I smoked my first joint when I was about 16 years old. My hair wasn't' long. I was not a hippie. I wore clothes that pleased my British mum, and my strict Hispanic dad. I still had a curfew. I didn't even drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes. I was raised in the '50's, but I grew up in the 60's.
What I knew after that initial hit of marijuana was this: I wanted in on anywhere this gig was going to take me. You could say that it was a game at first. Then it became a lifestyle, later; it had transformed itself into a way of life. My entire life began to revolve around what I was doing: illegally, educationally, professionally and artistically my subject matter was marijuana art. Some pieces were art projects for school. Others were created purely from the various experiences of my daily life: something said at a party; places or things I did with a friend which teetered on the edge of some high I was on, or coming down from. Even so, many were fashioned from the awareness of what a paradox it would be from a 'straight persons' point of view. Instinctively, I became aware that I wanted to construct a record of this lifestyle.
My friends were longhairs, marijuana dealers, people in bands, and people who got high. We shared the same lifestyle. They trusted me. I was the obligatory artist - and so, they became used to me taking pictures of them at very vulnerable times. When you're doing a marijuana or coke deal, do you really want a guy with a Canon camera photographing the event?
I was selling pot before I started college at Fresno State, in Fresno, California. I continued selling to put myself through college. At some point, I became aware that these times were rarified. Marijuana, at that time, was primarily, imported in kilo form, from Mexico, Colombia and Thailand. Columbian & Thai pot came unpressed. You could even get pounds of pot fronted to you. The times were mellow, with less violence, less guns, and you trusted the people you worked with.
When I was living on my own, I had my own score of roommates. Most of them were in bands - and although I was developing my style as an artist, in my heart of hearts, I wanted to be in the band, man. Didn't we all? What's more, some of you made it. As a result, I amassed an incredible collection of the music and albums of the times. I would go to Fillmore West and Winterland to hear this music. I was there at Altamont Speedway at the Stones Free Concert near Tracy, California.
My friends whom I did business with, by then were completely comfortable with the camera recording various "transactions". The trade off was that, in many of my pieces, backs are turned, and almost no faces are seen, the exception being, my oldest friend, Keithy, (see 'what's in the trunk . . . "), because he didn't care about being seen.
Keithy died in the early 80's doing a coke deal that got out of hand. He was working with some violent people. They were snitches and brutal, and as I said, not afraid to use any means to get what they wanted. In addition, what they wanted was to turn a casual, concealed, and safe manner of dealing marijuana, into working with corrupt people, who brought guns, and other malicious methods into a business, that used to be layed back and discreet. Let's face it: Everybody knew, more or less, that everyone they knew were 'doing it,' 'smoking weed.' Whatever they called it; people were cool, but cautious. Dealing and violence did not meet often at that time. It was supposed to be fun, and no one wanted to die or get busted and do jail time just for getting high. Dealing and possession of illicit drugs were major felonies at the time. It wasn't uncommon to end up doing 20 to life for selling a bag of pot.
With regard to the 'system,' and myself, twice snitches busted me. An officer working undercover as a student did the first bust - blended in with the kids, and so on. He observed me selling pot to a friend. In a way, it was a good thing, in that it kept me out of the Vietnam War - and alive. The last bust was for 40lbs of pot, and a friend, who was going to trial for his bust, by a friend who snitched on him, then snitched on me, too. The police thought that I would snitch out, too, but I did not and was sentenced five to life, (told ya), with a 22-month minimum. Luckily, the judge put an 1168 on my sentence (Google 1168 if you want to know more). That meant, after 3 to 21 months, I might be 'called' back from State Prison and then, resentenced. Fortunately, that did happen. In general only 3% are called back on an 1168. I received county time, with time served. In the end, I did about 8 and ½ months. I considered myself very lucky at the time.
I never considered myself a hippie, per se, but, rather, a longhair. I was paying my way selling pot and later, for a while, cocaine. Nevertheless, again, we are speaking of a time that was indulgent, free, and there was nothing like crack - just beautiful white, flaky Peruvian cocaine, and Columbian gold cocaine. When that market degraded into hazardous chemical compounds to formulate counterfeit cocaine, I got out.
