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‘It’s Like Building a House That Doesn’t Have Any Doors’

A former construction worker discusses finding purpose as a provocative artist in the third chapter of his life.

Words by John Pearson
Photography by Kurt Iswarienko

“20 years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than the ones that you did.” -Mark Twain

We are looking to examine people who took a chance, made the effort to explore different passions later in life. We are interested in what the catalyst for such departures might be.

The traditional rule is that you go to school, choose a career and work at it until either retirement or death intervenes. If you’re fortunate, you have a vocation, work in a field you’re crazy-happy about and thus it’s never really ‘just’ work. Honestly though, how many of us can state that we’ve followed our bliss, that it’s sustained our basic needs as humans, whilst also inspiring us to jump out of bed each morning, to seize another magical day?

Life just ain’t that simple….thank goodness!

The artist HIM — @himofthehills — has been on my radar for a couple of years now. I’m not certain I can adequately describe his work in words, but I can tell you that when I’m in it’s presence, it has a profound physical effect on me. Aside from feeling fresh and provocative, it somehow grants me the peace of not having to explain it. It mutes my struggle to conceptualize it, which in itself is a pleasurable experience. His pieces oddly suggest being tactile at a time when many of us are desperate for touch. And yet HIM’s works are proud and unapologetic, sometimes erotic and don’t give a s*** about my opinion or feelings.

We spoke to HIM in his California studio about medication, being an empty nester and the depression and anxiety that has fueled his anonymous, unique and provocative work in the third chapter of his life.

HIM’s Los Angeles studio

HIM’s Los Angeles studio


HIM is the alter ego of a husband and father-of-three, who seeks to remain anonymous, who chooses for it to all be about his work and not the game of art marketing or situating himself as a conventional face of brand blasting; nor for us to put him tidily in a box.. name, age, background, entitled, rich or poor etc…but how did this alter-ego, this persona come about?

“In the beginning it was about me being able to separate myself from being a father of three and living in the suburbs, in that environment, the prism of that environment, and what was expected of me,” he says.

“So to create a persona and be able to step back and go, ‘I am this other thing and I have the freedom to work here,’ that’s initially how it began to evolve. But it works on a lot of different levels for me too. For a period when I first came to LA, I was doing these sculptural graffiti pieces and putting them up around Frogtown. I wanted to post them but I didn’t want it to come back to me so it gave me cover in that respect — it allows me to just separate things.

“With my work, I want to leave the conversation open, so to speak… so that there’s a dialogue with the viewer and the piece and I’m not dictating too much what it’s about. I want to promote it, I just don’t want ME to become the story…”

‘Untitled’

‘Untitled’


So he wants his work to do the talking or the singing… he wants to create because he has to. It’s a way to ease the noise in his head, the interference caused by being complicit to the formal expectations of society.

HIM was born in Louisiana into what one could assume was art pedigree — his father, an artist, was principal of a prestigious east coast art school. He attended that school, because “he just didn’t know what else to do.” He left four years later without the required credits to graduate.

He then moved to New York and began a 30-plus year career in construction, grafting from the bottom up.

He says: “I arrived in NY in ’82 and I did some work in the film industry, but I just fell into construction and that became my life for the next 30 plus years. I was a laborer — I pounded sheet metal, made coffee, labored on sites.”

His art practices were discarded indefinitely as he taught himself to build houses, and he and his wife raised their three children. He did well, business was lucrative, but something was missing.

Then the kids flew the nest and he and his wife moved to California. The first six months were fun, exciting and full of promise. But the doors to his mind suddenly slammed shut, locking him into a solitary battle with depression, anxiety and darkness. His doctors prescribed him a plethora of meds that created mental chaos but simultaneously also spurned his lenticular and sculptural works.

Here he talks us through some of his art:


‘Lexapro’ — ‘Loser’ — ‘Final Fantasy’
(top to bottom)

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“This is called ‘Lexapro’, which is like a serotonin uptake inhibiter they gave me to help me with my depression, which I’m still on. But when they initially gave it to me they gave me a really large dose of it. I forget how many milligrams, but it was way too much for me and I couldn’t sleep at night, I couldn’t get to sleep until 3am, and then when I finally got to sleep, I’d have these really wild vivid dreams almost more real than life. I don’t know how else to explain it. I don’t know if it’s a hallucination because you’re asleep and dreaming so it’s really a dream but it’s like a ride, like riding a crazy rollercoaster ride. It was very intense so without destroying too much of the poetry, that’s what this piece is about.”


