Doug Land, Artist, Illustrator, Painter, Sculptor, Dallas Museum of Art

It’s all just Coffee, Cereal and Downstairs Drama

Photo Credits: Images were taken from his Facebook page

I started in January for a course in narrative writing and continued it through the spring semester with the intent of freelancing it. However, I was never able to find a publication interested in running the story. Since the article was written, Doug has left the Dallas Museum of Art for an exhibition presenter position at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science. This article should be read imagining it is still March 2014. This is the article that I am the most proud of in my career so far so please enjoy. Words of criticism and encouragement are welcome. Thanks, Adam.

Doug draws a project board for circuitry, a needle, a wad of silver wire and a crystalline rock from the pockets of his black slacks. Using the needle, he threads the silver wire through holes in the project board precisely chosen to secure the rock, trying to complete the small abstract sculpture by the end of the day.

Art, Sculpture, Doug Land, DMA

“That which doesn’t break down” using a project board and crystalline rock [Photo Credit: His Facebook Page]

The tall, younger-looking 28-year-old with a degree from a prestigious art school pays his bills with a long career in eclectic jobs. Although he couldn’t get his original pieces shown here, he took a job doing the next best thing. He is a gallery attendant, paid an hourly rate of nine dollars to watch guests at the Dallas Museum of Art appreciate the art of others.

Doug couldn’t show his original pieces here, though he says he never wants to. His projects whether pocket-sized wood cutouts or large potted plant sized grocery bag flowers, use odd materials that are cheap and easily accessible, like driftwood and his tortoises.

Doug Land, Tortoises, Frederick Church, Sculpture

“Remaking Frederick Church’s the Iceberg” the famous painting inside the Dallas Museum of Art

With his slacks, he uniforms with a black DMA athletic polo with a nametag on a lanyard around his neck akin to a Burger King employee. It’s a little warm for him in the gallery today, but sometimes he’ll include a branded DMA athletic jacket.

A few weeks ago, DMA guests wouldn’t have known he was an aspiring artist. He wasn’t pulling tools out of his pocket or the small sketchpad in which he does his illustrations. Doug recently tested his aspirations as an artist when he tried to submit his DMA-crafted sculptures to a local gallery. The disappointment got to him. Since January, at least four shows have already rejected him and his inquiry emails.

Now, guests delight in seeing the young man at work. A small boy, probably 5, eyeballs Doug with awe as he walks up the staircase to his first post. Doug puts the tools back in his pocket and waves to the boy who, realizing he was spotted, clings to his dad shying his face from Doug. Doug giggled and kept walking. Sometimes he likes to freak the kids out.

At the top of the stairs, Doug detours right into a gallery of art available for purchase from the museum catalog. A modern chandelier beckons Doug like a bug lamp on a hot summer night. Jealousy briefly creeps across his face.

Doug finds ideas but not the best ways to get them out and share them. While some of his art is practical, like lamps and coffee tables, it’s hard to find places to display and a buyer. Even a successful Kickstarter campaign didn’t go his way. After he raised enough money, he realized the project was too immense to undertake on his own.

For 30 hours a week, he tries to create while trying to teach people to appreciate the creations of those who came before him – some men who didn’t make it until they were twice Doug’s age or dead. He stands at posts among the work of those who made it, while he tinkers with eclectic tools and materials. He is an unusual portrait of a not-quite-starving artist. But he still has time to make his break into the unusual and competitive world of fine art.

Each morning before the daily meeting where managers announce new pieces, potential group visits, and daily assignments, Doug gets hugged by several of his coworkers, some longer and stronger than others according to their likelihood of sneaking a conversation. Before the meeting starts, all attendants scan their fingerprint to clock in– perhaps more for time tracking than the security of the museum so they know that the person clocking in and out is not cheating on their time sheets.

In the meeting, Raymond, the supervisor, talks about the DMA friends program. Doug is tired of promoting it, they’ve been doing it for a year now. The luster of recruiting people is gone. After each milestone the DMA hit, they were given another.

