Associating With Creatives To Expand Your Creative Process

Photo by Michael Competielle

Learning is the beginning of wealth.

Learning is the beginning of health.

Learning is the beginning of spirtuality.

Searching and learning is where the miracle process all begins.

Jim Rohn

You are what you eat and you are who you associate with.

In our lives, we have all forged many relationships based on the circumstances in which we are currently involved. Often these relationships carry on into other aspects of our lives, however, often once the connection is lost, so is the relationship.

I’ve moved on from many a relationship as the connections have diminished. Conversations will be mindless talks about the weather or the past. I can count on one hand the friendships that I still have from high school. Most of those connections weren’t really real and I’ve moved on.

With each new phase of my life and as I explore and expand, the importance of material possessions or accomplishments matter less and less. Emotions and self-expression are more important to me than ever.

Historians bore me if they are living in the past and can’t correlate to the present day. Statisticians are equally humdrum if the stats are the regurgitation of other people’s lives. These aren’t risk-takers, they are averse to taking a risk and therefore boring.

Art Is Life

Most of my greatest friends are creatives. They have painted paintings, written books, molded iron and performed on stage. They have ducked out of social events and forgotten to eat. Lost in their creative conscious creating their art and sharing it with the world.

For us to be creative we need to be inspired as well as in touch with our own thoughts. We work to express ourselves by stepping out into the unknown and taking a chance. Creatives are not judged by their peers, they are judged by those that lack creativity.

“Definition of rock journalism: People who can’t write, doing interviews with people who can’t think, in order to prepare articles for people who can’t read.”

― Frank Zappa, The Real Frank Zappa Book

Years ago I remember meeting a fellow musician on a horse farm who would become my boss, neighbor, and mentor. I started working on the farm and within a few weeks, I moved into my first apartment below the barn manager. He saw me lugging in used furniture, clothing and tons of musical equipment and ran over to help.

“I didn’t realize you were a musician,” he said. “I’m not really, more of a knob turner. Sort of an engineer type.” He replied, “Just like Zappa.”

“Huh, isn’t Zappa a musician?”, I replied. “Yes and so much more,” he said in response.

And down that slippery slope I slide into this new world of engineering, sound design, and creativity.

Every evening after work we would listen to each other’s favorite music and make connections. My beloved Steve Vai had first worked with Zappa having transcribed a ridiculously difficult piece called The Black Page.

He would teach me guitar licks and I would record his. As I learned more about studio trickery I would introduce new and enlightening techniques to the recordings.

Seeing it all come to life

We would head to The Stony Pony to catch Frank Marino and the Mahogany Rush or The Ritz for some Dweezil Zappa.

St. Mark’s Place was a favorite as we would dig through old vinyl hoping to expand our collections and experience new finds. Every modern contemporary my mentor would show me had been inspired by previous works. It was those older works he would encourage me to buy.

You can’t understand Punk if you don’t understand Rock. Rock won’t matter until you learn the Blues. Jazz….you need to understand it all. Mingus, Coltrane, Zappa. They all did Jazz.

Own Your Own Studio

Zappa, Prince, Reznor, and Vai. They all had their own studios. Eno studio is inside his home. A lair for mad scientists as they cross-pollinate new ideas with stolen ones. Stepping further out away from the securities of the status quo. This is where true creativity happens.

My personal studio space is exactly that. Mine and personal. It consists of a culmination of equipment and motivation that allows me to work on my art.

As of late, that has been writing. I really would call it creative writing since I’m not a writer yet I have used it as a creative way to outlet self-expression. With the large volume of articles, I’ve produced the reality hits me on the head frequently (or others remind me) that in fact, I am a writer.

Sources of Inspiration

I’m inspired everywhere I look. Nature inspires me, books inspire me, art inspires me but most of all creative people inspire me. I have hundreds of creative friends that are constantly pushing the envelope expressing themselves. Placing themselves out there, often vulnerable and afraid. It’s with the understanding of how they are feeling that we can respond and provide the security and acceptance of their fears. The fear of being misunderstood.

Artists understand artists and creatives are artists. Shaping the words we read and the images that we see as we embrace the art we love we are embracing the artist for exposing themselves to us so we can attempt to understand.

When I experience new works of art it sparks my creative juices as I become inspired to create. Be it through sound compositions, written text, photographer or just conversation, I love to experience new works and learn from the creators.

