Friday, March 8, 2013

Of Neutrinos, Zines, and Jim McGee: Searching for the Sublime in the SOCO District

Yesterday I got a random text from my friend Steve Elkins, who is one of the most interesting and inspiring people I know.  He's a documentary filmmaker, musician, and artist  His first feature-length film, The Reach of Resonance, was a ten-year labor of love that took him all over the world, filming experimental musicians.  His current project is also taking him far and wide, from the large hadron collider in Switzerland to telescopes in Chile.  Steve's passion for finding interesting film subjects makes him a very inspiring person to hang out with.

Anyway, Steve wanted to hang out and introduce me to his friend Ted, who (like me) makes zines.  A zine is basically a hand-made, self-published magazine that usually features art and/or writing.  I love zines and I love Steve, so I said "sure."  We met up at the Magoski Arts Colony (where my gallery and zine store are located) to talk zines, film, and everything.  It was one of those conversations that I wish I had a camera or recorder with me to capture, because it was so cool.  Not having those things, I decided to write about it.

While discussing his film project, Steve started talking about an artist named Jim McGee, whom Steve describes as "the most amazing person I've ever met."  Coming from Steve Elkins, who regularly meets and films mind-blowing artists and musicians, that is a very high compliment.  Jim used to live in New York City in the 1970s, in a junkyard.  He worked as a cab driver while also creating art and poetry.  Somehow, for reasons I couldn't understand, Jim got some kind of consulting position for the United Nations.  Then, he moved to Texas, where he's spent the past few decades acquiring land outside of El Paso, where he's building a multi-acre art installation called "The Hill."  This nearly-completed monument has been the creation of Jim and a man named Juan.  Steve had the privilege of visiting The Hill, and described it as a series of very tall buildings connected by walkways, which house massive works of art.  The titles of the art pieces are long poems composed by Jim, some of which go on for hundreds of pages.  Jim does not have a phone or a computer.  To get in touch with him, you have to write him a physical letter, send it to a P.O. box that he checks every few months, and maybe he'll call you back from a pay phone.  That's how Steve got in touch with him.  

The Hill

Also, Jim McGee has no legs.  He lost them due to HIV-related complications.  Oh yeah, Jim is also HIV positive.

Over the course of his long and storied career, Jim has created a couple alter-egos, who are also artists.  One of them is a landscape painter named Annabel Livermore, whose large paintings grace the walls of hospitals, galleries, private collections…and the White House.  Former first lady Laura Bush became so enamored with "Annabel's" paintings that she visited El Paso to meet the artist and purchase artwork to decorate the White House.  Instead of meeting a female landscape painter, however, she met a legless man named Jim McGee.  Annabel's work has been published in book form, with reviews from various art critics in both English and Spanish.  All of the critics are fictional creations, probably alter-egos of Jim McGee.

Work by Annabel Livermore

Another of McGee's alter egos is an artist named Horace Mayfield, who does homo-erotic inflatable art, using shower curtains and inner tubes.  Horace recently showed his work at a gallery in Buffalo, New York and (of course) did not attend the opening reception.  Guess who did show up, though?  Jim McGee.

After hearing about this Jim McGee character, we all agreed that a road trip to El Paso, Texas was in order.

Ted and I talked about zines.  His most recent zine project is called "Twenty Dudes," and features drawings of various men (past and present) who he finds interesting.  Most of the "dudes" are not widely known.  Like me, Ted's interests are wide, so he draws artists (like Teching Hsieh, Dieter Roth, and Chris Ware), musicians (like Screamin' Jay Hawkins and Ornette Coleman), filmmakers (like David Lynch, Abbas Kiarostami, and Werner Herzog), writers (like Philip K. Dick, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and Breece D'J Pancake), and historical figures like Emperor Norton I.  I immediately connected with Ted, and showed him drawings from a zine/coloring book I'd made featuring various literary figures.  Ted will be exhibiting his drawings and zines at BOOKMACHINE books + zines in the very near future.

Twenty Dudes

After much stimulating conversation, Steve, Ted and I walked down Santa Fe St. to The Continental Room, my second favorite bar in Fullerton (my favorite is Mulberry St.).  It was early in the evening so the bar was pretty empty.  We ordered drinks, sat at a booth, and somehow got talking about neutrinos, the sub-atomic particle physicists have been searching for, which may hold clues to the origin of the universe.  Neutrinos are so tiny that they pass through matter like it's nothing.  What appears to humans as dense matter (like a table or a building or a body) is actually full of wide open spaces for a neutrino.  Steve's film will be taking him to Lake Baikal in Siberia, the deepest freshwater lake in the world, where scientists are trying to detect the elusive neutrino.

As we were all discussing and pondering concepts like sub-atomic particles, the relative density of matter, and the origin of the cosmos, our conversation was occasionally interrupted by a few loud voices at the bar:

"If you have a small dick, you can use toys!"

"I got a big vagina!"

And so on.

We kept chuckling to ourselves at the surreal juxtaposition of the two conversations.

"Only in the Soco District," I said.

"Maybe it's not a bad analogy," Steve offered, "Just as small dicks pass largely undetected through big vaginas, so neutrinos pass largely undetected through the universe."

We all pondered this statement, sipping our cocktails, and waiting for the Elvis impersonator to take the stage.

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