Downstairs employees fondly refer to the Dallas Museum of Art as the ghetto museum. It may be due to the complete different socioeconomic classes that work in the different departments much like the upstairs and the downstairs in the hit show Downton Abby. Attendants are paid the lowest of any other museum they know of in Dallas, and to get hired you basically just have to pass a drug test. Many of the attendants have tattoo sleeves showing. The museum is now free for guests, it opens up different revenue streams so that the museum can keep their doors open and the staff paid. Joined with low pay, this allow people who have never walked a museum to enjoy that defining moment. Along with new guests, the DMA has employees who had never been to a museum before getting the gig, like Nicole who was recently let go, due to posting on her Facebook page some of her frustrations of working that was discovered and made its way to upper management.

Doug, sitting at a table in the brown-walled upper basement of the museum, looks at Nicole, a short, loudly-opinionated, sarcastic black woman who worked with her two daughters at the museum. She is interested in art for the first time with a sparkle in his eye. Last week, she bought a book of art from the museum and read it to her grandkids.

Doug’s dad, an accountant, wooed his mom, a nurse administrator, while in the military. They pushed Doug growing up to become something practical- a solid career that can keep a family afloat. His parents wanted him to be independent and self-sufficient. Creativity is not lost on the rest of his family. She quilts and he had aspirations of becoming a furniture maker.

Doug reaches his first post with a George Washington painting that overlooks fragile chairs framing an elaborate dresser.

“He used to build dressers like this big fancy one and I think he just quit at it,” Doug says. “I say that as kind of a theme for what artists at work is like they work, work hard when they’re young and at some point something just says ‘no, you’re not going anywhere, don’t make art anywhere, just give up’.”

The museum has an Edward Hopper exhibit Doug walked past when to post. In Hopper’s case, Hopper was an artist, his wife was an artist and they were broke for a while. She was supporting them and he wasn’t considered a great illustrator. Nobody liked his paintings for the most part and it was not until his late 40s and early 50s that he really had a surge of popularity.

Doug’s realizing that he may go his whole life waiting until when most have midlife crises to make something successful. The motivation to become successful drives the creativity in his art.

“For me, it’s just a part of my character that’s like even when I want to give up, I want to give up, some part of me still keeps going. It’s like I’ve been born to make,” Doug says.

Doug’s degree was in illustration but he had trouble communicating ideas clearly to the general market, an issue he still struggles with. But he won’t change his style to fill some current market trend he does the art that he wants to do, the art he has fun with. There’s always a market for weird art and he’s on a mission to find it.

“I then tried slipping into graphic design and I did that for a while but it was just kind of like, you become kind of a computer interface. People have these ‘great’ ideas of what they want to see and you get paid to not think and just make it happen,” Doug says.

After getting fired from another graphic design job, Doug ended up here for the Christmas season to get some money until something better came along. A year and a half later, he’s still here. It’s not for a lack of trying. Doug has been on countless interviews, filled out billions of applications and sent numerous resumes. His resume is the paper version of all the mistakes and choices he’s made.

“Something they don’t tell you school,” Doug says.

Doug rotates to his second post next to the infamous Iceberg. He plants himself across from the painting and braces himself for his inevitable death. Daunted by the mountain of ice, he dreams to be the last human fighting the last polar bear- a sad, battle torn polar bear. A guest gets a little too close to the masterpiece and snaps him back to reality…. almost. Maybe he’ll work with the polar bears at the zoo. He has been looking at going back to school and joining the American Zoo Association after all.

“Amazingly, for college students, we’ll play fill-in professor for them and sometimes give them tours,” Doug says. “I love how college students are stressed out when they show up on a Sunday for an assignment that’s due on Tuesday.”

Doug hopes they don’t see art as some assignment to be digested, that an appreciation for art becomes a defining moment for them. For Doug, college was not a defining moment. Everyone in his family attended college but his sister. The family now admits that college isn’t for everyone.

