February 7, 2011

In August, 1987, Jeanne and I moved to Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, West Africa, so Jeanne could teach American Studies at the University of Ouagadougou.  She had received a Fulbright Grant and we had decided to go to a part of the world rarely visited by Americans and one which practised animism among 60% of its population.

I helped choose the destination for Jeanne’s work because of all the African art that I had studied at the University of South Alabama where I took at least one course on African Art, Burkina Faso was the place whose sculptures most impressed me.

I am bringing this up because while there from August, 1987, to the following June, 1988, I completed approximately seventy-five drawings.  Only four were 52″ x 72″ in size, all others were generally a lot smaller.  Of the four drawings made on that scale while living in Africa, one, “Zogona Neighborhood” was purchased by Pauline Julia and ended up in France.  As far as I know it survives today.  I brought three drawings of that size back with me and one, the mask dance piece, was sold to Steve St. Germaine of New Orleans and it survived Hurricane Katrina.  The other two pieces, “Ougadougou Traffic” and “Ouagadougou Marche” were wiped out by Hurricane Katrina. 

So the mask dance piece owned by Steve St. Germaine is the only large-scale drawing I made in Africa which survives in the United States. 

Steve is moving to a smaller house and needs to sell this piece.  Trailer McQuilkin, who has been a dealer of mine since the 1980s, is handling the sale.  He is asking $6000 for the piece, which includes a large frame custom-made for it which has protected it all these years.

I am unable to include a photo of this piece at this time.  The photo of it not taken by me will not upload to this site.  However, I can easily access a mask dance drawing made a year or two later in America which would resemble it to some extent.  I’ll include it here. 

If anyone reading this blog is interested in this piece, or having an accurate image emailed to him/her, contact Trailer at 228-875-2900 /Trailer McQuilkin

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January 27, 2011

I’m putting four black and white drawings on this blog to show how I sometimes use 8 1/2″ x 11″ paper without color.  These images are made with black ink which is lightfast and waterproof.  I’ve made quite a few drawings this way over the last decade and usually put a wash of watercolor over them and then color the image with prismacolor pencils to end up with the typical full-color drawings I exclusively display.

On the other hand, many black and white drawings are stacked up in a big pile here at home in the event I’ll get around to coloring them in.  I sometimes go through the stack and decide which ones will be colored in in any given week of work.

These figures on patterned background are fodder for my recent figure in landscape format which I made five of last summer.  I need to keep working a type of image to see what I can wring out of it that is worth working larger and with more effort.  These images, in other words, can be looked on as studies.

I’ve done many frontal faces attached to bodies over the last twenty years which when intensely staring and implying anger have been called “hellions.”  That name was given to these faces by David Thomas Roberts, who has collaborated with me in the past and for thirty years commented on my developing style.  I think my staring faces are sometimes “hellions” and sometimes they are staring faces.  On other occasions they look elsewhere and are in more of a 3/4 pose.

Without figurative works by David Thomas Roberts, Karl Wirsum, Martin Ramirez, Adolf Wolflii, I don’t know if I could ever have arrived at what I’m doing in this regard and what has to be considered my version of “human” figures.  I have another organic figure dependent on curves and amorphous contour lines which sometimes blends with the angles and straight lines of works such as these four, and sometimes is treated separately in separate works.  My organic line drawings of figures refer to Egyptian poses–profile of head, frontal shoulders, side view of hips and legs.    And, sometimes, these figures can actually appear to be reasonably accurate human bodies.  As much as I wish to be anything other than accurate, it can be satisfying to get the lines of the buttocks to thigh to knee accurate enough to suggest to an informed viewer I’m using models in studio while in reality I’m intuitively feeling my way toward accurate form.  

It is imperative to my art-making that all comes from the head and imagination rather than the “real” or “objective” world.  I’m at my weakest when I’m copying from nature.

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Liberal Political Art, January 17, 2011

I could ignore the Arizona shooting and post images that are inoffensive to most people. My web site already has a six-year-old “Bush Gallery” where my ranting “political cartoons” against someone I consider to be the most unqualified “president” in history are there for the offending. I can’t help but address the issue of my participation in the political dialogue which is certainly offensive to anyone who labels him or herself “Republican.”

