I Don’t See Any Cowboys Downtown
At the Trillion Space
I’m standing on the Marquette overpass Downtown one evening, drawing the skyline, when a dark rain cloud creeps up on me from behind.
“Can I fight with you?” he says with breath smelling of cheap beer.
“No,” I reply calmly, not bothering to look up from my sketch. “I don’t fight.”
“Come on. Just a little bit.”
“No, really. I’m not interested.”
“Can I spend the night with you then?”
This is an excerpt from a conversation I had while out working on my latest project in downtown Albuquerque. (The answer was still “no,” but we ended up having a genial conversation.) I’ve been living as a full-time artist down here for the past two months in my studio at the Trillion Space. The experience is a serious commitment to what I call “material minimalism.” No car. No TV. No furniture except for a futon for sleeping. I walk, ride my bike or use the bus. My “entertainment center” consists of two speakers inside a Smith’s grocery cart, a ’70s-era stereo on the bottom rack, and a laptop and records above. The kitchen is an old refrigerator and a single electric burner. During the day, I’m usually busy in the studio working on large paintings while listening to music. But when midnight rolls around, I get antsy.
And as the song goes, the freaks come out at night.
When John Muir wanted to go exploring, he would just “throw some tea and bread into an old sack and jump over the back fence.” This freak switched the tea and bread for pen and paper and just steps out the front door instead of jumping over it. You get the idea.
I know you’re asking, “Why go out so late at night? Isn’t it dangerous?” Probably as dangerous as anything else I do (like riding a bike in Albuquerque), but there are good reasons to do it. For one thing, it’s not “hot as balls” at 1 a.m. Also, traffic, pollution and noise are at a minimum. There is a peculiar loneliness that engulfs parts of Downtown that late at night, a real sense of a yet-to-be-explored desert wilderness. The wildlife is a mixture of bar-scene commuters, late-night workers and the homeless. I don’t see any cowboys Downtown.
I find a nondescript place and sit down for a while to draw. Sometimes I’ll go completely unnoticed. But usually the simple act of drawing is sufficient to attract friendly interaction with people from disparate backgrounds. I do my drawings on topo maps of obscure Eastern New Mexican desert with little or no vegetation, water, elevation or population. Land very similar to what is being bulldozed now for the ever-expanding suburbia of the Westside.