I have a recurring dream in which I find that I have miraculously found my way back home to San Francisco and, just as miraculously, somehow I still have my studio at the old Sears Building on Army Street (now Caesar Chavez). This is a San Francisco of my imagining, a place where, more often than not, my dreams unfold, although it has been more than 20 years since I left. Why does San Francisco still have such a hold on my imagination? Why should finding myself once more in my studio on Army come with such an overwhelming feeling of relief, of belonging?
San Francisco is my mother; she raised me. Her streets were my back yard. Until she showed her dark side – queer bashing in the Mission, the Loma Prieta earthquake, crack vials in the street gutters outside the studio, a resident of the studios cracked over the head with a cinder block, his blood on the entry for days, the broken cinder block pushed to the side and left there, a memorial to the violence that had taken place the night before.
It was then I left for Santa Fe, still a boy. It was in the river canyon south of Santa Fe where I grew from boy to man as I chopped wood for the fires that kept me warm through the winters and carried water to drink and bathe. I washed my dishes in a tub placed on the fallen branch of a large tree next to the cabin. I had only my dog for company. The loudest sound I heard in this silent valley was that of hundreds of black birds taking flight from the field below the house. It was in this cabin that I began to draw again as a way back. It was in this cabin that I made the conscious choice not to go mad.
I stayed in Santa Fe until 2004 except for a short time back in California where I lost everything. When I returned to New Mexico, I returned with nothing, which is the best way to come back to the high desert, without expectation, drinking in that vast landscape and letting that drinking in open the path before me. For all my extraordinary experiences there, still I do not dream of New Mexico; I dream of my imagined San Francisco.
And so how did I come to be in Marfa? On a whim, to tell the truth. I craved a new adventure, to reinvent myself in this town on the edge of nowhere, a home at the end of the world. (After only 8 years I think of leaving, before the drones arrive, before the water gives out.) I love this place. It has, ironically, been a retreat from the art world, so desparately needed. Here I returned to my work for the joy of painting. And often now, while in the studio here, which is really just the back bedroom, I remember me at 13 working in the studio I had created for myself in the basement of my family’s house. I’m able to look back to David at 13 and say to him, “You were right; see, I’m still painting.”
Still, when I dream, I am back in the San Francisco my mind has created.