Liberal-slanted political art has been around a very long time, just as conservative slanted art (or “cartooning”) has existed the same amount of time. I decided to participate in the fall of 2003 when I watched our country descend into an environment of news reporting and news management that never showed outrage at what some of us considered unnecessary wars, eavesdropping and intrusion into privacy, eventually torture, environmental ransacking of last great places. We had new permission to pollute, a new refusal to believe science or evolution as a course taught in school. The tax cut yielded no jobs or very few but it was barely questioned as the deficit soared.

Talk about an amiable environment for pleasant discourse. Hillary and Bill Clinton backed the war. Most Democrats backed what the “president”
wanted–even though they often tepidly said they personally disagreed. The news media also calmly reported torture as advanced interrogation with no suggestion that this was something brand new for our United States even though George Washington himself set the high tone against a British that regularly tortured our people when captured.

So I made art that made fun of Bush, Cheney and Republicans. The need for it among liberals was obvious. I’ve made serious money off this artwork. Compared to sales of landscapes the “Birth of Bush” wins hands down.

I brought laughter to my displays. People swarmed my booth at shows and shook my hand and also bought examples to take home.

On the other hand, those Republicans who saw what I did glared at me, sometimes shouted at me, shook their finger and swore they’d never buy from my booth. They also talked to art show committees and sometimes succeeded in getting me eliminated from art shows I’d rather have continued going to.

I’m admitting to partcipating in the discourse that might be today seen as extreme and best toned down.

I want to make a point about my work and my message and the difference between my message and the message Republicans have sent out since Barack Obama was elected president.

My work is humorous and makes fun of Republicans. I suggest that Bush is the bowel movement of Satan. I suggest that Dick Cheney “shoots his friends, tortures his enemies and spits on the Constitution.” I say that “Democrats Believe in Women’s Rights and Eating Lots of Local Seafood. Republicans Eat Processed Food and Beef and Love Men!”

That last statement, often placed around images of seafood, certainly angers lots of Republicans and I have been called a racist for that kind of stereotyping.

My question is, does my political artwork inspire violence? I wish I could say emphatically “No,” but considering who we are dealing with–Republicans–I’m not sure.

Maybe liberal political art riles up Republicans and makes them even angrier than they already were. So maybe they get out their guns and posture with them and say “Obama Must Be Taken Out”–which is a statement sent to me in a xerox letter last year which I turned over to the Secret Service after I did one of my shows with political art seen by Republicans as well as laughing, merry Democrats.

So, if I am inciting anger and violence, should I stop? I don’t think I will. Republicans don’t want to hear a different side to any argument. There is only one truth: Evolution is not in the Bible, therefore it is not true. “Creationism,” which is now called “The Theory of Intelligent Design,” is true and don’t dare question it.

A fertilized egg is a human being. Noone has the right to question this fact or to allow a woman to choose a different path from carrying this human being to term–assuming God doesn’t miscarry it–His option, not a woman’s. I assume any woman who abuses herself with drink or smoke or stays up late and exercises too vigorously for her fetus and ends up with a miscarriage is also a murderer and should be put to death if she admits that she didn’t care if the fetus lived or died. That would be pre-meditated murder and that woman must die after a fair trial. You can’t question this thinking, you can’t disagree or want to debate it.

Taxes are bad. If you raise taxes one penny per year on every citizen in this country, the entire economy will collapse and 100% of all jobs will disappear. That is a fact that you can’t dispute with factual data that suggests otherwise. (Such as when Bill Clinton raised taxes at the beginning of his eight years in office and ended up seeing 22 million jobs created in those eight years despite a tax increase on most Americans which he only later tweaked and reduced on some families but not others–such as childless me).

George Bush cut taxes therefore stimulated the greatest economy in history over his eight years, a total of 2 million jobs created, unprecedented growth unlike anything ever seen before. And you had better not question this undisputed fact with any data suggesting Clinton’s era of higher taxes created 22 million jobs.

The Federal Government is terrible and should be shrunk down to the size of a baby and drowned in a bath tub. You had better not question this fact or point out that federal dollars have propped up the red states of the South and created many if not most jobs in the South. In Mississippi, for example, $21,000 federal dollars are spent for every man, woman and child in this state and you know darn well we don’t pay $21,000 in taxes to the federal government per person. But the government is terrible. Don’t you dare question it or claim that the government creates prosperity, jobs, or businesses ever ever depend on tax dollars sent by the “liberal” Congress in amounts far greater than taxes collected from the same area in question.

No, we liberals have caused the gun play, the threats, the name-calling. Obama is not an American. He’s a muslim. We caused it because we elected him to office and his kind should not lead our country.