I was fortunate to have had good connections, such as Keith & my friend Greg. You will see and read more about each of them as you browse through the gallery.
In addition, I drove, and flew pot back east to sell, because one of my college roommates was from the East Coast, (though not on the scale portrayed in the movie, ("Blow," 2001). During this time, '71 - '73,' Gungi and I had made three trips to Mazatlan, Mexico. I had a hometown friend who had a connection down there. It was some fine coke. We always seemed to go before finals at school. My girlfriend, Q went a few times with us.
In those days security was lax, with few if any metal detectors. There were no bag searches then. My friend named Gungi, (you can spot his back in, "Can you believe the Nat'l Guard ripped me off?") went back east with me. We took the midnight flight out of San Francisco, and arrived on the east coast in the morning. After business was concluded, we would catch the next flight back to the San Francisco. From Frisco, it was a short ride back to Fresno State. All in the same day. It was a beautiful thing during those years.
To counter all that, however, was the fact that there was great music from hundreds of bands - from coast to coast; from continent to continent. It is not much different now, just bigger. Nevertheless, I was a Northern California boy, and so the hot spot for me, when it came to music was the scene in and around San Francisco, California.
During the 60's & 70's we were listening to the original Fleetwood Mac with Peter Green, (check out these tracks: 'Strange Blues,' 'Rattlesnake Shake,' 'The Sun is Shining,' 'Supernatural,' 'Albatross,' 'Black Magic Woman,' 'Jumpin' at Shadows.') Duster Bennett was another favorite musician, that I would often put on when I was painting, (check out these tracks, too: 'Smiling Like I'm Happy,' ' Wasted Time,' ' I'm gonna wind up ending up with you,' 'Baby you done lost your good thing.") Then check out Iggy Pop and The Stooges; Harvey Mandell; the Allman Brothers Band; Jimi Hendrix; Cream; Patty Smith, Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and the Grateful Dead, just to name a fraction of the great music that was out there. As I have previously mentioned, my roommates were often in bands, and so, I was introduced to groups that were off the beaten path.
I attended and graduated from Fresno State University with a degree in Fine Art despite my brief stint in jail. I studied, primarily under the direction of Terry Allen. During this period, I was entering art shows. The first show I was accepted and entered that portrayed marijuana art, was in 1975, in a Stockton, California show. The piece was entitled ‘blues13.’ The next show I entered was in 1981, in Lodi, California. The piece entered was, ‘I’m worth a million in prizes.’ I was accepted and entered into the Crocker-Kingsley show for three years in a row. At that time, it was the largest northern California regional show in Sacramento, California. I was accepted and entered, ‘I’m worth a million in prizes’. In 1981, I was accepted and entered the piece, ‘do you believe the National Guard ripped me off?’ Finally, in 1982, I was accepted and entered a piece entitled ‘I had to run so far to get a clear spot, to get a way from Frank, (female), and me. . .’
So where have I been all this time. Here is a story which must serve as the answer:
In the early 1980's, I started working with a woman from Austria, named Irmgard. We worked together at a custom framing shop. As a result thereof, I became a custom framer myself. She was an artist as well. Her preference of expression was through ceramic pieces. She wanted to start a gallery and art school in Sacramento, California. I would also being doing the custom matting and framing. She had seen my work previously, and admired it for its technique, symmetry, balance, light, and use of color. Observations any serious collector would use to critique a painting. She wanted me to join her venture. One morning, early for me, after previously meeting with other partner, I received a phone call from her. She told me that she had just learned of the nature of my work, and that she would be unable to use it in her gallery. Being the early '80's the drug war had become much more complicated.
In conclusion, I went underground. I sold marijuana, grew it, sold that, and painted about marijuana art. And I hoped times would change. And I believe that times have changed. I think that now people will be open to the subject matter, and can appreciate my work for its technique, as well. I imagine I would describe myself as... a reemerging artist, trying to get reestablished and share my art with anyone who cares to look.