Doug drifted through school so fast that he did not network, which is crucial in the art world. He received a full-ride scholarship at Savannah College of Art and Design, but he would have to keep his grades up. Doug says his friend Tran N., his playfully competitive rival throughout college, also got a full ride, but because she qualified for a small Asian decent scholarship the two would often tease about the unimportant amount. There is no hope for a starving artist. At one point, the two scheduled a study abroad in a famous trip to Japan. He had been planning on going but the additional funding fell through, and he missed his chance. Doug cited the trip as a huge turning point in Tran’s art. Though Tran is artistically succeeding after college, she still had to get a temporary job in between shows.

In college, Doug found second wind when he loopholed his way out of a course by convincing the dean to replace the mandatory portfolio class with a more liberal independent study class, called Drawing on a Theme which trained students better for the world of a competitive artist. Instead of a completed portfolio, at the end of the year he had to put on a gallery show with his other classmates including Tran.

“I don’t know if it was the space or the crowd, but my cannon of artistic achievement, Tran did not nail the show.” But he did great. The one piece he did not sell he had people gladly take off his hands. Doug gave the last piece away because they were so large and ridged that he couldn’t fit them in his car to take them home from Georgia to Texas.

“That put the bug in my ear for gallery art,” Doug says as he looks at a collection of sculptures after a rotation to a new post.

After he graduated college in March 2009, he moved back to Texas to live with his parents. He veiled his sexuality at home because he feared that his Evangelical, pro-Republican, gun-loving father couldn’t accept he was gay. When his mom found out, she worried for him. They all stopped talking to each other.

A month after returning home, Doug found refuge in Karlynn, another animation major at SCAD who he had remained close friends with for his four years there.

When her parents died, Karlynn’s sister Kiersten became head of estate, but the dead parents overwhelmed her. Bills piled and Kiersten hated their cape house. When the internal sister friction became heated, Karlynn and Doug split to the cape.

Doug tossed, sold or gifted most of his possessions including his artwork to move to Mulberry, Massachusetts with his “fag hag” girlfriend for a month before moving to Cape Cod.

Though they are not on speaking terms now, she was a good friend. Both of her parents died before the move. His Massachusetts friend’s parents were hoarders before they died. Doug had the skills to move in with her and fix her house so he had free rent.

“She had inheritance and I used to be really great at saving,” Doug says with a nervous laugh. “After her parents died, we had to spend a bunch of money because they did not take care of the house or pay their bills. They had to pay the city and the utility companies. It took a lot of money to take it from the jaws of death.”

They held no jobs until November when they backpacked Europe for months before returning to their resurrection project. It was a time of self-discovery and relationship destroying. The dead father originally paid for the trip and was supposed to take his girls to the motherland in Sweden. Since the sisters weren’t getting along, Doug and Karlynn worked with the travel agency who weren’t refunding the money. Their only costs were meals and hostels- a rather inexpensive alternative to a snow covered beach house with no heat.

“I wasn’t talking to my parents at the time in a town where I couldn’t get any work,” Doug says. It was his biggest grow up time where he learned things like eviction and shut off notices.

Meeting Josh, now Doug’s husband, online after an unsympathetically cold winter incinerated Doug’s friendship with Karlynn. Six months later, the new couple moved in together.

“That winter my roommate and I saw only the mailman, the ‘packy store’ cashier and the people at the grocery store,” Doug says. Cape Cod population deflates to 15 percent from summer highs.

“You try getting a date in that kind of a swimming pool,” Doug says with a laugh. “After a long “You Got Mail” relationship with Josh online, I finally went to Boston to meet him in person.”

Doug didn’t expect to dwarf Josh in stature and still teases him about it. That summer Josh and Doug still talked online like a teen romance but took trips to see each other. The following October they married on a pier on a pond in P-Town. It was sunset and the fireflies had just come out. In the happiest, most hopeful times of their lives, Doug and Josh danced to BB King, “If I love you.”

Renting in Cape Cod is expensive and the newlyweds found shelter in a local housing assistance program. When the rich aren’t in town for summers, the realities of Cape Cod towns challenge the stereotype of rich bankers on yachts in pleated pants.

