Art With Attitude
Gabriel Thy · Biography ·


BORN IN 1955 UNDER ANOTHER NAME, it's hardly bombast, but mere statement of fact to say that the cause célèbre of my career, that is to say, the celebrated struggle against my own peculiar challenges as a creative artist on the prowl for the proper venue, can without hyperbole be correctly identified as yet another rollout of the Sisyphian myth.

From the earliest episodes of my life, I was always sure to be found reading, writing, doodling, organizing, goofing, interrogating, readying, doubting, resisting, stalking and preparing the way for an artistic life not so much of grandiose deeds, but of exiled suppositions washing up against the keen but jagged shore of internal contradictions an authentic American life seems to require these days (and nights).

Since I had no natural or precocious talent for drawing, or singing, or painting, or writing for that matter, I thus fixated on the gushing fountain of ideas I discovered in leniency of books, sports, and philosophical stand-up, from I drew local inspiration and occasional comfort. A strong memory for useless and pointless knowledge mixed with a custodian's command of numbers, were my only apparent gifts, but gifts which I always imagined would take me far. Practicing these mediocre talents with a flair and flamboyance always filibustering any doubts, natural cynicism, and somber recoil of impedances I could parse for certainty has been my stock in trade, until the day when I no longer found joy in the real and sudden uselessness of it all.

In highschool creative writing class, I was always accused of and penalized for straying from the topic...

THERE WAS ALWAYS THE QUESTION of 1) purported priorities, 2) suspect qualifications and 3) undulating distortions of the gear grinding social machine that corrupted my urgency for creative expression. Nevertheless, this foul trinity of "doubts about delivery systems" stitching the social fabric from wooly to bully, served to compel my artistic inertia whenever and wherever this clinging to my guns of memory would take me.

This growl the fatherland we first stalked,
this scowl the mother lode we first imagined...
solid day duties hurried past gene-spotted nights.
              We did not invent this theme.
Film on the fives. Ancient mutterings are slow to neutralize.
Hearing the herd, my dear, splashing past muddled urges. But death
in sacred surges singing its skilled and perfect pitch
the cold seize of an extinct sturgeon's Adriatic strain
spoiling the forgotten flesh inked in drama,
this drama of Bolington's stream.
My mind's eye growing, growing, gone...
The poet choked. The painting dried.
Against the gray ash folded hills the Virginia sky grew black,
there is nothing that lived that night that caught
so much as a breath of slack.
We reconcile the concept of withering time
racing faster in toil than we ever swore it to be,
against the yellow years of a faster tomorrow
no relic found can improve lost liberty.

MY STRUGGLE WITH UNSTABLE DESTINY, the destiny of collars red, white, and blue—sometimes tainted with green, sometimes cured to the bone, sometimes rewarded with coin, brave natural independence, amid the transparent pleasures of the American spirit, sometimes splattered with the darkness of self-stupiifying doctrines cast among us as mere mechanics of carbon, petroleum, fine wood, leather, pearl, gold and lace products that clutch like chains and fragmented ideas which somehow fail to incline us toward feats and fancies of wonderment—has not been enviable, given my rather unfortunate but repatriating family dynamic and significant punk rock roots, neither from which I've ever stylistically recovered.

But strength in numbers I sometimes say, alone in the frank, fallow sources of my fifthieth year, as promised earlier from my own self-styled catechism of wows and vows, I decided it was high time to exit the philosophical closet and go public, naked, raving, hysterical once more, this time armed with a more comprehensive accounting. So I finally embraced the paintbrush and published that book of poems I had stitched together during the fighting years to disarm for just about everything else I did or would do in the name of art gone wildly pop and post-relevant.

Strolling the early life for divots and debits, I'd dabbled in lower case art but kept my distance, waiting in the wings, a feather in some cap, but never my own. Jobs akimbo. Cruising that unbiquitous dollar bill binge, faint, and reckoning. Brains without direction, soil and the soiled, refusing government programs, a duck out of water, my mind strapped to a secret gnawing sense that I was an artist in search of a fully demonstrable art, that TIME was once again my enemy, but conversely, my only defense against public and private irrelevance, while I navigated first one set of self and national discovery bearings, then another.

THERE WAS NO UNIVERSITY LIFE—although for this autodidact, it had always been presumed I would work hard to slave my way through the schools of higher learning as befitted my regressed socio-economic status banked against a painfully raw but energetic aptitude and better than fair grades, but I had been cultivating other ideas aimed to bolster my liberty and foster my escape from who knows what. Stinging with poverty and a fierce independence, after highschool, I decided to dive right into the world available to me right then. After a series of loosely calculated misadventures including a rather spurious and short-lived early first marriage, I worked briefly as a construction laborer, a steelworker, a roofer, a cab driver, a retail clerk, a signmaker, a fry cook, in pizza delivery, a chicken farmer, a telemarketer, a bookstore clerk, and a photolab technician, all less than a year each but always a "performing" and "trusted" employee.