Learning About Process

When speaking to creatives I’ll always migrate the conversation towards the process. I’m not actually talking specifically about technique but the creative process. How does an actor fill a roll or how is a sculpture metastasize into a three-dimensional art form? The mind of a creative is the birthplace of all creations. Before pen hits paper or fingers hit keys, the creative mind needs to get into the moment.

Some artists read poetry or listen to music while creating. Others need to experience death or drudgery before they can express dark emotions. So when you place yourself into this sphere of creativity and self-expression, the concepts and knowledge will become a lifeform that will allow you to expand your own craft.

Listening to music I hear ballet, war or disparity. Paintings expose nakedness, sadness, and conjecture. Books expose insecurities and honesty. Photography freezes reality into dreamlike states.

When I’m with creatives I’m on fire, as my speech speeds up and my heart will race. Art is the purest form of self-expression and development. Find your art and find the creatives and your life will take on a new form.

Finding Creativity By Associating With Creatives In Creative Places

Photo by Michael Competielle

Chelsea is a neighborhood in New York City which is home to a vibrant community of creatives. With a huge stock of art galleries, brownstones, and old industrial buildings Chelsea has been a destination for artists, writers, and musicians for over 100 years.

One of the most prominent buildings in Chelsea’s creative enclave is the Chelsea Hotel. Built-in 1885 on New York’s 23rd Street is the red brick 250 unit hotel building which stands 12 stories tall and was one of the first buildings constructed to become private Co-op apartments in New York City. A utopia for creatives and work class alike the co-op would share in utilities and amenities to conserve costs.

Photo by Michael Competielle

In 1905 the co-op went bankrupt and the building was converted into a luxury hotel that attracted many famous guests. In the post-war ’40s into the ’50s the hotel was showing its age and room rates dropped. The hotel continued to attract the likes of Jackson Pollack and Dylan Thomas who spent his final days living in room #205 of the Chelsea while sickly and on a drinking binge. He died while in a coma in the local St. Vincent’s hospital.

The Chelsea Hotel describes itself as “a rest stop for rare individuals,” a euphemism that still manages to pass the truth-in-advertising test if you take “rare individuals” to mean artists and addicts, and rest stop to mean possible death. Legends of The Chelsea Hotel

Photo by Michael Competielle

Apartments Available

Pulitzer Prize-winning Arthur Miller moved into apartment #614 after his divorce with Marilyn Monroe.

Leonard Cohen wrote “Chelsea Hotel #2” after his romantic encounters with Janis Joplin in room #415. He lived in room #424.

Bob Dylan stayed in room #211 while he wrote the song “Sara” for his first wife.

Sex Pistols Sid Vicious stabbed his girlfriend Nancy Spungen in room #100.

Club Kid Christina lived and died in room #323. Her body was discovered 5 days after her death.

Andy Warhol film The Chelsea Girls in room #442

Photo by Michael Competielle
Andy Warhol’s Auricon 16mm sound-on-film camera with 1200′ film magazine

Jon Bon Jovi wrote the song and filmed the music video for “Midnight at the Chelsea” in room #515

Madonna took the photographs for her book “Sex” in room #822

Writer Thomas Wolfe spent the last few years of his life in room #829

Patti Smith lived in room #1017 with Photographer Robert Mapplethorpe

Brilliant Works

Arthur C. Clarke wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey

William Burroughs wrote The Third Mind and Naked Lunch

Arthur Miller wrote After the Fall 

Dylan Thomas wrote Under Milk Wood 

Yves Klein wrote his Chelsea Hotel Manifesto

Joseph O’Neill wrote Netherland

Thomas Wolfe wrote You Can’t Go Home Again

If Walls Could Talk

The walls of the Chelsea Hotel were adorned with original photographs and paintings by many famous artists. In the later years, the hotel functioned as an artist flophouse as the rent was often paid with artworks. Stanley Bard was the hotel’s manager known to be lax on rents allowed artists to live and create often for years.

Drunk or high Chelsea’s occupants would stumble through her hallways, hiding from their own realities. The walls having witnessed brilliant talents and agonizing pain.

Photo by Michael Competielle

A Renewed Life

The Chelsea Hotel was purchased in 2011 for $80 million by the real-estate developer  Joseph Chetrit and stopped taking room reservations on August 1, 2011. Long term residents were allowed to stay during the renovations as many were protected by rent control laws, however, the construction made the building a health hazard and many residents were forced to move out.

Photo by Michael Competielle

While protected by Landmarks of New York one would hope the fabric and spirit of the Chelsea will remain. Sadly the juxtaposition of the arts and environment has sadly died with the closure of the building and the redevelopment is certain to keep out the artists and writers that made her famous.

