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Morocco Omari entered my world at the right time. I had been a little too caught up in big worries over small things, such as work and money and making my way in new pursuits. But talking with him, then listening back and transcribing the recording word for word, helped clear my mind of its concerns. It was like meeting with a counselor, hearing him describe his life and how he goes about living it. There’s a calmness to his voice. Not only the sound but the substance; the essence that is being conveyed. Absorb what he’s saying and it will affect you. Several emotions surfaced while putting this piece together: joy, sadness, humility, admiration, respect, gratitude. I laughed, I nearly cried at times, I was quiet — just listening…
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Other than the fact that it existed, neither of us knew a thing about the art scene in New York. But when my friend proposed that I write about the lives of the city’s artists, using Deviation as an analytical lens, it was time to get connected. He said that we should walk the streets of Manhattan, beginning downtown and working our way north, introducing ourselves at galleries, museums, boutiques, and any other arty and/or crafty establishment we came across. This march began in TriBeCa, extending east and north over the course of many days, steadily nearing Chelsea and what we would discover to be a mind-numbing onslaught. We had no clue about the magnitude of it all.
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The first time she traveled by airplane Shei Phan was 21. It was a one-way ticket from Oklahoma to New York — her ticket out. She had been working three jobs and studying for a degree in art education when her break finally broke. “It was a little scary because I didn’t know anybody [in New York]. No friends, no family, no nothing. I just thought, ‘Well, lets see what happens.’ It was my first city outside of Oklahoma and Texas.” She had also lived in Bakersfield briefly and Vegas for a month, but we’ll get to that.
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Devon Rodriguez is fresh from a studio visit when we sit for our talk. The twenty-year-old painter has been getting much attention these days. It’s been building, the way a snowball grows in mass and speed as it careens down a mountain. One thing led to this which led to that which triggered another thing over there, and on and on in a chain reaction of positive reinforcement for one overriding message: keep doing what you’re doing.
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The dynamic shifts when you place a smartphone on the table midway between yourself and another person, pressing the record button and proceeding to talk as though it's not there. No longer is it a casual affair, shared words irrupting and dissolving in real time with only faulty, lapsed memories keeping score. We are now creating history, capturing in abstract time even the subtlest intonations, documented word for word. Nothing is lost. And as any good conquerer knows, the power to write history is a spoil of conquest. But it doesn’t have to be that way. I sit before Melinda Hanley knowing only that my intentions are pure. She sits before me knowing that she has much to say, but that any word she speaks has the potential to be misused — intentionally or through carelessness.
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Speaking with actor Jason Lopez requires focus. Thoughts escape his mind in a ceaseless outpouring, leaping from one to another in an intricate web of interlocking tangents that don’t at first appear to interlock. But once the tangents are exhausted, he circles back and draws a conclusion that reveals a sketch of the tangled circuitry connecting beginning to end. A friend of mine calls it “soaring,” this stream of consciousness mode of communication. It is a term I appreciate, much the way I appreciate the act itself.
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Earlier this year brothers Sam and Jack Powers decided to spend their vacation time in the Democratic Republic of Congo — the city of Goma to be precise. Initially they thought northern Iraq but, you know, ISIS. They’ll be revisiting that thought next year. Things have quieted a bit, but Goma is no stranger to conflict either. ... Nearly all of the helpers in Goma work for top-heavy international organizations, such as the UN. They can be seen racing through town in expensive, kitted-out Land Cruisers, which can lead one to ponder just how far is the divide between helper and profiteer. Not so with Sam and Jack, who preferred to get around by motorcycle taxis and tried to stay in a hostel until they discovered that it was a brothel. They are fully on the helper side of that equation.
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Ten years ago Eric Helvie was a student in Indiana, soon to graduate from a culturally dissociated art program that was governed by conservative Midwestern values. He was twenty-two, married, and his wife was about to give birth to their first child. For a man on track to become a prominent painter in New York City, his are not customary credentials. But when you more deeply assess his trajectory, including a snapshot of this one moment in time — coming to grips with adult responsibilities at a young age while balancing his clear sense of inner purpose against his frustration with the school’s disconnect from the professional art world — Helvie’s impending success is no mystery.
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Ancient myths are littered with tales of descent. Be it a voyage to the underworld or a debilitating injury, heroic figures customarily fell from grace. But to be heroic, one must overcome. From descent there must be a succeeding ascent. Otherwise, it’s only a fall; a story of death and disease. It is the very process of overcoming that makes one heroic, simultaneously grounded and majestic. Heroes are defined by their struggles.