It was an adjustment as Doug and his soon-to-be-husband watched people do methadone while on heroin and parents with kids tried getting them out of the island. The winters held no jobs and the island fed the homeless to the sharks.

Doug and Josh found an apartment of their own that burned shortly after moving in and getting married. The fire through a massive kink in the works, destroying any art and supplies Doug had managed to accumulate since his move to the north. Smoke damage destroyed whatever else they had in the apartment that escaped the furnace. They had no books, no clothes, no art, no renter’s insurance and no hope. They had their tortoises, their children who somehow survived the fire.

The housing authority fumbled four months to fix the apartment to working condition while Doug had to pay utility bills. Josh asked if they could move in with Doug’s parents in Texas because Josh’s mom is an influx of substance recovery with a load of financial issues.

“You finally get independent enough then the game of life kicks in and you have to move back in with your parents,” Doug says as he looks at a portrait of a young woman with sad eyes in the gallery.

Josh had no paycheck or bank account was in rough shape when they started dating. He had to go to counseling because his mother had him arrested. By the time they fled to Texas, they were working on his credit. They needed to get out of the Cape and started to rebuild their lives with Doug’s parents in Cedar Hill who have now accepted his husband – giving him hope for a better future.

Doug continues his sculpture as he shifts around the gallery. His projects are more like trinkets or traditional sculptures, since he had to quit painting and drawing. His family has bad hands.

“I’m 28 and some days I can’t use my damn hand. But, I hated painting anyway,” Doug says with a laugh, lifting him from the heavy thoughts.

“Because it is a museum, a lot of other artists use to work here and so that whole not talking about artwork was killer for them so after a while they would leave really quick,” Doug says though he was hired just as that era ended.

Saturdays are typically low key. Many visit the museum but are well behaved. Sundays you have people coming in from church that want to bless all the paintings, hug the art or think they’ll be forgiven by god for touching a priceless statue with the Virgin Mary on it.

The museum tricks guests from touching paintings with raised platforms to set the art on or different tiling near the walls to help the attendants. However, not all the walls are real or permanent walls. The DMA staffs carpenters that can transform the museum floor in three weeks if needed. It can look like a warehouse with how much floor space can open up.

Frustrated, Doug struts to a woman drinking a cup of coffee and escorts her near the bathroom to throw it out. He’s been enjoying a realistic depiction of the revolutionary war and it’s a pain to send them all the way downstairs.

Upon his return, Ray breaks Doug for lunch. Doug descends to the cafeteria and spots several attendants. He packed his lunch today but he’ll eat it later. He has a DMA discount and his favorite chef is cooking. He gulps the aroma of eggs benedict as Bach plays his “Prelude from Cello Suite No.1 in G Major” in the background.

After wolfing down his small and costly meal, Doug works his way back to post and wrenches the tools back out of his pocket, keeping his hands busy. He’s efficient, creating more by feel than sight, as he uses his eyes to scan Modern America for potential threats to the art and abnormalities.

Since Doug didn’t have student debt or any major loans and lives with his parents, with creative use of supplies he can afford to continue art projects. As his hope grows and with the help of his husband, Doug revived his days of wise saving. Doug puts bill money in one pot and savings in one pot and the rest goes to art, “who needs three pairs of jeans anyways?”

Doug and the other attendants are trained in traditional customer service, most having worked in retail or hospitality. Words like, “Is there anything I can help you with?” are heard in each gallery entered.

Doug comes in on time and works hard entertaining and informing guests while protecting art. And, occasionally laughing at the women who come in high heels knowing how bad their feet must hurt and hoping he can leave the insufferable boredom, hard floors and ever-changing gallery temperatures.

“Maybe one day I’ll appreciate it but this is day to day life for me, like coffee and cereal in the morning,” Doug says.

