Today we’d like to introduce you to Eugene Huffman.
Eugene, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I think the best way to begin before sharing my story is to tell you this – if anything, do not let your past define who you are. You can build your own future, and it’s up to you to define the person that YOU want to become. That being said, although some may find it difficult to believe – I would not change anything about my past if given the chance. Not that I could anyway – but if it were an option, I would choose not to – all of yesterday’s events made me the person that I am today, and I love that person entirely.
I grew up in Sacramento, California. I was the oldest of three children (five – counting my two half-sisters). I was born in 1973. My mother had told the story of my birth – that I was 3 lbs., 3.5 oz, born premature – and the doctors had given me only a 1% chance to live. I wondered a bit about the story, until one day I saw my baby book, with my mother’s writing in it that said: “baby has a 1% chance of life.” I couldn’t imagine being a mother and having to write those words…but that one percent chance alone – and I’m still here today. I have always had the gift of iron will – and no matter what life throws my way – I always think back to that moment…and I just keep moving forward.
Growing up was an intense period of time, and albeit I do have some fond memories, most of them are not. I lived in a household where domestic violence and emotional abuse were the two things you could always count on in that experience. My father was a Vietnam veteran with an acidic mouth that spewed hate and anger, and my mother, despite any problems, had a heart of gold. I call my parents Romeo and Juliet – what happened when they didn’t commit suicide, got married and had kids, divorced, lived together, and finally separated – with as much hate for each other as the Capulets and Montagues. My dad’s father was an angry alcoholic, who had contempt for my mother’s father, and they used to work together. So there was a feud going on before my parents even met…they eloped off to Carson City to get married against everyone’s wishes…and then later, in 1973, they had me – and were just 24 and 20 at the time. With all those elements it’s no wonder that disaster ensued.
My mother bared the brunt of most of the physical abuse – I called the police on my father too many times to know the count. I’ve been there when he kicked my mother in the stomach and broke her rib. When my mother showed up at our door covered in blood after my dad slammed her head into a brick wall. I’ve even stood between my father with a loaded shotgun aimed at my mother (who – I didn’t know at the time – was yelling at me to get out of the way – she jammed the bullets in the gun so if he pulled the trigger, it would go off in his face…). And that is just a few of the highlights. The emotional abuse to me seemed worse – I was always “stupid” “faggot” and “pussy”. His favorite words for my mother were “bitch” “cunt” “slut” and “whore”…and that’s barely scratching the surface there too.
So it’s no wonder that since 17 years of age, I had been on my own. I never really did have a childhood…and that would catch up to me later. Coming out wasn’t a big deal in one sense…my mother always had an idea – I could care less if my father knew (but already knew he knew this, as one of his hobbies was taping all of the phone conversations that happened, and I knew in talking with friends, I had said some things I couldn’t take back). Sure, I endured bullying in high school and even in my teens and 20s…but that didn’t mean much to me when the big picture I was looking at was just trying to survive on my own.
Fast forward to later in my life, two major events also shaped a lot of things. In my 30s I was diagnosed with ADHD. That was both a relief and a terror. I cried when the psychologist paused and said: “I’m sorry for how people treated you.” I had always wondered what was “wrong” with me when – in fact – nothing was wrong – I just had a neurological disorder, and it was treatable. We also discovered that what likely also saved me in my youth was having a high IQ…while I’m thankful for that, it’s also been difficult, as I was “in my head” a lot of the time and couldn’t turn thoughts off, and from my experiences, a lot of that tended to be negative, which took a lot of self-work and therapy to turn around.
In 2006 I was diagnosed with HIV. I honestly wasn’t as educated as I am now, and for about two years it was working through shame and fear. The doctors I had first seen had no idea how to approach those things…the one that told me left me in the waiting room an hour and a half before telling me she had “bad news”. The doctor I saw after that only lasted one appointment – he thought, instead of giving me medication when I had a high viral load, that it would be a good idea to “wait and see” what happened. Then I found an LGBT physician who was an HIV specialist – that made all the difference in the world.
HIV did change me a lot. I had to take care of myself, eat better, and change my life around if I wanted to do well. It also was a source of power. On educating myself, I found that, if I was upfront about my status, I was the one who held my own power – and no one could do anything about that. It gave me a platform to educate others, and to fight against stigma. Also, being HIV-positive gave me a different view of what I saw in the 1980s and truly didn’t understand then what was going on – when I definitely do now.
