"You're black wherever you go."

I am getting ready to leave Istanbul.

In a lot of ways, I have left already.  I have sort of contracted into a ball here, walking around the city in the morning and coming back to the hotel in the afternoons to sleep for a few hours.  Then going out in the evening for dinner at a couple of kebap houses near Tunel Station.  It's really great food and it's very cheap.
I think I have exhausted my time here.  
So many things were greater than I expected.  To see the work of Sinan, tiles from Iznik, the multiple layering of cultures, has been beyond belief really.  I have so many ideas for painting that I cannot wait to get back to my studio.  I have started making drawings and some things are coming into place for the work.  I am developing some ideas based on the grid that were not really available to me before I came here.  I also am wondering about the Tablet paintings and if they need to be figurative at all.  I have been really rethinking how I make these paintings.  Is color and light enough for the pictures?  Even the Savannah paintings have started to change with the insertion of various portraits into the schema of the grid.  The tiling here has really brought out the idea of pattern as an end to itself.  I am not sure if I can make a picture like that.  The figure to me has never been a thing about a way to investigate shape, it was the content of the picture for me.  To start making pictures without the figure is a thing that is coming up very much in my thinking and I have to start to deal with it.
At the same time, the ideas that I was looking at in the Tongue paintings have REALLY come back to the fore.  Seeing people walk in front of a tiled wall has really impacted me.  It is such a simple thing really.  I just started seeing it in a new way.  That space between can be flat and ornamental at the same time.  It is something Gregory Gillespie has done and even someone like Christina Renfer is doing now.  It is really the difference between painting the atmosphere and painting an area.  I was always the kind of painter who if I didn't know what to do with something, I just made it flat.  Now that idea is not enough.  I think the tile is a way into this, a way to have a dialog with pattern, flatness, content and character in the work.  I have been thinking of a way to bring the Tablets and the Tongues together.  Istanbul is giving me that, I think.
The other thing, the hard thing, the thing I did not expect, is that I have not really been able to relax here.  Turkey does not have a very diverse population.  I really stick out here, and people stare - a lot.  At first it was interesting to me because it didn't seem weighted with the racism of home.  I was like "The Brother From Another Planet," or something.  I took photos with school children who were shocked that I said "Merhaba" when they said hello.  That was the nice part of it.  The not so nice part was the cops, the stares on the subway, people putting my change on the counter instead of my hand.  The accusatory way they ask "Where are you from?"
Apparently, I look like I come from the Arabian peninsula, and since the end of the Ottomans there is not a great deal of love between the Arabs and the Turks.  Also, I have been taken for a "gypsy" or one of the Roma people and let me tell you, there is not a great deal of love for the Roma anywhere.  In light of all of this, I walk down the street feeling very uncomfortable and very vulnerable here.  I know that I am safe, but the looks on people's faces are not exactly welcoming.  I don't think I could ever get used to being looked at that way.  You might think that all of that kind of prejudice is the same, but it really isn't  In America, you get looked at like a criminal or a danger. Here it is like you are a freak or something.  It is very unsettling, especially since the Turks are such nice people and cannot understand American-style racism at all. But when they think you might be "arap" or from Iran, or gypsy, it gets a little weird.

I had a moment at Topkapi's Hall of Relics where I got a little worried.  I was in line to see the mantle of the Prophet (p.b.u.h.) when I felt this man looking at me. I turned and he said "Where are you from?"  I usually start speaking French at this point (and I thank my mother for making me take 5 years of the language) but this time I answered in English that I was from the United States.  He glared at me said "I hate your President."  I said that I understood.  "Bush wants to kill all the Muslims," he said.  "Well, we won't let him," I said.  Then we both stood in front of the window that looked into the golden room, with the golden stand, holding the golden box in which was a piece of cloth worn by Mohammed.  We shook hands and departed each other.  My friend Michael made me promise that I would stop telling people I was from the United States after that.  I didn't, but I did speak french in public a lot more.
I think I was chasing the experience that James Baldwin had when he went to France and got treated like an American.  Not as a negro, or colored, just some knucklehead writer from the US.  I didn't get that in Istanbul.  I got a real reminder about being different, being outside. It is the position of the constant observer, really, the flaneur, the "Painter of Modern Life."
My father used to say, "You're black wherever you go."  It was a warning about the way the world saw my brother and I.  

No way to treat orphans....

There is pending congressional legislation that will remove significant copyright protection from all works of art if it is enacted.  The Orphan Works Act of 2008 makes it possible to declare a copyrighted work "orphaned" if an infringer says that he is unable to locate the author based on the infringer's idea of a reasonable search.  If a company wants to use your images, all they have to prove is that they used what they determined as reasonable methods to find you.  When they don't find you, they can use your images for whatever they want, without your approval or compensation.

The Illustrators Partnership of America has been at the forefront of opposing this legislation that gives away an artist's right to their own work.  They have made it very easy to contact your elected officials to stop this legislation.  

No picnic this Labor Day....

Let me reiterate: cops are the same all over the world.  My friend and colleague, Noel Ignatiev says "All over the world cops beat up poor people; that is their job, and it has nothing to do with color."

