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On Inspiration

December 23rd, 2013

The other day I was asked the question,

"Where do you get the inspiration for your work"?

My answer was,

"Usually I just make a picture of whatever I'm looking at".

"All you can write is what you see"
-Woody Guthrie

In college I majored in History. I had the good fortune of not feeling like art was something I needed to focus on exclusively. Studying art was and is a pleasurable activity, and therefore I was and am able to study it without the need of a structured regiment. History is a great field of study for an artist for at least one really big reason. It makes "inspiration" a non-issue.

The main take-away you get from studying history is that there is no one right version of it. Its all about primary sources. A coin, or a poem, or a newspaper article, are all puzzle pieces for a historian to piece together a story. Then one day that historians version of the story becomes a primary source through which to analyze a history of the time it was written.

As an artist, I'm inspired by a desire to make as many primary sources as possible.

Donc, voila. For now.


October 8th, 2012


Dorris: Part 1

“Do you really want to go to this school?” my mom asked.

“Well…yeah. I think so.” I picked at my scalp as we passed a bunch of plump cornfields on our way through northern New York. The humidity stuck itself to the windshield and beaded up as we talked. I was about to start school at St. Lawrence University in a small, county seat town called Canton.

“You’re not gonna have any hair left before you know it. Is there anything else you might need before we leave on Sunday? Like clothes?” She said the word clothes emphatically.

“I kinda need a new pair of pants.”

“I’m so glad to hear you admit that. What kind?”

“Probably Carharts.”

We were told by a human pimple selling ice cream at Stewart’s that Dorris’ Fashion Nook was the place to go for those kinds of clothes: work clothes. He also said that the twenty-minute drive on route 68 would be a pleasant drive. With this description it didn’t shock me to see Amish buggies and Mennonite farms on the roadside or stands selling outlandishly priced wicker, wood, and other crafted items. I wasn’t surprised to see swamps, marshes, fields and farms. Honestly, I expected boredom. And at first, boredom I got.

I pulled into the lot after missing Dorris’ sign twice. My parents and I looked around the doublewide to make sure we were in the right spot. The sign wasn’t on, but the door was open. We stepped inside the vinyl paneled trailer, only greeted by more brown vinyl paneling, and were greeted by the smell of Kilz primer. There were racks stuffed full of Carhart pants, flannel shirts, neon roadwork jackets, and those cheap, thick, gray socks with the double red stripe. It smelled like someone Fabrezed over the smell of smoke for years. I saw a paunchy old man with a toothpick watching soap operas behind a desk

“Hi, is this Dorris’?”

“It is, but Dorris passed away two years ago now.” His casualness surprised me. “I’m her cousin Ed. I’ve been runnin her place since then. Where’re you folks coming from?”

“Well… Canton, by way of Michigan, I’m going to school there this fall.”

“At St. Lawrence? Yawl look like St. Lawrence folk.”

I told him yes, and that someone in Canton had recommended Dorris’ for Carharts.

“Yessir, we have about every size of Carhart pants, even got underwear in sizes up to 8x.” He ashed a cigarette and pointed his crusty finger toward a shelf stacked with the enormous shrink-wrapped whitey tighties. Weirdly, I immediately imagined myself in them: gasping for air; choking on elastic and cotton, my nose stuffed with a Fruit of the Loom label, my last vision on earth a polyester tag picturing apples and bananas and reading “hand-wash with like colors.”

“I’ve been special-ordering those for a guy that lives up the road. He probably weighs about five or six hundred pounds, doesn’t walk, uses a little cart. Hell of a gardener,” Ed said while licking his lips and putting his hands in front of his belly. He looked like he was going to catch a basketball and continued talking while he squeezed his face.
“He rolls out of his electric cart ‘n crawls around doin’ his work. The most beautiful flowers you’ve ever seen.” He put his hands down and tucked the tip of his tongue back in his mouth.
As that seemed to be the end of the soliloquy, I went about my business and eventually, solemnly, found a pair of pants. We checked out with Ed. He made sure to wish me success and invited us to the volunteer fire department dinner that Saturday. We said we’d join.

I stared out the window as we drove back to campus. The passing landscape wrenched itself into a visage, a vibrantly layered composite of greens, punctuated by shadows. My hands felt clammy when I pulled them apart to roll up the window. Back in Canton we parked next to a young, purposefully planted row of beech trees as a piquant little sunset slice shoved its way through an oak. It dipped away before I could finish the other half of my double take.


Tomorrow, somewhere in the little town of St. Regis Falls not far from Dorris’s, a huge man with wobbly triceps might crawl on his hands and knees in a thick, green, well fertilized lawn, clippers snipping, carefully prodding, and tending to a bed of dainty petunias, chrysanthemums, and hyacinths, all of them crisp and fragrant, and perhaps he’s wondering if he has to go into town sometime this week and pick up a new pair of underwear.
But Dorris is dead, and in reality, I highly doubt her, or Ed’s, sense of fashion. I never did find out the big man’s name either.

- Hanzi Deschermeier

Artist Statement? Artist Bio? Attempt number one

October 8th, 2012

Here's one for the archives

I grew up in Corinth NY, a small town in the southern Adirondack Mountains. Started drawing as soon as I was old enough to hold a pencil, and experimented with painting and photography throughout high school.

After high school I left Corinth and headed to the Northern end of the Adirondacks to attend college at St. Lawrence University. In the second semester of my first year at SLU, I took one of those classes that forever changes who you are and how you look at the world. It was a multi-disciplinary class based on the life and impact of Woody Guthrie, who to this day I still consider my favorite historical hero and inspiration. In the years that followed I traded a pencil for guitar.

