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My wife and I have lost 3 younger brothers to drugs and alcohol. Addiction has almost taken my father many times – and it almost got me twice in my life. We’ve definitely got the gene… Addiction isn’t just a nuisance, it KILLS people in my family. Regularly.

When my dear friend, Joe Polish, first shared his vision for AFA, of using art as a force for good to not only help people who have developed addiction problems, but also to increase understanding about what addiction actually is, where it comes from and how to truly heal it…

I was ALL IN from the very beginning. I felt called to paint the first art piece for AFA. And I’ve never used those words before in my life…

It’s funny how one seemingly small decision can completely change the trajectory of your life forever.

In the winter of 2016, we decided to live in Bali. We’ve been to more than half the world’s countries and I’ll tell you, there’s NO PLACE like Bali… The energy there is like nowhere else on earth – it’s frenetic, INTENSE and absolutely palpable.

The island is literally HOT with ENERGY. Creative energy. And destructive energy too. Because, with lots of life comes lots of death.

The human culture that grew up in that environment is one of the most unique in all the world – gentle and loving, but tough as nails. They’ve repelled the Dutch, the Muslims, the Japanese… This little island has their own unique religion, their own unique architecture, their own unique music…

So, I thought Bali would be the PERFECT place to create this painting.

I thought it would be fitting to do a TRIBUTE to the great artists we’ve lost to addiction… There have been so many brilliant people who were with us for a relatively short time – who blessed us with their amazing art, their style, their sense of life... And then addiction silenced their voices forever.

The most important Balinese Holiday was coming up in a couple weeks – Neypi, their new years day, which is called “The Day of Silence”. THAT was the perfect day to finish this painting, so I completely blocked out my schedule that day.

I asked my research assistant to start compiling information on artists we’ve lost to addiction… musicians, painters, writers, actors… And start sending my biographies, video and audio links, portraits and photos…

The first day I received about 50… The next day I got about 50 more…Then another 50…And another…

The sheer volume of brilliance and talent that has been WIPED OUT by addiction was mind numbing.

I couldn’t help but think about my own brothers… Even though the memories were very, very painful for me.


It’s the greatest social problem of our time. There is no scourge on the planet more devastatingly harmful to humanity in general – and to the arts in particular. Addiction is, “any negative, self-destructive behavior you engage in on a consistent basis – that you can’t seem to stop.”

It can be ANYTHING you attach to that numbs the pain and gives you temporary relief. We all associate drugs and alcohol with addiction, but FOOD ADDICTION is another big one that KILLS people – a LOT of people – every single day. Sex addiction. Gambling. Workaholism – and the big new one is technology addiction – we’re not yet aware of the negative effects of that one.

And just like fly paper – it attracts you – it feels good – and you stick to it – you can’t get away - it takes you over – a downward spiral ensues - your life eventually becomes unmanageable - and it takes you all the way down and eventually kills you.

This isn’t just a problem that effects a small percentage of people we deem degenerates. No one among us is left untouched by addiction.

It’s an epidemic of epic proportions that takes our best, brightest and most talented brothers and sisters DOWN EVERY SINGLE DAY. It causes damage and heartbreak, it breaks up families, it’s responsible for a large part of crime and consequently, our prison population. It underlies some of our most costly medical epidemics – Type 2 diabetes and childhood obesity to name just two. Addiction has no respect for age, gender, race or economic class.

Addiction is not the fundamental problem, it’s the addict’s desperate attempt to solve a problem… It’s a SYMPTOM, not a CAUSE. The CAUSE is emotional pain and trauma, usually rooted in childhood. That’s why interventions, treatment programs, laws, social shaming don’t usually work— and often actually make the addiction worse—because they do not address the cause, only behaviors.

We’re shocked when we hear the news of one more death… Elvis, Jimmy, Janice, Every death in the painting SHOCKED us… for 24 hours. For 48 hours.

Then we go back to life as normal. We’re immune. We’ve habituated. Another dead artist is a cliché.

As I began working on the painting, placing the portraits on the canvas, I thought about the pain they must have been in toward the end, the fear, desperation... the hopelessness of their final moments… Their voices silenced forever… The Day of Silence was SO FITTING – the perfect, SACRED day to honor our brothers and sisters who’s voices have been forever silenced.

“Black star is a call to action for anyone who speaks this language… especially the artists - to stand up, band together, do something great in this world – and use art as the force for good that gets it done. Art is one way to help heal this issue.”

Working with the portraits was emotional and INTENSE. The energy was palpable as I assembled the piece and I could only take so much of it at once and I had to quit for the day…

Silent Day was coming up – and I was stressing out because I was missing an important element of this painting. I needed a SYMBOL for the heart of this thing and it had to be deeply meaningful. I wanted a rune, some kind of a magical mark, to give the piece power. I’d been pondering that for weeks – and I hadn’t figured it out yet.

