Keith Vaughn - Perfect Crime, 2012, acrylic on paper

Keith Vaughn – Perfect Crime, 2012, acrylic on paper

“Where is that protection that I needed?”
-Talking Heads, “Air”

“Do you respect wood?”
-Larry David

So many questions today. I respect wood. I respect paper even more. I respect dogs more than paper, and people less than mosquitos.

However, last week I got a nice email from a lady in Frankfurt who wanted to buy a print of one of my paintings. Unfortunately for us both, no such thing exists. I offered up two works on paper from 2012 because I thought they were the closest things I had to offer and I wanted to be accommodating. I haven’t heard back from her and I don’t really expect to. It was nice that she reached out and I wish her well just the same.

I may yet be surprised, but whether or not I successfully up-sell this woman in Frankfurt is immaterial. When I was writing the email to her, I was listening to the Talking Heads’ album Fear of Music and the song “Paper” came on just as I was making my pitch. As synchroncities usually do, it felt like a good omen. A good sign is a good sign– if not for this, then for that.


Respect for paper is a thing David Byrne and I have in common. I just bought a second copy of Hunters S. Thompson’s The Great Shark Hunt because I liked the cover and the format. The copy I already had is a trade paperback and it just doesn’t have a lot of personality as an object. Being an artist and a man of letters, that kind of thing is important to me.

Until seven months ago, there was a small, cramped used bookstore in my neighborhood. It’s where I got my copies of Slouching Towards Bethlehem and Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion, The Pat Hobby Stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald, A Cool Million by Nathaniel West, and The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler. These are all great books, and altogether they cost me about $4.30.


The windows of the used bookstore have since been hung with butcher paper and a CLOSED sign fades in the eastern exposure. No forwarding address. There are fives holes in the windows and glass door that look like they were made with a pellet gun. Correlation doesn’t necessarily indicate cause-and-effect, but I imagined a Fahrenheit 451-type scenario being played out by bored, sadistic kids on dirt bikes. That’s far-fetched of course, but no matter the reason, I’m sorry the place is gone.

Another way that David Byrne and I are alike is that in 2004, we both left Catherine Opie’s Surfers exhibition at Gorney, Bravin & Lee in New York with weird looks on our faces. Maybe for different reasons. I can only speak for myself.

Catherine Opie - Untitled #4 (Surfers), 2003, C-print

Catherine Opie – Untitled #4 (Surfers), 2003, C-print

As he was coming out and I was going in, one of the gallery underlings shattered a bottle Perrier by knocking it off the desk. Details have been lost to time, but I do remember green shards of glass, fizz, and a mad scramble by the terrified staff. A skeleton with a manicure and Louboutin stilettos was shrieking like a banshee for blood and towels. “David, please! Wait!” she screamed, but he was already gone. Who could blame him? I went in anyway because I don’t mind the occasional random jolt of danger. It sharpens my senses in just the right way for looking at art, and I was ready for anything.

The exhibition consisted of photos of surfers waiting to catch waves, drifting in the fog and sea. There were also portraits that are sort of neoclassical but contemporary too because of the subject matter and hairstyles and stuff. The surfers are young and unspectacular looking– just surfers, as advertised.

Catherine Opie - Nick, 2003, C-print

Catherine Opie – Nick, 2003, C-print

It makes sense that the guy who wrote the songs “Paper,” “Drugs,” and “Cities” would be curious about a show called Surfers. Opie’s work is about as deadpan as it can be while Byrne’s compositions are usually a dense tangle of ideas and rhythms. So, maybe, like me, he appreciated Opie’s skill but didn’t think there was much meat on the bone. Or maybe it was his Perrier that got smashed.

This morning, I sent a text to a good friend of mine asking if he prefers Fear of Music or Remain in Light. He responded pretty quickly and I knew his answer was shaped by close familiarity with the albums in question. His feelings are the same as mine and boil down to this: Fear of Music never gets old.


Easy answers don’t satisfy. Blunt force trauma as a philosophical framework is the domain of cowards and hysterics. The rest of us that respect wood and paper and people, to the extent that we do, can’t be bothered with such archaic nonsense. Getting it down on the paper is serious work, and as the good doctor reminds, “we are professionals.”