May 22, 2007

Why Us? How We Narrowly Escaped An Encounter With Joe Watson

Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not really out to get you.
--old hippie wisdom

by Jerome du Bois, with Catherine King

On January 26th of this year we received an email from Joe Watson. Yes, that is correct, Joseph William Watson III --there's a heritage to preserve-- former Phoenix New Times writer, gambling addict, accused "Salon Bandit," thug-hearted bully, and five-sided grifter, currently incarcerated in one of Sheriff Joe's venues.

He wanted to interview us, he wrote.

Now, we are so far outside the mainstream that we don't know anything about the local media writers. (Except what they tell us: see our piece on Phoenix New Times associate editor Amy Silverman.) Two of our dictums in these sad times: Never Trust Anyone, and You Can Never Be Too Careful. So we stay out of most people's way. (And in light of the havoc this man created, can you argue with our caution?) We had never met this guy Watson, and we only knew his name from criticizing his coverage of an ASU art show, "Democracy in America." We had no idea about his recent (un)employment history, his hitting people up for money, or who he was dating, or that he was a compulsive gambler. As far as we knew, he was a well-respected, established local writer who didn't mind research and long stories, both of which we respect.

First, I want readers to notice that we didn't surf the initial wave of publicity on this bozo's bounce, and we've been mulling it over since we heard about the arrest whether to write about this email exchange, and this thwarted interview. It's painful for us. After four years, all the art people in town know about us, and none of them want to have anything to do with us. They won't talk about us, unless it's an attack. There's some kind of informal agreement among them, a blackball wall. And then, who comes out after all that time but the same guy who interviewed --his claim to fame-- some local adult baby man. (We were less than flattered when we found that out later.)

I also want to make clear that Catherine and I agreed to the interview only because we wanted and still want to sell our artwork, and the publicity --especially if it was in Phoenix magazine, as he hinted and as we hoped-- would help. We weren't going to let him go on about our hassles with locals, or our politics, or even our outstanding personal fashion profiles. It was going to be about our art, both made and planned.

I've reproduced that email chain at the end of this posting. It covers January 26th to February 2nd. Exactly a month later Joe Watson staged his first recorded heist. In the email exchange, you get more glimpses of this guy's angles and moves. But this posting is about us. Why us? Why did this guy select Catherine and I as numbers to put some of his chips on?

Since we started our art career in this town, we've been jammed and ambushed, hornswoggled and boondoggled, so we're hypervigilant --friend or foe? friend or foe? is the signal we constantly monitor-- and we try to tap the looming shapes of approaching portents from all the modes which surround us. For example, we've read that gamblers are more superstitious than non-gamblers, and we couldn't help but notice that Joe The Grifter contacted us on the very day that we posted the banner with the mahongany table which Catherine customized into a Ouija board (which we never use, of course). The tagline under that banner read, ASK.

Maybe he did, that day, because he had already been primed to, because somebody had already suggested it. Since this grifter's principal mode seems to be flattery, we can't believe him when he writes in his emails that we would be "revered" if not for our politics, and that he's been reading our blog since day one. Again the question: Why us?

Maybe somebody pointed him at us. Somebody who knew he was a human wrecking ball, a tar baby, a monkey wrench, and maybe worse. In other words, he could have robbed us "on the prowl." (As we said above, this posting is about us.) He or she said to Joe Watson the freelancer, during their fifteenth phone call of the week, as he was desperately casting about for story ideas, "Why don't you try to interview King & du Bois?"

Well, it cost nothing to email. No investment, no downside, even if we refused, which he expected --and so did I. But the prospect of getting some income from publicity through Phoenix magazine tilted us in favor of accepting his proposal.

Well, we dodged that bully. One more note about him, and then to hell with him. It may be a tell --is this the person who sicced him on us?-- it may be more than that, but it sure is one more bit of evidence about how deluded he must be. It's in his email cautions --two of them-- not to mention Amy Silverman's hostility towards us. (Hey, Joe, all bets are off.) Did he really think after all this time that he still had some credibility, some purchase, some unburned bridges with her? From what I've read, he was toast with the whole New Times crew.

But now we hope more people will understand our hypervigilance. At the beginning of the year, for example, after a winter of what seemed like hibernation, we got all dressed up and went out to the big Phoenix Art Museum opening. A few days later the Phoenix New Times blog published an attack on us, but mostly Catherine, which is typical of the cowardly attacks we've received over the years. It was obvious that some people from that paper saw us there that day, styling and shining, and just couldn't resist, due to self-loathing, envy and jealousy, launching an infantile, unprovoked, unnecessary and unjustified screed against us.

So that's why we say, Never Trust Anyone.

That's why we say, You Can Never Be Too Careful.

And that's what we live with, in this town, in these times.

The Emails

On January 26 we received the following:

Jerome and Catherine,

I left New Times several months ago to take an editor's position elsewhere, and now I'm freelancing for a few magazines. I'm fairly certain you'll decline, but I must ask you if you'd be willing to do an interview for a possible story -- in which publication, I have no idea.

I sincerely respect you both for continuing to speak your minds and endure all the vitriol sent your way, even though I'm fairly certain that we don't mesh ideologically. Apparently, others believe it necessary to spew at those they disagree with rather than carry on civilly. I'd like to discuss your motivation, some of the encounters you've had with local artists, and some general history.