And let's not forget that controversial role you foisted upon the public as lead singer in an imaginary punk rock band. Which was a very strange thing for me to do since I usually hide behind words.

THESE JOBS WERE INVESTIGATIVE ROLES, exercises in personalized diversity, flamboyant necessity, and quite frankly, I was always an excellent employee. To live life as an artist, as a bold citizen in trust to an ideal, even as my marketable talents "appear" to have declined with age and circumstance, is not about any particular special skill or talent, but is a reminder that life should be considered as a whole. Of course, this principle is not meant to apotheosize the pastoral by any stretch, but merely to emphasize the veracity of nature in the same sense that perhaps the painter Jackson Pollack meant when he blurted, "I am nature."

LIVING UP TO ONE'S POTENTIAL is always a tricky business in a culture where there is ample liberty to satisfy one's one personal calculus with the freedom to succeed as well as the freedom to fail. In the reality-fixed buckled down world where I felt obliged to set the bar at a certain level long enough to make a difference to the bankers, the household fund, my loving wife, and my own general well-being, I also spent a decade as a rightfully skilled surveyor and site engineer for several construction and civil engineering firms. But the notion of having a shot of self-awareness through writing still stalked me. In brief, I was always something I was not. Unfortunately, the intellectual life in the 9-5 world is rather like being told to go stand alone with one's nose in the corner....

Born to be a man of faceless words and fierce self-expression, I still ached to strive higher, to strike a different mark. I still cried out for academic redemption, leaving me no choice but to challenge myself to a gutsy duel, where no matter the price, the urge to muster everything I could possibly muster in manifesting a strategic and personal artistic counter-revolution against my own generation burned inside me. I imagined that in a victory storm of no single interpretation, this strategic and personal art would no longer be called post-modernism, but something else less negationist, something else taken from those very same struggles the imperative next self must take, something else I had been predicting, or perhaps even resisting, all along...

I'D SMUGGLED A STRING OF GONZO cameras into the nooks and crannies of urban resolve during the The Yellow Years, accumulating show footage and snapshots of sudden underground punk bands and other fine deliberations keeping the netherworld in sack with the rest of the real and the unused sentimentality that reigned over small places and large egos we loved and loathed among competing strands of mental encroachment I aimed to study in its own element and time. But for the most part, I only shot it with a little help from my friends, before unceremoniously storing it away. The empty gestures of stupid underground antics stoked with alcohol and other sad jests had driven me to recoil into my own insignificance. Fabulous food and lots of it soon replaced alcohol dependency, becoming just as harsh a weakness as consolation prize for walking away from the wild life straight into the uber role of the Fat American, doubling down on ugliness as American kitch, no longer the hunger artist, but now scorned as a soaring health threat to national security.

I began to loathe everything I couldn't write down. Decadence for its own sake had always been no friend of mine, but took aim. I took measurement of my own self as a sulking and immature poet, flashing dystopian nightmares against the backdrop of parody, as life had for me during this period become only a method of killing TIME, that ancient nemesis back to haunt me for leading what seemed to be an isolated and unimpressive life yet again.

HAVING ALWAYS CONSIDERED MYSELF—first and foremost a scribe in love with the entire process of print and publications, in due time, I finally landed a coveted managing editor's position at a bi-weekly newspaper for senior citizens. This experience soon led to several publishing ventures in my Capitol Hill community in the early 1990s. Summarily, I won election to a city office seat on the ANC Commission, and a year later was elected to its chairmanship. For a brief stint, I represented approximately 24,000 citizens of Ward Six. I also founded the short-lived but critically acclaimed Independent Ward Sixer community newspaper around the same time.

ENTER THE EARLIEST DAYS of the nebbish Internet where I quickly found a writing forum of like prodigies where email and bulletin boards were king until a few years later when the World Wide Web was invented. Without missing a beat, I immediately exploited the early technology in designing and building websites for myself and a few paying clients for several years and counting before running out of the same steam that had created the new economy bubble which put me out of business. But even now, I am profoundly satisfied and grateful for the grit it took in running my own Macintosh web, mail, and DNS servers from 1998-2004 on early transmission technologies in-house, right there in my own studio, until circumstances changed, and thus also the hand that fed them.

DURING THESE AWFUL BUT TRANSFORMING YEARS, an international group of two staunch capitalists and three neo-Marxists did battle around the literary and philosophical consideration I'd founded several years earlier known as the Scenewash Project.