I’m sorry if letting Republicans see my statements, such as “The Theory of Intelligent Design Doesn’t Explain Where Republicans Come From” results in Republicans getting even more angry than they already were. I’m sorry, but I’m not going to quit. I don’t believe there is anything about my art that should cause any crazy person or any Republican to go out and kill someone or even threaten anyone. If crazy people or Republicans actually get violent after all their violent talk of overthrowing the government, watering the tree of liberty with blood, gather your armies, it is the fault entirely of the white male Republicans who don’t like what this country has become. We are more multi-racial than we’ve ever been and now gays can openly serve in the military. I can’t help it and neither can they. Threatening violence and carrying guns to political events isn’t going to end either of these developments. Whether I quit making fun of Republicans or not isn’t going to change the direction this country is taking either.

I wish this country would lead the world toward a carbon-free economy. But thanks to the close-minded type of conservatism that loves corporate executives and money worshipers above all else–including a civilized safe world for the unborn children facing acidified “dead” seas and smaller continents with fewer human beings on them–I’m not going to get what I want either.

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January 4, 2011: The Wreck of the BP Horizon

Early in the spill I pondered the horrific sinking of that huge deepwater rig on April 20, 2010. I also thought more needed to be done about reminding people of the problem of drilling for offshore oil–or any oil. The problem? That we need to eventually stop burning oil for fuel. Eventually we need to stop using oil from our earth for anything, but first we must stop burning it for fuel/energy.

I have musical taste which apparently has completely dropped off any scale of popularity. I was very young when our country went through a revival of interest in our frontier past. I adored Fess Parker’s depiction of Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett funded by Walt Disney in the late fifties and frequently televised in the early sixties. I was five years old in 1960. Although I never got a coon skin cap, I would have loved one more than almost anything else.

Along with the revival of our exciting wilderness past in popular venues of the time we had popular music either replaying folk songs or inventing new songs strongly influenced by fiddles, banjos and guitars which represented what we thought, at least, were the frontier instruments available to our forefathers on the edges of civilization.

Jimmy Driftwood wrote “The Battle of New Orleans”–or at least introduced it to a wide audience–around this time (1960). Johnny Horton did a gold-record version of this song I think everyone knew and appreciated. I remember Remus Cruz, one of our native peoples of Gautier (native as in descended from the original settler, Pierre Beaudreau Graveline–who Jimmy Buffet also descends from) singing “The Battle of New Orleans” in front of our Gautier Elementary Grade School student body on a rainy 1963 morning before classes started. He clapped and hopped in an almost buck dance to accompany the song. I was infected with his excitement. It was about our area, what saved the Western U.S. from British takeover in the final battle of the War of 1812.

I’ve never lost my interest in folk and genuine country music. I clearly am outdated and appreciate music I thought would continue to be appreciated–just as the Beatles continue to be appreciated by younger generations.

It is an aesthetic that appreciates hand-made music and small ensembles created out in rough rural territory that informs my artwork–which is also out of style and rejected by the Art World Industrial Complex. But I won’t change or forgive the uncanny ability of museums, curators, and critics to ALWAYS guess wrong on what art is important at the time it is being made. They always fall for what the rich and powerful tell them to embrace.

And so I also do not regret writing a folk song based on Ernest Stoneman’s powerful song, “The Wreck of the Titantic” to eulogize the environmental disaster of 2010 right where the Battle of New Orleans was fought and about the same area Graveline settled in 1700 and I have depended on for my literal and visual sustenance.

It is not possible to sing or appreciate my song, The Wreck of the BP Horizon, without knowing Ernest Stoneman’s “Wreck of the Titanic.” Disaster songs about tragic accidents and events are part of the folk tradition in Europe and the USA and probably everywhere else people invent their own local music.

You can find “The Wreck of the Titanic” on youtube. I’ll say no more about this song. Instead, I’ll print here my lyrics I wrote, hoping someone might sing this song and that way spread the news of the disaster far and wide.


BP leased a rig to drill a hole at sea,
They told the MMS it was safe as safe could be,
But the gas they blew sky high eleven workers had to die,
It was sad when that great rig went down.

It was sad when that great rig went down,
BP lied all that oil they can’t hide,
It was bad when that great rig went down.

Transocean had a crew Haliburton had one, too,
BP controlled the rig from stem to stern,
When the gas blew up that well recalling scenes of fiery hell,
It was a lesson everybody needs to learn.


