There is a ghetto blaster in Doze Green’s House, circa 1982. It still works. It sits, like a robotic shrine amid a wall of records, tapes and DVDs. His vinyl collection is a lexicon of psychedelic, hip-hop, hardcore, reggae, jazz, and on and on.
Doze’s house is a low-slung affair in west Nevada County, a remnant of the 80’s that is steadily transforming into a self sufficient, off-the-grid paradise. He and his partner Nicole Strand moved here from San Francisco a few years ago. Like many of us arriving in Nevada County, they wanted to try and repair their severed ties to Mother Earth. He and Nicole started, Ouroboros, an heirloom seed company with a fellow permaculturist in Sebastapol.
Doze is a monolith of pop culture. He can reference any pop personality, place or happening in the last 50 years. He is of that New York ilk that is faster, street-smarter and wittier by osmosis. When he talks, he cracks himself up, bursting into sudden cartoonish motion.
I met Doze by house sitting for him last September while he was in Chicago painting a mural for three weeks. I met his partner, Nicole, his dogs, his chickens, and his tomato plants and paintings months before I met him. It was intense waking up to his art everyday. I don’t think I got it at first. I could see clearly that he had chops, but the intent wasn’t so clear to me. Some of his paintings appear to be epic narrative glyphs, compressed and layered. Multiple stories told simultaneously. Some of them are so infused with sadness and rage that I avoided them first thing in the morning. And some of them seem empty of emotion altogether. I would stay up late at night with a glass of wine, watching them for new developments. I became familiar with his cast of characters. It took weeks for Doze’s work to unravel enough, for my eyes to slowly penetrate the layers, so that I felt like I was getting the story. Or stories.
(still life with Siddhartha)
Doze is a graffiti veteran of the 70’s and 80’s. He and his compatriots went from being the most hated faction of New York life to the most revered. “I’m no art critic but I can tell ya that ain’t art!” said a cop gesturing at a throw-up on a subway car in the 1983 documentary Style Wars. It meant having a secret identity that was emblazoned on every imaginable surface. As the form became more elaborate and more illegal, the accompanying hip-hop soundtrack was eeking it’s way from little local radio stations into big record labels. Slowly but with increasing speed, outsider artists were beckoned into the money institutions: getting signed, getting larger venues, and getting acknowledged as culture makers. To the rest of the country, hip-hop must have seemed to come out of nowhere. But for the youth at the center of the counter culture, it was just the natural whipping together of hundreds of influences.
Simultaneously, punk and hardcore were lacerating crowds of teens at CBGB’s with the barely human sound of outrage. Doze frequently found himself enthralled in the chaos of the Ramones or the Misfits.
As part of the Rock Steady Crew, he traveled all over the world, “every continent but Africa and Antarctica,” he laughed. He worked for design companies like Jive and Bad Boy and painted murals in famous nightclubs like the Devil’s Nest. He came out to California in the late 80’s and lived in Hollywood with Special K, Grandmaster Caz, Prince Whipperwhip and IceT. In ‘91 he had the strange LA experience of living on Skid Row and in Beverly Hills in the same year. The empty-eyed faces in many of his paintings are echos of the homelessness he witnessed. The Beverly Hills mansion used to belong to Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz’s House and was populated by ghosts and Scientologists. “They tried to convert me. It didn’t work.”
The first painting I bonded with was a single figure that hung in the living room: a golden alien robot floating on a white background. I imagined if humans evolved for a few thousand more years we might look like that guy. He was a protector of sorts, there was something soft about him despite his armor. When I moved out, I missed him. (Arawak 2011)
This was a really brutal time in my life. I took the gig house sitting for Doze and Nicole because my marriage was falling apart and I needed a neutral space to figure out a plan. Everyday Blossom and I would get up and feed the spastic black labs and then we’d go out to the chicken hutch to collect eggs. Blossom would hunker down with an egg in her hands like it was a precious jewel. “Thank you, Ladies,” she would coo to each of them. Then we’d go back up to the kitchen and make breakfast. We could pick tomatoes and grapes, swing in the hammock or watch cartoons on their old, tiny TV. It was a relief to be away from my crumbling home and in a place where people were doing everything we dreamed about doing: growing food, making art. Blossom would occasionally comment on a painting: “I like the blue bird,” or “that one is scary.” Doze and Blossom have since exchanged art; one of her original pieces (finger paints on card stock) hangs in his studio.
There is an interview with Doze back in his graffiti days where he is explaining the connection between dance and the trippy characters that make up a piece. He has been building his own language for decades so of course it is esoteric. But he is also so deeply connected to some kind of instinctive cuneiform; his imagination parts so sharply from reality at times that it must be a struggle to come back to this monotone world.
A few weeks ago, we were standing in his studio and looking at Doze’s new works in progress. He keeps about 6 or 8 going at a time, which attests to his restless energy. This particular painting was a body, a humanoid body, in a sickened landscape of darkness. Within her body there are faces with different expressions. She is plowing forward in a gesture of elephantine determination with one hand behind, a black veil trailing her and a red orb floating inside it.
“It’s Gaia,” he said, “in the apocalypse, pulling the seed of life from the void.”
There is a phenomenon called the Stendhal Syndrome whereby a person is so moved by what they are seeing that they are transformed physically, often getting ill with the shakes or dizziness. Apparently it happens a lot in Italy when people are seeing the great masters for the first time. It happened to me when I saw the Venus de Milo and it happened when I saw Doze’s Gaia. I had to catch my breath and he patted me on the back reassuringly. I had trouble sleeping, which is nothing new, but the image stuck on the inside of my eyelids. Great art resonates with our experience, like a tuning fork. It should reach in there and pluck that chord that feels unique to our body, our memory. It should require no explanation.
I just spent the last year dialing back all my plans and dreams because it took all my energy just to get out of bed in the morning. Add in the chronic terror of living in a collapsing system, an eroding ecology and all the helplessness and the denial it takes to keep going within that system. In the grips of single motherhood I looked at Gaia and I saw…myself. Gathering up the babies, walking through chaos, dragging the void and the seed of life behind me.
Doze seems to permeate that thin membrane between the dead and the living. People come to Nevada County to call out the last shred of the sacred. There are other artists here, cloistered away in the hills, exhibiting internationally, bartering their paintings for chicken feed. This is another reason I don’t want to leave. It changes me, to see and to be around people who are making their imagination actual. It gives me hope and the sense that the pendulum is swinging back in the other direction, despite the smart phone pseudo-revolution. Or maybe this is just a gold country phenomenon: that people like Doze and Nicole along with many other travelers on the path, arrive here.
Knowing them has made me all that much more resistant to moving, to getting a “straight job”. I want to do in my fiction what Doze does on that canvas. It maybe partly fear of failure. A friend posted a quote for Beth Moore recently, “Writing is like throwing up: I know I’m going to do it, I just need to find a place.”
When I told Doze that I gave up trying to make music for a living because it sucked the joy out of the process, he said something that has stuck in my gut since: “Meer, you have to be willing to hate it, about half the time.” When I sit down to write now, i think about that, I try to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. I can see what it must feel like to have reached a point in your art making where you no longer wonder or care if it is good. Doze may be a little eccentric, but he’s also free. And that freedom produces magnificent results.
He is about to go to Las Vegas to paint a five-story mural.
“I’ll be in a cherry-picker the whole time.”
“Are you scared of heights?” I asked him.
“I didn’t used to be,” he said. “I used to run on top of the subway cars.”
“Ahh, It’ll be fun,” he said with a grin and a bombastic gesture of excitement.
watch a video about the Las Vegas project: