little grey road winds up somewhere.

3. OK, the imposter. I’m betting on co-existence, but you must recognize its voice, otherwise it would be all in your mouth when you’re trying to speak. Can you harness its’ energy or is it better to make it sit in the corner?

I suppose it’s better to USE the imposter? I mean, if he knows more than I do, may as well let him take the reins occasionally, right? The imposter thing: it always seems to me like the work I do doesn’t garner the praise it gets. I’m proud of a few things I’ve made for sure, but for the most part it feels like the compliments don’t match the product. I guess most artists see their own flaws.

Jeff Wheeler (artist, San Antonio, TX)

Top of mind:

What resides at the top of my mind changes on a daily basis. Almost always it is something to do with making more art to add to my ever-growing mountain of things. As I sit here today, it’s harder to think of just making more things. We are emerging from a pandemic as one of our political parties clings tighter to a certain bulbous orange human than they do to our fragile democracy. They thirst for power for powers sake with no policy ideas except to follow their Orange leader’s whims. Our own governor is daily making sickening changes to our laws. On this day, at the top of my mind is all of this, and how we can possibly get through these times and discover how to move forward with love and understanding for our neighbors … and then I can go back to having my next artwork on the top of my mind.

Bottom of my heart:

Today I drove to Lubbock and am now sitting with my parents for the first time since Christmas 2019. At the bottom of my heart is my love for them and my gratitude for all of their love and support through the years. At the bottom of my heart is where they will always reside.

3. Is it possible for even the very best creative work to be just more mechanical behavior, more obscuration of the real?

I feel that really good creative work can be done this way, but for me the “very best” is reserved for those that are working from a more intimate and organic place. The very best creative work, for me, comes from within with truth and beauty and the unfamiliar taking center stage.


Coming up in Part Two, appearing in Glasstire on Saturday July 10: Bale Creek Allen, Jesse Amado, Olive Ayhens, Jenny Browne, Garrett T. Capps, Nate Cassie, Cathy Cunningham, Jeff DeCuir, Georganne Deen, Neil Fauerso, Mark Hansen, Anthony Dean Harris, Guy Hundere, Richard Keith, Mark Little, Charmaine Locke, Gordon McConnell, Jo Carol Pierce, Denise Ramnarine, Lanny Wheeler, Tim Wheeler.

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