We conspired to concentrate our efforts around the works of French philosopher Guy Debord and the small secretive band of dialetical Marxists he ruled with an iron will called the Situationist Internationale. Our attempt at moving beyond the old and tattered remains of the SI resulted in yet another dubious drama-rich, vaguely strategic lampoon that finally ran aground after three of us met for person inspection the first time in Paris a few months before the WTC attacks stunned us all. In restrospect, the timing of these events had been crucial to my comprehension of human motives. I knew I had earned my political stripes the old-fashioned way, and with the certainty of the feral genius I have never looked back even as I chagrin the steady erosion of my beloved constitutional America giving way to an ineffective unsustainable globalism choking on warm fuzzy ideas that are plainly false constructions on the road to an international serfdom. Yes, Hayek had given me the key to the kingdom I had been seeking. I had finally not only understood the concept of the false flag, I also seemed to have just stolen one from the jesters' own court.

I then launched the proud, inimitable Radio Scenewash online music stream on July 2, 2003, a project which combined a childhood fantasy and a mature quest to expose this new media as a dual micro-macrocosm, or yet another battleground of competing ideas, going LIVE just as my wife and I were headed out the door in pilgrimage to the Thomas Paine and Jack Kerouac shrines in New England. The Radio Scenewash stream, dubbed Music for the New American Patriot, had been available 24-7-365 since its inception, until tough budgetary notions pulled the plug in the Summer of '09, a few months after I left Washington DC for the fawning liberties of the Virginia Great Outdoors.

But while the radio program was insular in scope with its eclectic mix of punk, hardcore, electronic, industrial, classic rock, folk, blues, even some twang thrown to to represent my own and America's near past, its listener base was steady, hovering at 150 listening hours per month from certain hot pockets across the globe including regular streams to Germany, Idaho, and Chicago. The sometimes harsh but eloquently arranged mix, says this critic, philosophically considered, is as profound as any poem or painting. Music is, by nature, like all art, political at its base. As an unsung political operative, citizen of long memories hidden by fiery tongues, I obeyed my own counsel in keeping the sound blasts of mine own political enemies close until sharper knives prevailed. Music is a political tool, and can be used as mere propaganda or a facsimile reminder of the propagandist's tactical weapon.

BORED WITH MOSTLY IGNORING the impulse, I finally turned to painting in February, 2005, still quarreling with the pace and pocket of my once so magnanimous goals, but amply inspired after reading the recently published biographies of two 20th Century masters—abstract expressionist Willem de Kooning and seminal pop provacateur Larry Rivers. I had always kept a wandering eye on the spotty lives of the spunky painters, although to this point in my life I still considered myself a recalcitrant writer and poet, despite having not made a penny writing, even fewer readers, and the fact that my bio-political sway was still at war with my trans-artistic sensibilities. Easy for me to say, eh?

BUT AT LONG LAST, LIFE AS I KNEW IT seemed to hint at promise again. Painting with literary purpose, so to speak, the painter in me stormed and tossed with each new amazing picture, but I was also determined to locate a publisher for my first full-length book—

    The Silent Cull And Other Mechanical Ideas
    Collected Poems 1980-2005


...available at Amazon, Borders, and Barnes & Noble online outlets, to help bring closure to at least one manuscript from the early years. While busy working on several other manuscripts for future publication, however, I have found that painting and integrated digital imaging soothes that ruthless and savage beast that writing only seems to agitate with the "what to leave in and what to leave out" synthesis always in play. But then came the blogosphere, and I answered again the call of the mighty pen. But painting is my passion where words fail to impress...

AFTER A RATHER SHORT diasterous stint in Wheeling, WV in the spring of 2006, where I painted a 70'x11' wall mural in a local music venue, my health began to be of increasing concern, so I hauled my entire studio back to again reside in Washington, DC with my wife of twenty-five years. After thirty months of keeping a workspace at the notable 52 O Street Studios in the city, prevailing urbanomics convinced me once again to relocate the studio out near the Blue Ridge Mountains, this time in the beautiful horse country of NW Virginia.

AS I PONDER WITH DUE diligence what indeed is really important about a person's life, I realize that we cannot know with any degree of amplitude. But therein lies the prize. Being true to oneself. The quiet space where will succumbs to pace. Peace will then follow. Nothing else comes close to the mark of certainty. The whole refuses to reject the flaw. The unimpressive fails to deny the perfected note of joy. Win, lose, draw succumbs to rock, paper, scissors. As I exclaimed to someone recently in some context or another, "Don't expect me to shut you up, but one must wonder if art is not the last refuge of scoundrels, after all."


      "My work is the battleground where art and politics beat each other up, and few are they who seem the wiser..." says Gabriel Thy.