"Working" [Photo Credit: His Facebook Page]

“Working” [Photo Credit: His Facebook Page]

With only an hour left in the day, he pulls the tools back out of his pocket and ignores the world around him. His large hands shake violently as he delicately holds the small project he’s release the lion into the world of professional artists. He furrows his brow, trying to ignore the loud outdated radio on his hip and his family’s bad hands. The project is almost done and he has work to do.

Denton, Fort Worth, Homeless, Teacher, Nanny, Travel, Hitchhiking, Artist

Transcription of an Interview: Allison Lamb

Allison gave a fantastic interview at Jupiter House in Denton and basically talked straight through without my having to ask many questions. After transcribing the recording, I omitted my questions and extra details that interrupted flow and comprehension. 

I’m just kind of thinking and listening to a book called Hyperion. It’s a science fiction book about, it’s hard to say, it has a lot of different stories in it. It’s just like a setup and character development for the next book really. I like science fiction a lot. It’s my primary genre and utopian novels. I really liked Spin and Brave New World.

I used to be a student but didn’t graduate. I am a nanny for a family, so I clean their house and watch their kid and I am a substitute teacher.

First, I was studying art and got a bad taste in my mouth at UNT because it’s competitive and I’m not competitive and then I moved to TWU for nutrition and dietetics. Then, I had like a bunch of crap happen in a semester and I had to put school on the back burner and my grades fell. I have to have As or nothing. I had Ds. I was like, I’m not ready for this and quit for a while but I’ll probably go back some day.

I still do art and always will. I really like throwing ceramics, its really fun and I like watercolor painting. I like making stuff for people. I have a stockpile of art supplies already because I would ask my family for them at Christmas, like give me some paint. And they’d be like here, have some paint and shut up already. Anything else, my nanny job can kind of pay for.

But yeah, my jobs do well. I live below my means. I don’t have a car or anything. I share a one-bedroom house with my roommate so rent is really not high.

I don’t know what I’d go back to school for, but if I decided to go back to school for money, I’d probably go back to school for a STEM field. You get good scholarships in STEM fields. If I decided to go back to school for something I love, it would probably be for ceramics. I would probably be like a teacher. Sometimes I like substitute teaching. Sometimes it’s really stressful because the kids are bratty or whatever.

But sometimes it’s really rewarding too.

One day, I was substituting for a special education class and I was trying to teach this 8-year-old how to subtract. I sat there with him and explained it to him and explained it to him and he got it and I was like I was able to teach that kid how to subtract and it was a really awesome moment for me. The little girl I nanny for is great, so sweet. I’ve nannied for other kids before that weren’t but they had some behavioral problems that weren’t their fault really. It wasn’t like autism, but close. This girl, she’s awesome like she paints with me and is really chill and awesome.

I travel every summer. Well, I started it last summer, but I went hitchhiking from here to northern California. When I was in New Mexico, I was sitting on a porch, I was like couch surfing and the people I met were really cool and we were in Ruidoso at night, sitting on a porch, playing music, and this bear walks down the street. It jumps into a dumpster at the end of the block and is like 30 feet from us rummaging through the garbage.

He looks up at us and then goes back to rummaging and it was really cool because I could tell it didn’t cross anybody’s mind to call animal control because the bear was like doing his own thing. Ruidoso is really encroaching upon the animals, so leave the animals be and they won’t mess with you unless you mess with them.

It was also really cool because it was the first time I saw a bear in real life. I wasn’t scared.

Well, I was at first because I had my back to it and the woman who was sitting next to me saw it and was like bear! So I turned around and saw that it was just minding it’s own business. I went from loh god we’re going to get mauled, to wow this is beautiful.

I think I’m afraid of dying and not getting to know the secrets of the universe after I die. I hope that after I die, no matter how it happens, I’m given the gift of knowledge of how the universe works and why, like the meaning. But if I didn’t get that I’d be really disappointed.

My life goal is to be happy and look back on my life and be like, that wasn’t a waste of time. Don’t let societal constructions of norm hinder you from being free.

I was homeless last year for six months. At one point, I broke up with my boyfriend of like three years and I loved and I got really depressed and I moved in with this guy.

