On Food, Art and Rebirth

I recently went through the beginning of a re-birthing process. All over the course of 36+ hours. If I have been walking through a dizzying abysmal abyss for the past few years, I’ve finally seen shimmering glints of the end. Quick flashes of what will be versus what could be. One weekend in Atlanta reminded me of why I call myself an artist. I’ve been telling people that I could categorize the entire weekend based on the meals I ate.

Starting with a Swedish meatball dinner in an IKEA, I sat across from Loved One anticipating a weekend of debauchery and intelligence. What more do you want? Where is this journey going? Why are you here? Questions swirled inside my brain and I still don’t need to know the answers. Five hours later, my food had digested, my brain was elevated and an impulsive stop at a hidden abandoned farmhouse off road restored my faith in my nasty habits and funny contradictions. It felt like an exorcism from the mundane I’ve come to accept as a result of parenthood.

I don’t know much about anything in this life but to live it by my own terms, of free spirited nature and intelligent mind. The artists I hold near and dear to me are the exact way. It’s taken me years to recognize and acknowledge this type of like minds. I had to hear it from an outsider to my world, Loved One. Not an artist. Not like us.

He missed out on the spicy broth soup with bok choy and Japanese sweet potatoes after he dropped me off at my friend’s house. It washed over me, calmed me down from previous hours of excitement and filled my belly with a warmth that welcomed me back into an ethereal fold. The adventure began the next day with a hunt for Takis and a cherry Coke.

The real reason why I was in Atlanta was to conduct a conversation with Brandon Sadler at his closing reception for TORN: Sketches of War and Triumph. I awakened the next day in his home on the hunt for hood snacks to satisfy my primal soul. Instead, he offered to start the day with french press coffee topped with a rich coconut cream accompanied with a berry covered chia seed pudding spiked with hints of brown sugar. Music filled his house. Conversations about life and art intertwined with sound. We got ready to head to Notch8 Gallery where his solo exhibition was located. We looked like brother and sister in our monochromatic tones. He is my long lost brother.

Sadler's solo exhibition at Notch8 in Atlanta.
Sadler’s solo exhibition at Notch8 in Atlanta.

Riding in an Uber on the way, the driver commented that Brandon was one of his favorite artists in the city. The warmth from the soup reappeared in my belly and moved to my heart. I was happy to hear those words because hard work literally pays off. Many busy streets in Atlanta have been touched by his hand. His hands are as well trained as his eyes. His artistic style seamlessly falls in with contemporary street art. Murals that make viewers pause mid-stride. Wall paintings that drivers eyeball on their way to final destinations. Imagine being in the city, walking or driving, and you come across a larger than life painting of a man or woman without eyes. The larger than life portrait is very much like an excerpt from a graphic novel. The indigenous qualities of the portrait are informed by the kinds of details such as beaded necklaces, feathers and flowers. No love for hipsters. He doesn’t play dress up with his characters because they are meditations of real people on Earth. There are no cultural appropriations gone wrong in these portraits. Just a summary of influences that he has incorporated into his creative soul.

A previous mural in Krog St. Tunnel in Atlanta
A previous mural in Krog St. Tunnel in Atlanta

We arrived at the gallery and all I could do was look. And think. And look. And think… I harbor the same battles as my own best friend. I was looking at a mirrored version of myself in that moment. Every painting and every panel illustrated the frustrating human experience we go through as we mature. Hell, we both needed to be reborn and washed anew. Struggling to find a balance between light and dark. Right and wrong. Walking through our own abyss looking for the proverbial end to our personal struggles only to realize that it never ends. When the crowd finally showed up to listen to our conversation, we laid our emotions out in front of them like we were on the phone for 45 minutes on a Thursday night. Between us, the crowd and the hidden wolves and lone warriors battling in the background, I realized how much I love this art shit. He performed for the audience. No singing, dancing, shucking or jiving. Just brushes on paper growing mountains from the center out.

Amazing how one long conversation can produce new topics that need to be explored for more folks than just my friends and me. Like I said, the struggle is neverending. You make peace with it and never let it overpower you ever again. You become the lone warrior in his paintings dancing with the wolves and leaving before they get too close to bite and infect you again.

sadlertorn-20

sadlertorn-13

It’s finally dinnertime. What became two people on an adventure turned into five. We landed in a place called Char, a Korean Bar & Grill. Shit like this can’t be real. Shit that happens in movies never happens to everyday people. But let Loved One tell you… I ain’t everyday people. Neither are the people I know. All of them. 

We walked in to the smells of meat striking little hot grills in the middle of tables. I didn’t know Brandon was commissioned to paint a wall in the restaurant. It was four panels from left to right of individuals enjoying yummy foods. In moments, we would emulate those same painted bodies and smiles. Shrimp chips, oxtails, little pieces of cut meats including my favorite: beef tongue. Little bowls of pickled vegetables. Bowls of short grain white rice. Sake. Beer.

Via Eater. Inside shot of Char.
Via Eater. Inside shot of Char.
sadlertorn-4
Detail shot from my personal collection.

Laughter. Stories. More laughter. Artists. Entrepreneurs. Business women. Business men. Then me… a poor, righteous teacher. I drank a lot of sake, yo. And I kept drinking for the rest of the night because… vices. Leave the restaurant. Crash a friend’s house. Sean Fahie always has to tell you that he has to put his pants on if you’re about to pass through his house. St. Croix-born brother filled with more life and energy than your average lazy ass artist. His laughter can fill a football stadiums. His ideas are often quietly executed. By the time you find out he had a hand in it, you’re already at the event.

Meet up with more friends. Drink more beer. Crash at a bed and breakfast. Leave to go home the next day. My last two stops: Octane Coffee in Grant Park. Get elevated with a Palestinian friend. Discuss relationships and responsibilities of parenting. Discuss what it takes to be happy. Discuss what direction we’re going with our art as teachers 90% of our time. Loved One shows us. We begin to leave to return to our normal, everyday lives. But not before our last stop at a mall outside Atlanta in Norcross for a different kind of mall food. Hot and spicy like our relationship only to be buffered by the plain white rice to cool down the extreme temperature. I watched the beads of sweat fall from his forehead with every bite he took. I wanted to point a camera at him and zoom in. I was mesmerized and filled with a bit of anxiety.

This time it was different. It wasn’t separation anxiety from a city that I love but I saw what I needed to do next while watching him eat. He was just hungry. I was pushed off an edge into “GO” mode. I don’t have any resolutions for the 17. No new year, new me bullshit. Just make work.

Make more work. All kinds. Any kind. Take people on a journey through city streets, forests and mountains. Fire people up and make them drip beads of sweat down their foreheads like Loved One. Everyday. Every. Single. Day. My trip ended with more than just food and experiences with a few of my favorite people. It was more than just a conversation for me. It was reminiscing on memories of high school with Fabian and Ciera about growing up in Smalltown America. It was looking at Fabian’s eyes roll into the back of his head and as he divulged in a bowl of Korean oxtails and rice. It was Brandon and Sean arguing over the merits of an Italian sandwich. It was Sylvester fading out on our conversation to listen to his favorite song. It was 48 hours in Atlanta.

And I needed it.

Welcome back, kingcarla.

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