A Filmmakers Tale Of Documenting The Death Of A Friend

Photo by Michael Competielle

The diagnosis of a debilitating disease changes one’s life. Time will freeze as you struggle to remain present while you reminisce on the past and pray for the future. Our internal clocks tick until time runs out and our story ends.

Driving home one evening I saw police cars at my friend Tom’s house. I feared the worst yet hoped for the best as I walked up to an officer at the open garage door. The prognosis was Tom was still alive yet barely. His plans to fade off into the afterlife was almost complete.

Calm and complacent I was satisfied with our time together as Tom was preparing for the afterlife. Actually he was already well prepared and had everything in perfect order.

One afternoon I was scouring Craigslist for film gigs when I came across an ad for a documentarian needed in my town. As I already had what I believed to be the essential qualifications and equipment for the job, I responded to the ad.

I received a response from Andy, a close and personal friend of a local artist named Tom. Tom had been plagued by years of health issues and as of late he felt he was deteriorating.

Because of Tom’s ailments, he imprisoned himself to his home. 

So the project seemed relatively straight forward, bring film gear for an hour once a month and film Tom in a basic documentary style. Tom’s friend Andy would be the interviewer and attempt to keep Tom on task as we worked through the interview.

Tom’s home was your typical split level suburban tract home. Once inside we made formal introductions and headed upstairs. 

Tom was a medium-sized aging gentleman in a thin fit shape. Over the past few years, he had been struggling with Parkinson’s disease and so, therefore, his movements were calculated yet lacked full control. It was immediately apparent the disease had affected his motor skills. 

Tom offered us tea and pizza he had purchased specifically for us. While he was in the kitchen prepping I set up the film equipment in the dining room. It was hard to miss that the walls were filled with the most stunning artwork I had ever witnessed. Finely detailed oil paintings, some still life, and others were a bit more abstract and magical. 

Tom sat down and began the interview explaining what he called his first incarnation as an oil painter. He explained his attention to details from having been a scientist for many years prior to developing a rare unrecognized Brain Allergy. 

His environment was slowly killing him as his body recognized chemicals as neurotoxins and they would attack his central nervous system. Most doctors don’t believe the disease exists and feel it’s a psychological disorder and therefore Tom had to prove the disease was real and debilitating. 

With the only actual research done on the disorder back in the 1960s, he had to find his own path. Tom found a specialist that was able to obtain him medical disability from having to go to work however it began Tom’s new life of a recluse. Imprisoned in his home away from the poisons he couldn’t be around.

Molds, perfumes, chemicals all exacerbated his condition. Tom had to remove all of these items from his home. The off-gassing of plastics we call the “new car smell” forced Tom to have to ride a bicycle around town. His trips would be purposeful as he had to stay away from environmental toxins. 

The hardest part of his disease was his reaction to the paints and thinners he had grown to love. He could no longer paint and therefore fell into a void of depression. 

He pushed on and found alternative means to express his creative side. He restored old baseball cards to offset his disability income and a few years later found his second incarnation working in water-soluble inks. 

Tom surrounded himself amongst his art, each piece framed and carefully hung. As he was aging he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s that hit him with a new grouping of medical issues. 

Not to be beaten Tom religiously exercised and even during one recording session did 100 push-ups for Andy and me to prove his abilities. 

As we interviewed Tom religiously once a month over the course of a few years we learned of his loves and loses. He struggles to overcome his ailments and attempt to have a normal life. Every day was a struggle yet he remained sharp and in control. 

His knowledge of politics, science, futurism, and art was second to none. His compassion and empathy for the world was often the motivation behind his works. 

Tom was confident that his artworks were very good despite having been seen by few. The fact that he was an outsider artist he felt that he needed to help along with the narrative of his works by documenting his process and how he had gotten there.

One evening Tom explained he had an end game. He recognized that his diseases once he could no longer maintain control would kill him. A hospital or nursing facility that firmly didn’t recognize his Brain Allergy would send his body into an autoimmune rage. 

That’s when we were introduced to Compassion and Choices and Tom’s plan to facilitate his own demise once the time came. Andy and I discussed the information we had just been entrusted with. We followed up with his family and were ensured though they weren’t pleased with his plans, they respected his position. 

Hours were spent discussing love, life, the environment and how Tom tried to prove his theories within his paintings. He never felt as though he succeeded yet I am certain the answers an artist seeks never are.