He was older.

He was like this ex-‘Nam vet freaking crazy psycho posttraumatic stress disorder like really bad and I had a job at Ace hardware down by Kroger and I hated it. I was like abusing myself because I missed my boyfriend and was just really hating my life and was like I really need to get away from this guy.

He was like trying to getting me to marry him and stuff and treating me like getting all mad and possessive if I didn’t come home after work. I was like dude, I’m 20 years old, you need to back off you old man. But he like proposed it like you can live with me you don’t need to pay rent, no big deal, I like you. I thought it would be okay but it turned really creepy really fast and I tried to move out and quit my job and was thinking I had another job lined up but that didn’t work so I didn’t have a job and had some money saved up.

I met a guy right over there, where the last little building before crossing the street, and he was playing guitar. I had my drum out because there is a drum circle that goes on over there on Saturday nights and they had closed up early and I heard him playing and I came over there and was playing with him and he was like travelling. He’s from like a place in south Texas and was travelling, and he didn’t have any money. He got his money from playing music and I was totally taken aback from that.

I was like, this is awesome. I’m going to do this.

Plus, I already didn’t have a job. I wanted to get away from my roommate, so that’s what I did.

I was like, fuck all of y’all, I’m done and just hung out with him. Me and him and a saxophone player we met started a little band and we played every single night on Fry Street and made like $70 a night and it was so much fun. It was so awesome. Then I was like, I really want to travel. I need to get out of Denton for a while since I lived here since I was 12.

That’s when I decided I wanted to go travelling and I met another guy who seemed like a pretty good travel companion and we went and just started hitchhiking. I went from Denton to Fort Worth to Roswell, New Mexico. We got a ride from Fort Worth to Roswell and stayed in Roswell for a while and it got depressing.

Then we hitchhiked west to Ruidoso, which is an awesome town. It was like probably June of last year and then we bought a train ticket from Albuquerque to LA. We were in Albuquerque for just a few days and went to LA for a few days.

I’ve always wanted to go to Brazil, to like Carnaval. It just seems so awesome to me. We had to spend the night at a train station in LA one night. That was a nightmare but I met this girl who gave me a Brazilian cigarette. She was like, I’m from Brazil and just decided that I wanted to explore California one day and saved up my money to go. I was like, hey that’s what I’m doing. She was like, well cool, if you ever want to come to Brazil, here’s my number. Just call me and you can stay with me. So Portuguese is on my list of languages to learn.

It’s really hard to be homeless in LA because they were like you can’t sleep on the beach you have to sleep on the sidewalk or buy a hotel. We were there during the tourist season and didn’t think about that when we got there so there were no hotels and I didn’t really want to sleep on the sidewalk so we ended up dropping $200 on a hotel room for a night. It was a nice hotel but I was like, I can’t do this.

So then we caught a bus to San Francisco and went north with some people from San Francisco into the Redwoods and camped in the Redwoods for a while. That was really, really awesome.

Then we went back to the LA area to long beach because there was a guy form couch surfing. He seemed really, really cool. So we went back there to hang with him for a few days and by then I was really homesick and ready to get back.

We went to Oklahoma because I have some family there, lived with my dad for a month, and worked where my dad works. It’s like a juice packing factory called Whitlock and the pay pretty well, you can get tons of overtime. I made enough money to move back to Denton and establish myself again.

So then this summer, the guy I met in Ruidoso, his name is Mustang Jack, we’re going to go to Europe together to backpack and do the homeless thing over there for a while. It’s more accepted over there I think to go walking and backpacking and they have a better bus system. I’m also trying to learn German, a little bit of French, just some common languages. I feel like if I can just learn a little bit, I’ll be more accepted.

I don’t really like hitchhiking because I hate asking people for stuff and I don’t really like that about playing music on the street because I don’t like bumming money. I’m not the kind of person that will hold up a sign on the side of the street that’s like, give me money. Though sometimes I got so hungry I felt like that’s what I just had to do.