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Note:  This diary is adapted from the introduction to a new book in progress.


I've been around the art world some, kicked its tires, looked under the hood, spent a fair amount of time in art classes, came fairly close to a BFA twice (painting/computer animation), but an expert or academic artist I am not.  Just a guy obsessed with art who slings a bit of digital paint and a writer who occasionally cranks out a poem.  And my poems may not conform to anyone else's notion of what a poem should be either.  They're odd little things I suppose.  Who knows where they come from.  They just kind of bubble to the surface from time to time.  They seem like poems to me and that's about as much as I can say for them.

My art these days is mostly digital though I have a painting background in both oils and acrylics.  I developed a taste for digital art when it was still largely a theory.  I remember reading as early as 1978 of the art that would one day be created by artists harnessing the magical powers of computer technology, conjuring electrons from the aether and with a mystical infinity of zeros and ones produce works of great artistic wonder.  I felt what I then thought of as electronic art to be the future of painting (one of them anyway) and painting is the art form nearest my heart.

In the following image, the individual works of art are not mine, but the collage itself is:


Sometimes I cut up paintings and recombine them.


But more often I begin with a photo from the public domain and use that to make a new image.  This is termed appropriation art and is akin to sampling in the audio world.  Digital appropriation artists are creatures of the Internet and a logical outgrowth of cyberculture – or so I believe.  

In the visual arts, to appropriate means to adopt, borrow, recycle or sample aspects (or the entire form) of man-made visual culture.

People sometimes ask me if I can draw since I so often start with photos.  The answer is yes I can, but my drawing would not thrill you.  I cannot draw better than Rembrandt, or nearly as well and the pursuit of it simply does not hold the fascination for me that it once did...though I will always love it and am glad I learned to do it.  Drawing is fundamental.  Not all artists do it though.  


What I have that Rembrandt did not is the Internet and easy access to millions of photographs and images – everything from historical photographs to Hubble Space Telescope images.  The phenomenal reach of the Internet combined with the awesome power of Photoshop to combine, manipulate and enhance has given me a whole new appreciation for what is possible in art.  And exploring those possibilities is what my personal artistic journey is all least for now.


There are those who say this way of making art is not legitimate, and it is controversial to be sure.  But then art and controversy have been constant companions ever since the first cave man said, "That's not what a wooly mammoth looks like."

I do expect to go back to painting with paints and canvas some day, and possibly some day soon.  Staring into computer screens is beginning to be hard on my eyes after nearly 30 years.  That doesn't bode well for my painting I guess, but then some painters' work improves with diminished vision.  I try to remain optimistic.  I always think the best is yet to come.


I remember talking to my art school professors and fellow students back in the early 80s about the coming computer revolution and its implications for art.  Few shared my enthusiasm.  Most saw computers and technology as being to some degree antithetical to art.  But the truth is artists have always used the tools and technology available to them.  Leonardo da Vinci used the camera obscura, and artists of all stripes use photography and have since its invention.  And then there are things like the pantograph, a mechanical device for producing accurate enlargements of drawings and photographs.


Artists have always used the best tools they could find.  Computers are just another tool.  'Computer generated art' is a misnomer, except in the rarest of cases.  The art is still generated by the artist, but an artist with a very exciting and very powerful new set of tools that do what tools do, empower the user.  

That computers have a legitimate place in art is commonly recognized now.  Art schools everywhere are brimming with computers these days.  No one can imagine it otherwise.  Still there are those artists who won't ever embrace technology, and that's as it should be.  The art world is bigger than any one of its veins.

indian-blackfoot-travois-72dpi 650px

Realism was king until the invention of the camera.  It is now the domain of photography, at least in my view.  Others would argue and I concede that nice painting work is still being done in the realm of realism, ultra realism, hyper realism, etc.  But the challenge for me personally is to produce a vision beyond what a camera is likely to capture...or in some cases just to tweak the camera's output, lending an air of surrealism or wonder.  I do not at all mean to diminish or diss photography, which I love, respect and constantly use.  I just seek to imbue it with something purely my own...if only a slight psychedelic tweak to illuminate the world based on my personal vision, to give it some added emotional impact or spiritual resonance, to allow my psyche to leak out into it, to make of the original image a dreamtime vision of my own.


I often work with Native American themes.  I'm sometimes accused of romanticizing the subject and maybe I am guilty of that to some extent, but then I'm not trying to achieve a realistic depiction or anthropological clarity.  I'm trying to evoke mystery and magic.  I'm trying to celebrate the spirit and the mythology.  I am seeking to crossover between the real world and the world of dreams and visions.  I'm trying to get at all those things about Native America that one would not find through vivisection.  I'm after the zen, the zeitgeist, the soul and spirit of the American Indian.  I want to honor everything I see as special about them...and there is much to that.

Geronimo-II 650px

For me, Native Americans are symbolically very powerful.  They symbolize natural man, humanity living in ecological balance, the original Americans, the last truly free people in America, and by historical and contemporary implication, man's inhumanity to man.


I greatly admire the photographic work of Edward S. Curtis and often base digital paintings on his images, which are in the public domain.  I'm not trying to pass his work off as my own, I am celebrating it, honoring it, holding it up to you and echoing back to him in spirit as if to say, 'Hey Edward.  Love Bow River Blackfoot.  Check him out as a rainbow.'


Or how about Red Hawk in psychedelic-technicolor?


Of course Indians aren't my only subject.






So here's the poem from whence comes my title:

It’s Hard at the Bottom

There is too much that we ignore.
Important things,
Like children,
And the young,
And the old,
And the sick,
And the poor,
And our prisoners,
And each other.

We don’t do enough to protect our children.
We don’t do enough to help each other.
We don’t do enough to save our planet.
We don’t do enough to save ourselves.

We care way too much about all the wrong things.
We despise the peasants, and worship the kings.
We spit on the angels, and lionize demons,
As the righteous among us are dragged away screamin’.

It’s all upside down,
But smoke ‘em if you’ve got ‘em,
‘cause Lord have mercy!
It’s hard at the bottom.

Randy Shields

Okay.  Enough about art, let's get serious.


Thanks to everyone who has supported me or any others in getting to DC for the Big March on 10.2.10.  Your generosity is greatly appreciated.  Special thanks to everyone who has written about or supported this event.  It is my hope that this is but the beginning of a mighty new peoples movement to rival any in history.  Because this is what we need, this is what we require - and nothing less will do.

The people united will not be defeated.

Donations to sponsor marchers can be made HERE.  



Please support the OPOL Foundation for Starving Artists and Lefty Bloggers (not a real charity) by purchasing some snappy artwork at affordable prices (the artwork is real) from my Zazzle page.

Originally posted to One Pissed Off Liberal on Sun Sep 26, 2010 at 05:01 PM PDT.

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