‘The Wrong Meds’

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“This one is called ‘The Wrong Meds’…when they started prescribing medicine for me after my breakdown, they tried a bunch of different stuff — some of it, just literally made me feel like this, like my skin was blowing off my face.

“When I had my nervous breakdown, a lot of it was about me actually coming to terms with letting go of that past life in a way… so it was me grieving the loss of all that. It was me grieving the loss of my children — my children are still alive, but they’ve grown up and they’d moved out at that point, so it was becoming an empty nester and me grieving the loss of having little kids, and that love and that bond and that relationship.

“A psychiatrist told me you should do one major life changing thing a year.. that’s what people can handle.  You’ve done eight here, eight major things. Selling my house that I’ve built with my own hands, my kids leaving, becoming an empty nester, moving away from my friends in NY, moving out to LA not knowing anybody.  My life completely exploded in change. I came here and for six months I loved it. I love LA, it was awesome, I love the freedom it gives me, I almost don’t have to hide behind a persona here, you know, I can feel I can be who I want to be out here.  But after six months I just grieved the loss of who I was, of where I was… I just think that emotionally I had to recognize this and it led to a breakdown… in a way it was like recognizing the disintegration of one thing and the creation of another, or that sort of transition, emotionally and physically and everything.”

“I didn’t make anything during that period. It was like a lost four months of my life — I couldn’t even get into the studio, I mean I couldn’t create anything.”


‘Warrior 1’

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“This is ‘Warrior 1’ – a lot of my work is about rumination, it’s about sort of chewing on something.  My son decided to join the army, so I started working on this piece.  My son, who I remember as a baby, as a small child, now he’s going to be in the army, he’s going to wield a weapon, potentially kill someone… what does that mean? Not just thinking about my own child, but how do beautiful innocent little boys become warriors and how do we culturally allow that to happen? I’m not making a judgement on any of that, I’m just thinking about it all as I’m creating this. How does that happen? What’s the morality of that ? We obviously need an army to defend ourselves… it’s just a rumination on all those things…it’s putting all the ingredients in the pot and storing it and this is sort of the residual from that exploration.

“It took maybe four months but it was worked on and then put down… sometimes bouncing back and forth. I don’t sit down and think, ‘OK, I’m gonna do this thing.’  A lot of times I start with just playing with stuff and I put two things together and discover that this is something I want to do, this is what I’m going to explore.”


‘John the Baptist’

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“It’s not literally John the Baptist. but definitely influenced by the homoerotic paintings in Rome.  Everywhere you go, there’s John the Baptist paintings and it looks like soft porn, you know, this really beautiful guy, who’s been shot with arrows. “


‘Lust’

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“This is ‘Lust.’ It’s part of a seven deadly sins project that I want to do, and this one’s meant to be burned. I want to sell the seven deadly sins pieces, but not to be preserved… this is meant to be destroyed.  All the pieces of the seven deadly sins, I want them to be a performance piece where the people that view it become part of the piece. So everybody becomes complicit in that sin, in the performance of that sin, if that makes any sense.”


‘She’

‘She’

“Sometimes it’s like building a house that doesn’t have any doors to it. And you build it and you’re like, f*** it doesn’t even work anymore, it doesn’t do anything. You know, I thought there was something in there but there wasn’t… maybe I overlooked something. You’ve got to know when to say… this is never gonna be anything. My propensity is always to make everything into something and so I’m struggling with this piece or that. But when do you say, ‘OK, it’s never gonna be anything that I want it to be… it’s never going to reveal itself to me?”

Sometimes, like HIM, in life we can find our raison d’etre after we’ve been through the rigors of occupation, of profession, the duty and pleasure of raising a family, and once we’ve gotten tired and weary of conventional process and expectation.  We can clock in and out for the majority of a lifetime before something hidden deep in the recesses of our psyche just refuses to remain dormant and screams in a desperate bid to be heard, to express.

If we choose to ignore the impulse, if we play slave and safe to convention, perhaps we can get through this life, maybe with a degree of comfort… or is it complacency?

Or we can choose to acknowledge and respect our ‘secrets’ our longing to express and break the mold… shatter the expectations, alter and disrupt the status quo which we’ve labored to maintain. We become crucially aware of our mortality and an urgency builds steam towards change. The choice is ours to make.


Explore more @himofthehills

 

John is a world-renowned male model who has been the face of countless leading fashion houses. During his 36-year modeling career he has also moonlighted as an actor, writer, restauranteur, editor, and producer. He co-founded Mr Feelgood to provide a safe space for candid discussion and sharing ideas.

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