PAUL MADONNA: everything is its own reward

(Evan Karp)

Sometimes, the earth shifts in unexpected ways. Most of us do not notice, clocking in and out of our lives with a dedication to blindness or consistency, a streamlined effort toward the future. Those of us who struggle against the everyday with our every night, who refuse to compromise a vision of our making, we pay close attention to the earth and its sudden displacements. We wait for better footing, watch for light to radiate the subject of our choosing and click, a new concept is born because of our capture. Or else we go outside with nowhere to be and keep going, dreams in our bags and eyes and ears open, hands shaking, feet ready to light upon any path that seems promising. We jump at potential, ever ready to realize a new beginning wherever we land. We follow the unseen until that which we feel is illuminated. Sure, we pontificate. But isn’t it lovely?

By 2003, Paul Madonna had spent over a decade working jobs unrelated to his dreams of being a self-supported artist. But dreams aren’t always phantasms, and after years of leaving free zines of his work in piles all across the city Madonna had a breakthrough that would seemingly become an overnight San Francisco treasure: the All Over Coffee series. Eight years later, today—Friday, April 29th, 2011—Madonna celebrates the publication of the second collection of strips from the series, Everything Is Its Own Reward, at Electric Works Gallery (7pm).

You know, this was really just an experiment that blossomed into something. … It was just another project I did. I had an idea, I was like Oh, what if I put these things together in this way? OK, I’ll try that. You know, I had a string of things that I’d done before, putting things together in certain ways that didn’t do anything. But these two chemicals I mixed and they made a big colorful puff of smoke. And people went Ooh look at THAT smoke! And I was like Oh, well, I’ll mix these together a little bit more.

To say that his art is inspiring is insufficient. I recently sat down with Paul for about an hour at Ritual, having never met before, and we had a 10,000 word conversation that I will soon whittle down and share with you—believe it or not, it’s going to be really hard to do. He is one of those rare artists who can intelligibly explain to you what it is that he does, why, and how he does it. The book is worth purchasing for the afterword alone, but to get there you may first travel through many worlds, and to guide you is a voice so deeply entrenched in the mechanisms of consciousness that you often realize, as you flip through the pages, that you have spoken the words many times, have questioned and affirmed yourself with the same voice innately.

In hard times, beauty can seem frivolous—

but take it away, and all you’re left with


is hard times.

If you don’t know, the series establishes scene as the main character in images devoid of humans or cars. Often a cityscape of some sort, with lush architecture and mesmerizing details, the frames exude a stillness that is preternatural. In various ways, Madonna then incorporates text into the images—the only place that humans are manifested in this work. A combination of aphorisms, autobiographical stories, flash fiction, and thoughts—including both questions and answers, and even mini manifestos on the creative process—the words in the AOC series weave together a narrative as thrilling and revelatory and endless and humbling as an aimless walk through the city. And to read through each page is to occupy a space left for us to inhabit. Everything Is Its Own Reward is more than a book; it’s a life philosophy articulated by a beautiful body of work.

Youth doled out opportunity

like a dealer giving your first hit free




The rest, you had to earn.

Whether you read at random, by opening to any page, or sequentially, using the designated sections (aphorism to story, etc.), this is that rare book that not only conveys a message but also embodies it. Speaking to Paul, I tried to express this: “flipping through, I’ve seen several of the pages multiple times, and one, for whatever reason, will stick with me. But then on another day I’m looking at it, and it’s like there’s a different light or something; all of a sudden this one sticks out, and seems to put the other pages in a different light, too.”

I can’t recommend Everything Is Its Own Reward too highly. It is one of those few books I will take with me wherever I live—whether I have the book itself, or not.