At Tom’s memorial service, I wrote a segment of his eulogy. To this day I struggle with how to tell his story that highlights his brilliance. The day will come where the story will unfold inside my mind and I’ll complete my promise to my dear friend, that his legacy and art shall be loved and he will forever live on. 

RIP my dear friend Tom

And I’m also an Artist. The gig economy is nothing new.

Photo by Michael Competielle

Years ago I was working as a Project Manager for a high end interior design firm in New York’s prestigious Upper East Side. My work had me traveling the east coast primarily Park Ave. penthouses, Greenwich Connecticut’s sprawling mansions and out to Hamptons summertime beach retreats. Our firm was commissioned to design and build interiors and landscapes for A-list celebrities and industry tycoons.

We designed and built spaces with wood and stones of Provenance often removed from European castles and chateaus. Artisans would craft picturesque environments that often landed on the front cover of prestigious publications such as Architectural Digest and Better Homes and Gardens.

Money was never an object nor deemed quite as important as the design aesthetics and execution of the grandest vision. The team of designers, decorators and architects tirelessly sketching, procuring and ultimately having installed the finest materials you could buy. The experience of creativity mixed with extreme wealth permanently changed my perspective on design and execution as we were always pushing the envelope of practicality.

However within the wealthiest of decadent environments I had a secret. I had my own business I was running in the evenings. Setup in a rundown tenement in the then less than prestigious Lower East Side of Manhattan my business partner and I lived and ran an Art Gallery/ custom wood shop in a storefront on Broome Street. Our space on a block of sweatshops, knockoff handbags and fish mongers. Our building full of inhabitants of questionable citizenship mixed with artists and creatives. A perfect enclave of bohemians and people that would never call the cops on us.

Our gallery and shop space was adjacent to the 5 story tenements common corridor where all of the buildings inhabitants had to pass. The gallery originally an illegal squat became official when Billie my partner and friend signed the lease obligating him to pay a rent he could never afford. We became the buildings concierge service as we were generally the first stop the buildings artists would report the evenings festivities.

We would run around New York’s streets hittings gallery openings, poetry readings and live music venues. Sculpture artists friends would invite us to iron pours in back alleyways melting reclaimed cast iron in centries old designed furnaces into original and unique works of art. Street trash became art as we would drop off cab doors and lockers to a local painter know to repurpose them into works of art. Once illegal squats had been converted into artist collectives in which you could view Tesla Coils firing bolts of electrical charge while listening to noise performances.

It was commonplace when having conversations with waiters, bouncers and cab drivers to find out they were actually writers, actors, musicians and photographers. most everyone we came into contact with had another gig moonlighting or daylights a false facade hoping to achieve greatness.

Mornings I’d dress in Versace and English bench-made shoes as I stepped over putrid fish guts and vomit of the gritty LES streets heading to my “sucker-job” as my partner Billie called it. My mind was contstantly racing as I absorbed visual and creative stimulations from the glitz and glamour of Madison or 5th Ave. planning my evenings projects.

Our shop in the less than perfect cellar space made material handling and finishing next to impossible as we would spray lacquers in the common air shaft often dodging spit and cigarette butts careless falling from above. We would build furniture, picture frames and cabinetry for soon to be gentrified LES that rapidly was being redeveloped into Wine Bars, Cupcake Shops and High End residential. Buildings once collaborative art spaces overtaken often in hostile takeovers.

I’ve built exhibits for musuems and trade shows, ran live sound humping W bins and Crown Powerbase amps up and down slippery stairs of spilt beer. Recorded musicians in studios, written my first book, tended to horses, bailed hay, built custom furniture and cabinetry, painted on canvas, built racecars and monster trucks, written films…. and the list goes on.

Currently I’m a daytime Director of Construction working in adaptive reuse of old industrialized buildings. My night gig is sound recording and post production sound for film, experiental design for kiosks and interactive display and product design and branding for a startup.

You may think of me as a woodworker or sound engineer but I just say I’m an artist. Working for almost 30 years in the gig economy as a creative, everyday I awaken with a charge as my mind and body race to the next quest of what to create and how.

Somewhere I have a resume that can be used to get a “sucker job” at a prestigious Interior Design firm, however my body of creative works is my actual resume which you shouldn’t write about but actually consume. Daily my phone rings and my email bings with requests from other creatives hoping to collaborate and create with me. And daily I take on new and enriching gigs to keep my creative spark alive.

As of late I’m asking myself why…. why the gigs and why create? Because I’m an artist and have always worked in the gig economy.