Dolly Lama

In the Summer of 2009 I spent my days in the back of sweltering garage in Burbank with no air conditioning. I was sweating in a haze of drugs and alcohol, and I spent many nights slurring through the sweltering smog dense air around the random bits of trash that accumulated around me.

Picking myself up slowly but surely, I scrounged all the money I could and got an apartment in the heart of Little Armenia in East Hollywood. My landlord was a lovely man who I had seen in a few B movies, and he sealed the deal when he mentioned that it was the same complex that Cher had owned years ago. My room, which rested on the 2nd floor, was supposedly a storage space for some of her equipment.

I remember the first week I had lived there. I didn’t have the money to turn on the gas or electricity, and spent the week with many dollar store religious candles illuminating my apartment. I’d take cold tepid baths at night with all the lights around me and sat there in slight pride that I was moving on up in the world that I so distraught with.

This was the first part of my life where I struggled with the idea of sobriety. I’d spend days clean, only to relapse hard core into a massive stupor which left me wandering the streets with no shirt on covered in my own mess at night. I was a sight to see with most of my neighbors, who would watch through their blinds of me sluggishly walk down Kingsley Street at 2am … with no real agenda, but to feel the cooling breeze of the night glisten over my maddening head. In the day time I was quite sane, but at night, fueled with whatever I was going through, I was a completely different person.

On 9/9/2009 was the first real attempt to stay clean for the year. That week I dumpster dived for canvas in the back lot of Disney’s corporate office. I grabbed 5 foot slabs of canvas wrapped over foam core in their trash area to take home and paint. I remember back at the apartment I would brew a strong pot of Folger’s coffee at 6pm and begin to paint what made me feel safe. I went back into my childhood to grasp some sort of familiar identity that brought me closer to sobriety, and this piece was the first of the collection.

28 years before this moment I was a child living in the chaos of an alcoholic home back out in Marietta Georgia. Being raised catholic, we were taught to seek guidance from saints, who were like deities in human form. My religion taught me not to so much focus on the god I couldn’t see, but rely on the humans of my religion’s past to seek help and emotional fortune. Being that I was raised to idolize these humans, I began to place sainthood and hope for people on television, and watched desperately to connect to them in that time where I felt so lost and afraid.

One night after a troubling family dinner, I ran downstairs to the rec room to watch the television to escape. I focused on one of the channels that worked at the time that was airing a biography on Dolly Parton. I was transfixed with her story of leaving Appalachia to achieve stardom, and in that moment I found hope that I too would leave my southern hometown to do the same. I formed this imaginary sainthood to her, and sought her out in times where I couldn’t take the life that I was dealt.

So later on in life in my early 30’s where I found myself fighting rock bottom in this apartment sweating out my demons, I grabbed my large glass of coffee and began to paint Dolly Parton as I saw her as a child. I worked through many restless weeks painting and repainting the lines to make it as perfect as I could. In retraining my hands in this process, I began to learn how to paint once again.

This piece is called Dolly Lama, and it is the single most important painting in my collection as it was the catalyst to my entire work that I am now creating professionally today. In this piece, I imbued Dolly as I saw her as a child… as a sort of Appalachian Guadalupe.

Even now to this day where I have retained my sobriety, I reflect back on this piece when my life becomes turbulent. It brings me back to why I strive for relevancy in this world as an artist, and why I continue on strong through this strange and beautiful time that I am grateful to be a part of.


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