So, please let me know if this is of interest to you. I've been freelancing for Phoenix Magazine, and I've been asked to contribute to a couple of art/culture publications. So there are outlets.

All the best,
Joe Watson

On January 27, we replied:

Dear Joe Watson,

Let me surprise us both by accepting your invitation for an interview. I suggest we exchange a couple of emails to set conditions --subjects we will and won't talk about-- and then all three meet somewhere in person to talk at length.

One of the things we don't want to talk about is our encounters with local artists. Much of that has already been covered on the blog, and we don't want to relive it. Our motivation, though, we definitely want to talk about. We don't make our art to satisfy a market; we make it because we have to. And our writing is motivated by our desire for a better culture.

So yes, we're interested, and we appreciate your approach. It was a model of civility. Let's see what happens next.


Jerome du Bois

PS: By the way, what "art/culture" publications were you referring to as outlets?

On January 29, he wrote back:

Hi Jerome,

I was recently asked to contribute to GenArt's online magazine, Pulse, and
I'll be contributing to Juxtapoz magazine soon. Either could work. But I
also think this could be a good story for Phoenix Magazine. It just depends
on what comes of our interview(s).

Thanks so much,

The same day I wrote back:

Hey Joe,

We were thinking Phoenix magazine too; that would be perfect. Okay, so how about this Friday to meet?


The next day Catherine wrote a long, thoughtful email to Joe Watson:

Dear Joe Watson,

This is Catherine King. The last time Jerome and I got interviewed, by John Villani for the Arizona Republic, was a lifetime ago, it seems. We were surprised and a little disappointed that he didn't really want to discuss our art so much. That was obvious when he didn't even want to meet at our studio. We figured he wanted to talk about our blog, which was okay, too.

And then there was the time I tried to interview Mark Rubin-Toles for The Tears. You may possibly have read about that disaster in "This Little Light," one of our earliest postings. He wasn't really interested in our work, either. It was all about him.

The Tears of Things goes through changes regularly. For quite a while, Jerome and I have considered it more of a website than a blog. That's mainly because we haven't been receiving comments, which you may also have read about. I'm sure you are very familiar with the vicious tone of our local culture.
Primarily The Tears is a showcase for our art these days. But make no mistake, we still write. I'm currently working on a piece about the Heard Museum and artistic authenticity. It's taking a while, in part because it's illustrated with well over 100 photos that we took ourselves.

There's also Spirit Photography by King and du Bois, which is only halfway done.

My point is that we have no way of knowing at this point how you want to portray us. We got the February issue of Phoenix Magazine yesterday, and I felt a little eccentric after browsing through it. We love to talk, and write about our motivations, but I've got to say that I consider King and du Bois to be Outsider artists. Especially concerning the spiritual work.

So it just could be that a less M.O.R. magazine, like Juxtapoz, might provide an audience more able to relate to what we're doing.

Basically, we want to come across as interesting, not crazy.


Catherine King
for The Tears Of Things

The same day, January 20, he replied:

Hi Catherine,

Thanks so much for the thoughtful e-mail. In no way do I want to -- nor will
I -- portray you as crazy. And this isn't going to be about me, I assure
you. I am interested in your art, but I will tell you up front that I am
very interested in your motivation/inspiration to create the art you do. I
am not an art connoisseur or historian, so I won't pretend to be one. You
should know, with me being a former New Times writer, that conflict
fascinates me. I think it is the epicenter of any good magazine story.
That's not to say that I sensationalize, because I don't. I've never needed
to because the subjects I choose to write about don't need to be inflated.
They are inherently fascinating people. I see you and Jerome in that light,
just reading your posts for the past three years.

This is what I wrote to an editor at Phoenix Mag when I pitched this story:

"In the local art community, I think Jerome and Catherine would be revered
if not for their politics. The thing is, most of what they say about local
art is true: it sucks, to put it in layman terms. Although, very little of
what Jerome and Catherine write on their blog is in layman terms. It seems
fairly academic to me, which really must piss off the kids who can barely
manage an all-caps FUCK YOU when they respond to a Tears of Things post."

I should hear from the editor within the next couple of days. I think
Phoenix Mag is my best option because this is primarily a local story -- at
least that's how I believe it would work best.

So, I assure you, I'll want to visit your studio. I'll want to discuss your
art. And I'll also want to talk politics, local artists and gallery owners,
and just why, in your opinion, the local art scene is not progressing the
quality of its work.

I hope this interests you.

I'll update you both as soon as I hear from my editor.

All the best,

P.S. I've been wanting to write this story since the first time I read The
Tears of Things. However, my former editor at New Times, Amy Silverman,
always nixed the idea because of Jerome's criticism of her. Not exactly
objective journalism, eh? (Please, that's not for posting on TTOT. Just a
note of interest.)

So we waited, and then on February 2nd, our last communication from the five-sided comedian:

Catherine and Jerome:

At this time, Phoenix magazine has chosen to pass. And I've yet to receive
responses from GenArt and Juxtapoz. I would pitch New Times, but since Amy
Silverman holds a personal grudge against Jerome, I'm certain the pitch
would be rejected. (Again, please do not re-post that on TTOT.) So until I
find a suitor, let's wait on the interview. I don't want to waste your time.
I'm certainly interested in this story, so hopefully my enthusiasm for it
will engage someone out there.

All the best,

Posted by Jerome at May 22, 2007 04:00 PM | TrackBack