Cut to now…I involve activism around HIV in all aspects of my life. I am in a relationship with a supportive partner and we have a loft that serves as our creative space in Downtown Los Angeles. All of this is meaningful – but what means the most to me is creating my art. I am an abstract expressionist painter. The culmination of all of my life experiences has given me a connection to self and emotion that is strong. And like anyone, we all need an outlet for those things. In the past, isolation and drugs might have played a part in that. But now, art is my drug – it’s my exorcism of all things current and past. When I bring out my paint and canvas, it is me creating a story – and it is in those moments of creation I truly am in my own world.
Now that I have found my “voice” so-to-speak, I’m at a point where I’m bringing my art to the next level. I’ve shown my work in galleries, curated shows, so with that experience, I sought out what should be the next chapter of my story. I joined Shoebox PR, and am excited to see where this journey with Kristine Schomaker will be taking me – but I have to say, it is refreshing (in a world that still lurks with stigma) to be accepted exactly for who you are, and to have your talent recognized – and someone who knows my capability and is able to challenge me to different heights. I am excited to see the road ahead on this journey.
I know I did say that I had been on my own since I was 17 – but I’ve always had people there along the way. My Mother’s parents – Mama and Papa – were the most amazing and loving human beings I’ve ever known. My Mother taught me survival skills and always emphasized that being a loving person was the best thing. I took those things and ran with them. In school, there were secretaries, librarians and teachers that looked out for me and mentored me. There were other adults along the way who saw a young man with a spark and helped guide him. Then there are all those people along the way I’ve met and kept by my side who have become my chosen family. I am grateful for every one of them. I suppose you could say they served as angels to guide my way when I was walking through the dark.
I’ve made it a long way…and I have a lot further to go. But I hope this may inspire others that you can take your broken past and embrace it, learn from it, and be more valuable as a person because of those experiences…write your own story and make the ending how you want. It’s not going to happen overnight – but then again – nothing does. Hard work, perseverance, and love can take you miles farther then you may have thought possible at one time.
Has it been a smooth road?
It has most definitely not been a smooth road. There were a lot of struggles. Learning how to love myself. Learning how to deal with a disability. Learning coping mechanisms. Accepting that prior patterns of behavior no longer served me – because I wasn’t that little boy that had to protect himself from harm. Learning to change those patterns and create new ones that served me in a positive way. Learning my art craft, becoming better at it, finding my voice, and listening to the advice of other artists and mentors. I also believe that this gives me an arsenal in the sense that – for what I’ve learned – I can share this with others. I believe in using your platform to lift others up along with you (one of the reasons I love curating). Obstacles and challenges will always be there – but I find that now I can solve them rather quickly because of my experiences, and solve them in a way that is beneficial.
We’d love to hear more about your work.
I am an established Los Angeles based artist whose painting style has been described as “abstract expressionism with non-repeating patterns that reference life through a lens of survival, using his artwork as an outlet for his brave and powerful openness of his out status of an HIV-Positive artist.” Dealing with the expression of the personal psyche, hidden images often reveal themselves in my pieces.
As an out HIV-Positive gay man, my appearances and gallery show often include benefits for various LGBT and HIV/AIDS organizations. I was named as one of HIV Plus Magazine’s “Most Amazing HIV-Positive People of 2016.” Additionally, I’ve worked as a freelance Graphic Designer for various clients and publicity firms and has served as a resident celebrity artist and Art Director for the Art Hearts Fashion Gallery for LA Fashion Week.
My works showcase experimentation to create varied and intricate texture and pattern – and the works exhibited also explore the Japanese philosophy of Kintsugi, in which broken items are repaired with gold and silver, treating breakage and repair as part of the history of the object, rather than as a flaw…relating to the journey and expression of the self, the metallic adds value, illuminating the broken parts of ourselves and embracing it as part of a history to be valued.
I am proud of where my journey has led me so far – and now am looking forward to painting another chapter.
Is our city a good place to do what you do?
Los Angeles has a lot of opportunities for art and artists – and the scene is forever changing and dynamic. There are a lot of resources if you seek them out. Organizations that support artists and local art. The scene in Downtown Los Angeles is also very supportive of local and underground artists of all types. Eventually what I would love to see is making art a priority in elementary and high schools…the importance of it isn’t given enough credit here in the United States as it is in the UK and Europe. But, as I said, that element is changing and dynamic, and I really feel that we can grow opportunities for others. I’m still discovering opportunities myself – as the art world is not very easy to navigate – but the one thing I can’t stress enough – if you don’t know these things – put yourself out there and NETWORK. Meet people. Share your interests, Go to gallery shows. Strike up a conversation. You never know what you will find – or what opportunity may present itself.
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: @eugenehuffmanart
- Facebook: @eugenehuffmanart
- Twitter: @AbstractEugene
- Other: https://visualaids.org/artists/eugene-huffman
First Image – Portrait by Connie Kurtew