As the rig sank in the Gulf Blow-out valves were not enough,
The oil geysered out that mile-deep hole.
When the weather got real rough and the problem seemed too tough,
We found out there was noone in the know.


As the turtles wash ashore and the seafood is no more,
The cause of it is easy to see why,
Just remember what they said when our oceans were not dead,
Drilling safely in deep water is a lie.


I’ll download the images I made to accompany the lyrics. If I were a singer I’d sing this song and work up a video with my images and any photos from the disaster useable without restrictions to post on youtube. But I am no singer.

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upper left corner, The Mullet Are Jumping

The Three Mulleteers

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lower left corner detail, The Mullet Are Jumping

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detail from The Mullet Are Jumping lower right corner

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The Mullet Are Jumping detail upper right corner

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The Mullet Are Jumping

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December 31, 2010

December 21 to 31, 2010. “The Mullet are Jumping”

The largest completed drawing this year is one of my several pieces in recent years celebrating the mullet, Mugil cephalus. It is a shame that a strange hairdo associated with rednecks has been named, apparently, after the mullet, since the fish is an impressive ancient species with credentials and assets far beyond more glamorous, beautiful and famous members of the same vertebrate class. I’m not sure who among the public think “mullet are jumping” is a reference to a male pony tail bouncing up and down.

My drawing is of a marsh with overhanging live oaks and a wide view of a bayou with several haloed mullet floating over water. The borders include text I’ve been using repeatedly in pro-mullet works, such as “food of the ancient Egyptians,” and “The gizzard is good the roe is supreme.” This fish is more than a common wild creature of the near shore but also an important food item for human beings.

The four corners of the four-foot by six-foot drawing are each a vignette: “The Three Mulleteers,” “Aliens Recruit Dead Celebrities to Catch and Export Mullet,” [Dissection of a Mullet], and “Jesus Ate Mullet.” In keeping with artwork being in the realm of fiction made more complex by the addition of facts subject to falsification, my vignettes obviously include both. I’ve enjoyed coining the term “Mulleteer” for one who fishes mullet particularly with a mullet “gun,” which is a term sometimes used for a cast net. I mention in this piece the two nets most commonly thrown: the bag net which has extra mesh hanging around the weight line and kept orderly by short brails between the webbing and the lead line, and the common bait net called the “brail net” which has brails strung between the lead line and the handline with a slip ring which holds the top of the webbing sewn from the slip ring down to the lead line without any extra baggy mesh. The brail net is mostly used for catching small fish and shrimp and usually has a 1/4” mesh. Both types of net can catch mullet but the bag net on the northern Gulf of Mexico is the main “mullet net” or “mullet gun” used for that purpose.

Mullet were eaten by the ancient Egyptians. Mullet were eaten by the people of the Gulf of Mexico since people arrived. The fish is large-eyed, and in seafood markets– where a croaker family species is sold as “ground mullet”–distinguished from this white meat carnivore as “popeye mullet.” Mullet is a cheap fish. It is relatively easy to catch in quantity and its meat is darker from more blood and oil in the meat —most of the oil is in the skin. This fish is second to none if fried fresh, but its flavor can be strong-tasting if pan seared. It is best smoked so that the oil can blend with oak, hickory, pecan or cherry wood to make a golden-colored meat with a flavor recalling woodland and bayou as it dissolves in the mouth, something only smoked salmon could achieve with more rocky and northern stream impressions in the place of the bayous below wooded bluffs.

The yellow roe as depicted under the fillet knife in my upper right corner of “The Mullet are Jumping” is no more bright yellow-orange than the actual roe mullet produce during the October to January time of year. This yellow roe is often fried but disappointing to eat, in my opinion, because the granules, the millions of eggs, are dry and not very flavorful. My Father figured out long ago to smoke the yellow roe and see it congeal into a smoked golden whole that is rich with the fish-egg flavor and the sting of smoke on the tongue with none of that dry separating mass of little eggs filling the mouth almost like filling it with cotton.

