My wife left me and all I got was this crappy website. Thirteen and a half years ago, after she married me and showed me how to turn on a computer for the first time ever, my ex-wife, Deborah, suggested I should make a website for my artwork. My gut reaction was to fight the idea with everything I had. After all, I had serious doubts about photography, so what the hell business did I have messing with the internet? But in the fall of 2003 I would do about anything Deborah asked and, after all, she was a computer programmer.
She hand-coded all the initial pages of the website and my brother, Boris, a photographer, helped me digitize the hundreds of slides I’d amassed over the nearly twenty years I’d been painting and drawing at that point. It was a tedious process and because I was the only one involved with no expertise in the endeavor, I felt a bit helpless as pages piled up and up and up. My main early contribution was the cut paper welcome page (above) and the very consequential decision to only use type- and handwritten text on the site.
At the beginning of 2004, we were more or less ready to launch our weird cut-and-pasted baby into cyberspace. The web-hosting company which initially provided it a home was run by an artist couple we met at Jinx Coffee. I traded them a large framed charcoal drawing called “The Battle for Space” in exchange for a year of hosting and some tech help.
The look of the site was part ransom note, part crummy collaged scrapbook. Everything was scanned in, then hotspots were added if links were required. This made every little update laborious. A month or so after the site went live Deborah decided she didn’t wanna live with me anymore. She left town and the website became part of my coping therapy/self-torment. I’d get home from driving cab fourteen hours and wrestle with html for a few more before drifting to sleep. I wrecked the site repeatedly and cursed the entire world until eventually finding the missing comma or parenthesis without which the site apparently couldn’t function. If nothing else, this work scratched an itch I had heretofore been unaware I possessed. Dealing with the inner workings of a website is not unlike dealing with an autistic child in that neither can tolerate an iota of deviation from previously established rules. It is completely unintuitive and pedantic and thus totally unlike art-making as I’d always known it.
Then, after many weeks of frustration and banging my head against the wall, I began to actually figure out how to keep the thing running. This gave me some satisfaction, so then I decided to see what other people on the internet were doing to further their art careers. I joined every art site which sprang up and disappeared just as quickly, all the while tweaking my own in little and not so little ways. I signed up for MySpace mostly for self-promotion but wound up actually making some friends. Every social network after that first one was diminishing returns as I look back on it now.
The internet kept getting faster and faster and more ephemeral with every new iteration. But my website remained slow and simple. I spent a couple weeks trying to figure out CSS before giving up and deciding to be satisfied with occasional cosmetic changes. I have no interest in making it ‘optimized’ for mobile phones, nor in adding the myriad annoying features which plague so many websites these days. I tried for awhile to make the thing a money-making entity but the aesthetic and ethical compromises necessary were several lines in the sand over the point I was willing to go.
So thirteen years after it was born, I’m satisfied with my website being an archive for my thirty-plus years of making art in the same way a shitty thrift-store photo album is adequate to store old memories. It’s like the rusting classic car under a musty tarp in the back of the garage; it runs more or less, but you wouldn’t use it to earn a living, much less win any races. Does anyone even use websites anymore? Seems like online most things start to be forgotten before they’ve even registered in our conscience. In the end I’m still just a dumb painter, so dabbling with this technology will always feel somewhat suspect. But I’ve put in so much time and effort into the thing that killing it now would hurt too much.
Deborah and I are friends again. It took about ten years for that to happen. Since the website was created when we were together, whenever I work on it I’m reminded of that time. I have no idea if anyone gets much out of it but me at this point but see no reason to stop. It keeps me off the street, as my father’s fond of saying.