Then roughly three years after college, for reasons I can no longer recall, I started drawing again. A lot. For six months or so I was working exclusively in charcoal, doing a lot of simple practice sketches that didn’t amount to much….almost like practicing scales on an instrument. I wasn’t particularly good at it and I didn’t know what it was leading to but for some reason I kept doing it anyway. Then one nice and sunny day in the month of April I decided to give painting a try, and it was a revelation. I hadn’t painted in years, and even then I had barely gotten my feet wet. Yet somehow it seemed incredibly intuitive. Time seemed to disappear and it felt like I was tapping into a part of my mind that I seemed to fall just short of when drawing or writing music. From that point on, painting was my primary medium.

I still draw and still play music. I also still try to keep a little bit of the spirit of Woody Guthrie alive in my painting, even if only in an esoteric fashion. I haven’t written an artist statement yet, but I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it. As far as I know Woody never wrote an artist statement in any official capacity, but he did write something in a newspaper column which sounds a lot like one:
'I hate a song that makes you think that you are not any good. I hate a song that makes you think that you are just born to lose. Bound to lose. No good to nobody. No good for nothing. Because you are too old or too young or too fat or too slim too ugly or too this or too that. Songs that run you down or poke fun at you on account of your bad luck or hard traveling. I am out to fight those songs to my very last breath of air and my last drop of blood. I am out to sing songs that will prove to you that this is your world and that if it has hit you pretty hard and knocked you for a dozen loops, no matter what color, what size you are, how you are built, I am out to sing the songs that make you take pride in yourself and in your work. And the songs that I sing are made up for the most part by all sorts of folks just about like you. I could hire out to the other side, the big money side, and get several dollars every week just to quit singing my own kind of songs and to sing the kind that knock you down still farther and the ones that poke fun at you even more and the ones that make you think you've not any sense at all. But I decided a long time ago that I'd starve to death before I'd sing any such songs as that. The radio waves and your movies and your jukeboxes and your songbooks are already loaded down and running over with such no good songs as that anyhow.'
- Woody Guthrie.

I will eventually write a proper artist statement. In the meantime, I’m borrowing my philosophical guiding light from Woody. It seemed to work for Bob Dylan…

A Sandbanks Memoir

January 12th, 2012

A Sandbanks Memoir

The side of the County Road 27 is littered with burrito wrappers, beer cans, muddy socks, shopping bags, wax paper with the edges of melted cheese from a burger still stuck to it, even a sand-worn pregnancy test. Without picking it up, I inspect it up close and it is unclear whether or not it is positive of negative; but regardless it is certainly horrifying and comedic to think of the circumstances under which this was discarded so carelessly on the side of the road.
I imagine a teenage girl riding in the passenger seat of a Dodge Neon with her boyfriend who is drinking a Mountain Dew with one hand and gripping the steering wheel with the other. They have left her parents house, where she urinated on the stick and quickly left without her parents noticing and hopped in her boyfriend’s car.
This is where the story forks:

A). They are approaching the Park Street bridge where County Road 27 begins at 35 miles per hour. A pink plus sign materializes on the strip. “Positive,” she says too softly for her boyfriend to hear. “What?” he says. “It’s positive,” she says, “I’m fucking pregnant.” With a flash of frustration and fear she hurls the stick out of the cracked window and the Dodge Neon continues down County Road 27 past the gas station towards the four corners and blinking red light.

B). They are approaching the Park Street bridge where County Road 27 begins at 35 miles per hour. A pink minus sign materializes on the strip. The girl betrays a relieved smile and her boyfriend, not knowing exactly what this ambiguous expression means, says, “Well, what’s it say?” She lifts her gaze to his and says, “I’m not pregnant.” The boyfriend sets the Mountain Dew in his hand in the cup holder and holds her hand. She nonchalantly flicks the pregnancy test out the window as if it where a cigarette butt and says something to the effect of, “Phew. That was a close one.”

But I’m just flexing my imagination. Maybe there were four girls in the car when the test was thrown out the window. Maybe it fell out of an eviscerated trash bag. It doesn’t matter. This does: we are now strapped to the hood of that Dodge Neon going 40 miles an hour down County Road 27, accelerating to 60 miles per hour as we head towards the gravel parking lot at the trailhead of the swimming hole nicknamed the Sandbanks.
Once the car is parked, the trick is to bee-line it down the trail at least two hundred yards. If you dawdle in the gravel lot there is a chance that one of the five law enforcement agencies will pull up behind you and summon you back, pointing to the sign posted on the gate that stipulates that swimming is not allowed there. But imagine for a moment that one of the five law enforcement agencies in town—whether it be the Canton Police, the New York State Troopers, the County Sherrif, St. Lawrence University Security, or SUNY Canton Police—has not followed you here and you’re walking down the trail swatting gnats and mosquitos from your neck and shoulders and squishing in the mud with your sandals and listening to the Downy woodpecker making mulch out of a dead pine tree as you walk down the trail to the Grasse river.
At the end of the trail, the far bank of the river is a thin ribbon of water. On this side of the river a four-foot high embankment of sand has been carved by the water. Bank Swallows have burrowed holes in the sand for their nests. The sand has the sticky, granulated consistency of brown sugar. At the top of the bank there is a pile of ash and fragments of wood in a spent campfire. Exposed tree roots dangle over the edge of the bank, making a sturdy ladder with which to hoist yourself onto dry land from the water below. A massive white pine tree bowed in the shape of a rib hangs over the middle of the river. A series of 2x4’s nailed to its trunk form a ladder. There is a long knotted rope swing dangling the highest branch. At the end of the rope there is a young man of about twenty-one with wild brown hair swinging into the water, legs akimbo, hands gripping the rope tentatively, waiting for the right moment to release and drop, anticipating that moment where the water will catch him and force him up in a wreath of bubbles.

- Raurri Jennings