The white roe is good as well but it is not easy to cook since it is more fluid and jelly-like. I’ve been feeding the white roe to my cats raw who enjoy it immensely. However, it tastes much like oysters when smoked for four or more hours so that the fluid in it solidifies and it ends up tinged brown from the wood fire. If I am ever short on oysters I’ll exploit the white roe.
The mullet is a small organism feeder. I started to say it was a filter feeder, but I think that would imply the fish having some sort of filtering apparatus such as balleen in whales. This fish instead has a gizzard full of sand to help it grind the vegetarian and small animal food items it picks up from the bottom—digging into the bottom on occasion—and sucking in plankton and various small invertebrates at various levels of the water column. Around the mouth of the West Pascagoula where I became acquainted with mullet, I used to see them feeding at the surface in groups of ten to thirty fish. Their mouths would open and close together in a circle they formed. What they were eating I could never see but the pattern their nibbling mouths made at the surface invited a careful casting of the net usually yielding a few of those showing themselves so plainly to us. However, a mullet can see the net coming and can respond too quickly to surrender in large numbers. A few unlucky fish would get caught because too many fish had to turn too many different directions in order to flee. The net had to snare some of them.

For some reason, the mullet do not feed today at the surface near shore in the same way but continue to sometimes do this at the barrier islands where the water is saltier. Perhaps something about the water pollution overpopulation has caused has eliminated this surface food source and offshore the food source continues to survive and be preyed upon by mullet closer to the open Gulf of Mexico.

I continue this memoir to mullet on New Year’s Eve, 2010, and can report with the warm spell I am back to catching enough mullet to get some smoked. My father developed a variation on traditional “Biloxi Bacon” which his brother pursued. Instead of splitting out the backbone leaving the stomach attached between fillets, my father simply cuts off each fillet and removes the stomach bone. The boneless fillet is then cooked over a fire by laying it skin and scale side down until it curls up from the grill it lays on. When it curls enough of the moisture has cooked out to allow the fillet to pop off the metal without sticking and that amount of dryness happens to be right for the fish to turn golden brown and pull easily free of the discarded skin.

I eat mullet almost every morning. I’m convinced that fish-eating is Ponce de Leon’s “Fountain of Youth.” Science seems to be confirming slowly over time that fish-eating keeps arteries clear and those who eat fish three times per week or more live longer than those who don’t. I realized twenty-five years ago that eating mullet caused hallucinations in me, but I really thought for years that was just something strange about me mostly psychosomatically induced. I knew there was something powerful about the protein acting on my naturally high-strung personality, and figured that it tipped me over into an anxious state where trances and visions took over.

Since the years I first became aware of the “power” of mullet, I have learned that there is a medical condition known as “hallucinatory mullet poisoning” and that people sometimes are hospitalized from distress over the symptoms. I’ve been eating mullet since I was a child and have to believe part of my strange mind is from the hallucinatory effect of mullet. I enjoy putting a warning label on my mullet drawings: “Warning Causes Hallucinatory Mullet Poisoning” because it reminds me of cigarette warning labels and the illegality of any other hallucinogen besides mullet in our society.

A story I read in Sullivan’s history of the Miss. Gulf Coast reminds me of the futility of outlawing this fish if someone decided that it should be treated the same as LSD. During the Civil War a Yankee gunboat approached Biloxi and sent a message to shore that all inhabitants of Biloxi should sign allegiance to the USA or else find themselves blockaded from shipments of incoming food. A teenage male in the crowd was said to have responded by saying “You’ll have to blockade the mullet if you are going to starve us out!” And I think any attempt to stop us from catching mullet will fail. Only pollution and the overdevelopment of our coast will accomplish ending our fish diet. We are far from that day at this time.

What does eating mullet do to me? If I eat mullet in the afternoon or evening I am made nervous and anxious and can’t go to sleep. The strange thing about not going to sleep is that I get tired and lay down and think I’m going to sleep but instead of going to sleep I find myself living an alternative life somewhere else. The place usually is a grassy and rocky shore which I would suspect looks like either Novia Scotia or Scotland. There are paths along the shore and down to the rocky beaches requiring a steep descent. I’m with other people and I am not Steve Shepard. I’m somebody else. Everybody there recognizes me but I don’t really talk or hear. I am paralyzed with fear that I don’t remember Steve Shepard and this fear forces me to jump up from my trance and walk around the house trying to hold onto the identity I had before I ate mullet. I’ll usually sit up for four or more hours before I can lay down and actually fall asleep. There is a set time period that the mullet affects the mind and after that it wears off.

I think mullet is a powerful food, more powerful than normal fish. I eat it every day or nearly so but learned that if I eat it first thing in the morning I can enjoy the extra energy and not lose my identity or even feel strange. Egyptians ate mullet and the Native Americans of our coast ate mullet. I feel kinship with both and think I’m made better by living on this food.

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