I typically like to start my new year’s resolutions after the Lunar New Year, thus giving me ample time to procrastinate. 2021 however, was just so painful to think about. So I deliberated for weeks about how much I was willing to reveal. Because to celebrate my successes, I’d also need to write about my struggles. But as my favorite artist once said “Showing weakness is power, there’s no need to pretend. No one is perfect in this world.”
2021 started off well for me.
I shot two World of Ones early on, I made 10 books, and I shot a BBoy Monster. As a result of a combination of: government aid, staying at home, and strong art sales, I actually began 2021 with the most savings I’ve ever had. I stepped up my marketing plan, and began to send postcards to my mailing list regularly. But during the first four months of the year, my regular business fell silent, like the “going out of business” kind of silent. The kind of silence that accompanies death.
Now bear with me, because this next part takes a bit of explaining. My favorite holiday is my crew’s anniversary reunion. It’s something of a moving target, as the exact dates change every year. It’s when our break dance crew (a tightly knit group of about 20 members spread worldwide) gets together once a year, so we can feast and make fun of each other face to face. Last year was our 20th anniversary. As a compromise between our members who have young families and those who don’t, we decided to go to an all inclusive resort in Mexico.
I bought my tickets in May, when I still had about half my savings to keep me afloat. But in June, I realized my passport expired. Although our trip wasn’t planned until August, the processing times for passports last summer were somewhere between 3-6 months. Unless! You were able to score an appointment to process your passport in person at a federal agency.
This was the darkest time of the year for me.
As there were strict regulations in place for these coveted appointments. First of all, you had to have an appointment to even get in the building. The appointments had to be within 3 business days of your international flight, and could only be booked online through a government website. This website, of course, looked/behaved like it was designed in 1999. Appointments could only be made 2 weeks in advance, and were released at midnight.
So for a period of about 6 weeks, I had to be at my desk at midnight each night, to refresh a page, and hope I could score an appointment. Appointments would disappear within seconds after each release. I would click on a time, and lose the spot by the time I got to the next page. It was a soul crushing Sisyphean task, the kind that can only be crafted by the finest bureaucratic machine. There was even one night I recruited about 30 people to help me (strength in numbers). The server crashed. I felt like I was in a Franz Kafka novel.
During this time I really struggled with my mental health. But I refused to give up. I began to repeat a mantra to myself “I’m a diamond. The pressure will only make me shine brighter!!”
Finally 2 weeks and 3 days before my trip. At 4 o’clock in the morning, I landed an appointment for the office in Seattle. All I had to do was walk through rivers of human piss and shit (aka downtown Seattle) in order to get it. But when I finally saw my friends in Mexico, I felt like all the hells I had gone through to get there were worth it. This was perhaps my greatest victory of the year.
By the time I got back, I was nearly broke.
Thinking I could art myself out of the situation, and realizing I needed to generate new sources of income. I shot White – A Story of Color, because I thought the format would have broader commercial appeal. When it didn’t receive the same level of engagement as some of my more popular work, I focused my attention on my Sun/Moon Boxes. Multiple parties had expressed an interest in them, and I felt very strongly about the work conceptually. Also, if I had sold out of my Sun/Moon Boxes, it would have essentially doubled my income for the year. This was my moon shot!
It also flopped.
A familiar silence fell around me. Dead silence, the going out of business kind of silence. With some gigs and crowdfunding efforts I was able to stay afloat till the end of the year. But I’ve been living on the edge of financial ruin for months now. Meanwhile the cost of living keeps climbing (covid prices), and my regular work is as inconsistent as ever.
I came to realize that although I couldn’t really control the frequency of my income in my career path. I could probably influence the heights that it swings to. By December, I began to build a system to force myself to be more proactive. Now I apply for something every week, whether it be a grant, fellowship, or exhibition opportunity. I’ve been researching NFT’s, and am working to release my first batch this spring as animated gifs. I’m also planning a group show for the spring with a couple artists I’ve known since my Boston days.
I’m already seeing signs of my efforts paying off. I’ll be a part of a group show opening tomorrow called Any Shape or Form at Upstream Gallery in Hastings-on-Hudson, NY. This is a direct result of something I applied to a couple months ago. My offering for this year’s MassArt auction also includes an NFT, which is already drawing attention.
These opportunities however, also come at extra costs. Just manufacturing the prints and frames for this weekend’s exhibition, for example, costs me close to $700. Last month alone I spent nearly $1300 to prepare for the shows I’m already in this year. While this is fine if the work sells. If it doesn’t, it feels a bit like being punished for taking an opportunity.
If you’d like to help. The best way is to buy some art. But I understand that art is a luxury item, and not everyone has that level of disposable income. The next best way is to make a contribution. Any amount you give will help me make more work, apply for more opportunities, and take what opportunities that present themselves. Lastly, for those struggling with me, you can leave a comment/like/share/subscribe to help me beat the numbers.