I spent the majority of the day in my hotel room yesterday.  In every country that is not the United States, May Day is International Workers Day.  Here in Istanbul, there was an attempt to hold a rally in Taksim Square in honor of the union activists who were killed there in 1977.  Every year they try to do this and every year it is squashed by the police.  This year was no exception.
I went for a brief walk and was confronted by the image of amassed firepower across the street from my hotel.  Suddenly I understood why the cop was being so aggressive yesterday; he probably thought that I was some sort of agitator for the rally.  The rally was set for Taksim Square about a mile from my hotel, but the cops were EVERYWHERE.  They were decked out in full riot gear with shields.  I thought better of taking a walk and went back into the hotel.
Now to prevent people from getting to the rally, the Mayor of Istanbul effectively cut all transportation to and from Taksim Square.  That meant there was no way to get here, but really also no way to leave unless it was on foot.  And since many of the roads were blocked by the above referenced police, you could get to a point where you were allowed no further.  And there is no point trying to explain something to a teenager with an M16.  
So I sat in the lobby of the hotel and looked at the news and saw all those images that everyone else saw.  I am not remotely interested in seeing people squirted with fire hoses, so I did not go down there to take photos.  Also a foreigner in a situation like that runs the risk of being misunderstood by gesture or presence.  I am not a photojournalist and I am not a hero.  I did feel my heart break for the people as they were hosed down.  I wished I could do something.
The police presence was reduced in the evening and I had to get some dinner.  I went to a place for a kebab sandwich and saw the school buses that they used to round up the protesters.  Some of the people detained had been on the bus since the beginning of the day.  There were armed guards protecting the buses and the same massive police presence.  I ate really fast.
Today, May 2, it is a different story.  It is really as if May 1 did not happen and the city was not occupied for the entire day.  The Turkish people seem to have taken all of this in stride - something akin to the running of the bulls in Pamplona.  It happens every year, some people get hurt and then we move on.  
We moved Labor day from May to September in the US.  Most people don't connect this change with the Haymarket Massacre, the Wobblies or Eugene Debs.  We don't really think about solidarity with foreign workers or unions.  We take the right to assemble for granted (even when it is denied like at the Republican National Convention in NYC).   It really made me think about how precious it is to be able to walk down the street in solidarity with others.  All over the world, even at home, this is becoming a harder experience to have.

It's a small world...

The driver of our tour bus (Omer, not to be confused with Omer, our tour guide) is one of the most beautiful men I have ever seen.  I don't know what he is doing driving a bus of tourists around Turkey.  He should be a movie star. He smokes, like most Turks and I guess he doesn't want anyone to know. He is hiding his cigarette behind his back.

I want to go on record as saying I will never do another group tour like this again.  If one more person asks me why I haven't met the right girl I really may lose my mind.  It's not like home where I can just tell someone I'm a fag and be done with it.  These people exist on a very delicate surface called "travel," so nothing real is discussed.  The other day everyone was talking about the wonder of grandparents and the love of children.  I wanted to set myself on fire.  I kept praying that no one would ask me about my family.  I didn't think I wanted to be that guy who tells the truth at a cocktail party when everyone has agreed to lie to each other.  I hate being that guy.

Because children are the most important people in the world, my group has indulged the two children in our group.  They were playing a game on the bus (during our 7 hour drive from Ürgüp to Pamukkale) that spewed the song "It's a Small World" all over the bus.  There was no escaping it, so I put on my noise canceling Skullcandy headphones and listened to Branca Parlic and the Cowboy Junkies first album.  It matched the Turkish landscape perfectly and gave me a reprieve from the family hour on the bus.
Here are some questions that have come up:
Do you have grandchildren?
Are you married?  Why not?
Don't you agree with the church that Hillary Clinton would be a terrible President?
Why is your hair like that?
Were YOU a slave?
Did you hear the one about the Polish guy who wanted a burial at sea?
Really, you cannot make this shit up. I am traveling with 8 people from India (two older couples and a family of four) a couple from north of Toronto, a really delightful couple from Australia (she's a teacher, go figure) and two women who are traveling together; one from Santa Fe and the other Puerto Rico.  These are the people on the english speaking tour.  The rest of the bus is about 16 people from Italy.  We are in the back with our guide Omer, who has really been a love.  When the polish joke was told, he quickly stood up and talked about how men along the Black Sea area were thought to have little intelligence and were often mocked in jokes.  He said that the people along the Black Sea say that "We are so smart that we make up those jokes about ourselves."  He really did cool things down a bit.
The drive today was very long,   The country is beautiful.  The sights are truly breathtaking.  At a caravanserai, we stopped for a bite to eat.  The building was incredible and housed an open and covered market with a mosque on the inside.  Then we went to Konya to see the museum dedicated to the Mevlana, the founder of the Whirling Dervishes.  We know him in the west as the Sufic poet Rumi.  It was really an amazing place to visit.  No photos were allowed in the museum.  There is an enormous green cone over the center of the building under which is Rumi's tomb.  The calligraphic carvings are exquisite and the place was packed with people who were praying, not just sightseeing.  I was very captivated.  So much so in fact that the tour guide had to come and collect me when everyone was already on the bus.  Again, I hate being that guy.
Tomorrow is hiking in the travertines and looking at the natural rock basin carved by the springs at Pammukale, then Roman ruins at Afrodisias and then on to Ephesus.
The little girl asked me if I knew Hilary Duff today.