In 1981 I took my first road trip to a tiny, somewhat seedy theater in Chicago called the Uptown. There the true nature of the band, the genius of Jerry Garcia, and the intricate culture of the deadheads unfolded before me. These people, though freaky looking and sometimes unwashed, were the most genuine and truly happy people I had ever met. When Jerry took a 32 bar solo, the room lifted and the focus of the
crowd became intense. In the lingo of the deadheads, I “got it.”
Soon afterward I summoned the courage to drop out of the College of Engineering and try my hand at Art School. The movie of my life was undergoing huge changes in plot and the Dead quickly became the sound track. Art School opened up new ways of seeing and thinking. At the same time my friends and I were discovering vast treasure troves of music and deadlore while we made our own memories, traveling in junk cars on crazy all night drives with nothing but our wits, forty dollars between us and our tickets to the show to survive on.
The years passed, the people and places around me changed, but the Grateful Dead remained the one true constant in my life, outside of my immediate family. I developed an interest in urban landscape painting and would eventually choose the subject as the thesis for my graduate degree in painting. I also found that I could sell these paintings at art festivals. My Dead touring experience primed me for the cross country driving, sleeping in vans and living on peanut butter that was necessary to make the journeys. Some of the Jerry Garcia paintings I would make on tour also started selling well. For a few brief years, my summers were filled with art fairs, Dead concerts and constant travel. After sixteen years and 135 Dead shows in seventeen states from Maine to California, my experience with Grateful Dead concerts came to a close with Jerry's sudden death in 1995.
In the years after his passing it became apparent to me that my paintings of Jerry became especially important to people. Given his Santa Claus appearance, wild hair and emotional facial expressions, I found his portrait remained an interesting subject. Beyond his appearance, his spirit is one worth capturing in paint. Beneath his many flaws, there is still the brilliance of a determined artist. His hard work, commitment to craft and pure joy in the act of creation will always be an inspiring model, a beacon of light and a source of personal and artistic salvation. I hope my pictures of Garcia give you some of the same feelings, and don't forget, be kind, Jerry's watchin'.
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