Over the course of my adult life I have told many stories about myself, and they are inconsistent. This is problematic for my more rational friends who seem to take pleasure in pointing out the inconsistencies. It is not a problem for me. To varying degrees we all embellish the story of our lives and tailor the story to the listener. I reserve the right to manufacture my own story.
As many stories as I have told, they all share the same beginning which never is embellished: I stand at the back door of my family’s second house. I do not remember my exact age, but it was somewhere between child and teenager. It is night and so I look through the open door into black. I am about five feet tall and very skinny. I say to myself “I do not belong here.” The story of my childhood, or being a painter, or being a gay man, they all begin with this deceptively simple declaration. I could say it was my first step to self-knowledge, so simple is it to fall into the traps set by retrospection and the desire to be the hero in our own fairy tale. (I will leave the damage done by Disney to my childhood consciousness for a later time.)
I recently returned to Marfa after three weeks in Europe, most of it in Milan, which gave me the comfort of a daily routine – Cafe Princi around the corner for my morning cafe americano and pain au chocolat, evening strolls through the alleys of the Brera district where I found a different restaurant every night, capped by gelato and the slow walk back to my apartment. Sandwiched in-between were the requisite museum and gallery visits and more cafe americanos. But I believe what I will remember the most were the walk through the gardens at Insel Hombroich with my new friends Cecilia and Hans – green, water, forest – so different from the American Southwest landscape, the spare intervention by Dan Flavin at Chiesa Rossa and lunch along the canal in the Navigli District on the way to Chiesa Rossa.
At the beginning of the third week I noticed feeling weighed down. I found reasons in the weight of history, of the stone buildings on all sides, the leaden skies, all the land cultivated. I yearned for the big skies and the raw, wild landscape of the American Southwest.
On my return I came through Denver to visit my sister. We took a car trip to the Collegiate Peaks, a part of the Rocky Mountains known for its 14,000+ feet peaks. I grew up in the foothills of the Rockies in Utah, and my sister and I talked about how we will always belong to the mountains. Seeing those snow-capped peaks under a blazing, blue sky was a shock after the density of Milan. I knew then that I am a Westerner, that my home is the American Southwest, and I had found the end to the story that began looking into the dark night. It is to this land that I belong.