Until the night of the full moon in February. I noticed my i-Phone had started playing a song – which it does randomly from time to time when my headphones are plugged in – it’s a bug – so there’s a song playing on my phone…

I walked over to turn it off – and I saw it was playing the title track to David Bowie’s final album, Black Star, which I had not listened to since we were in the Philippines, weeks earlier.

A Black Star… Hmmm… I was just thinking about SHAPES. And that shape is certainly powerful. I wonder what it means… As a matter of fact – I’d BEEN wondering what it meant for a while now…

David Bowie died the week we left for Asia. He was the biggest artistic inspiration of my life. Black Star was his 25th and final record, and the only record he made that didn’t have his photo on the cover – had a 5-sided Black Star.

And I thought… Well, THAT is interesting. I wonder if the meaning will be relevant for the people in this painting…

So, I looked it up online, and here’s what I read:

“Black Star is an astronomical term for a star that shines so brightly, that it burns out and dies, but leaves it’s mass behind.”

“How many times does an angel fall? How many people lie instead of talking tall? He trod on sacred ground and shouted loud into the crowd – I’m a Black Star…”

WOW! I thought, I’ve got to watch that video again, which I did. It’s one of the best music videos ever produced.

Under the glow of a full solar eclipse – the Black Star video takes you on a wild ride of symbolism and mystery – exploring spirituality, art, death and rebirth.

Black Star was the PERFECT metaphor for this painting. And the fact that it came from Bowie had deep meaning for me, too, because…

David Bowie could have SO EASILY joined the other artists in the painting an early death. He nearly died when he was 27...

After living on a diet of cocaine, chili peppers and milk for 2 years, he weighed around 100 pounds, and woke up in a ditch in LA one morning - he didn't know where he was or how he got there - and he realized he was going to die very soon if he didn't get out of LA...

So, he moved to Berlin with Iggy Pop where they gradually cleaned up over the next 3 years…

Bowie made it through that critical period that SO many artists don't.

He lived for 42 more years and unleashed an extravagant amount of creativity into the world; he made 18 more albums, dozens of movies, wrote and starred in Broadway plays, painted amazing paintings, did set design, fashion design, created charities, thousands of jobs.

David Bowie was the patron saint of the arts – the ICON of creativity. And instead of dying in a ditch in his twenties, he changed our world.

I found myself wondering what Jimmy Hendrix would have done with the electric guitar if he’d had lived for 40 more years… Can you imagine that? Would Basquiat have been the greatest painter of all time? What kind of music would Kurt Cobain have written in his 30s? Or Jim Morrison, or Mozart? What brilliant movie roles would Heath Ledger have played?

How much creative brilliance has the human race lost because we JUST DON’T GET IT, because we don't yet UNDERSTAND the issues surrounding addiction – and have not developed the ability to respond properly to this crisis??? This touches ALL OF US. It fucks with ALL OF US. The headlines sensationalize these deaths – and we’re SHOCKED for 48 hours – but then we go about our business – and no one ever asks WHY? We are IMMUNE. We’ve habituated. And then the next one happens.

If we could figure out how to save the life of just ONE of these brilliant people that would be a GOOD THING that could have a significant impact.

Bowie was a shining example of that. But if we could help HUNDREDS – or maybe THOUSANDS through that black tunnel to the light on the other side… That could change the world.

I’d been HANDED the perfect symbol and the title for the AFA painting. It would be called Black Star – I’d put Bowie in the center of it, as both a TRIBUTE and the example of what's possible – I would paint it on the Day of Silence – and further – I’d make a SOUNDTRACK of music from the artists in this painting and listen to it while I painted it.

It’s hard to describe how I felt in that moment. I’d never really experienced anything like that before. Mostly, I felt very grateful. THANK YOU to whatever benevolent force of nature may or may not be out there guiding me… And THANK YOU to David Bowie for being as much of an inspiration in death as he was in life.

The forces of nature in magical Bali were still swirling wildly – and they weren’t even CLOSE to being finished with me yet…

The following week, I learned that on the Day of Silence, there was to be a full solar eclipse over the islands of Indonesia… And then, I got an email from my daughter, that David Bowie had chosen Bali as his final resting place. And his ashes were to be sprinkled over the island and the sea.

I have no words… I have no experience to compare this too… No reference point…

I would be painting a Black Star over the souls we’ve lost… While listening to Bowie’s Black Star… With a Black Star in the sky above me… Illuminating David Bowies ashes over the island of Bali… On the Day of Silence.

In less than 24 hours, the philosophical construct I’d thoughtfully spent my life cultivating had been shaken to the core.

It was like I’d entered another dimension. I was on some kind of a cosmic ride and CLEARLY I was not the driver. I was being LED – and I’ve never said those words before about ANYTHING in my life.

The only thing I could do is LET GO and surrender into the experience. And that was scary as hell. I was unnerved. Uncomfortable.

The next day, I set up my canvas and my paints under the rising sun… Kissed my wife and kids… Turned on my soundtrack, which I’d carefully timed so that David Bowie’s Black Star would come on at 9:20 – the exact moment of the height of the eclipse… Took a DEEP BREATH and started painting.

As each song came up, I’d move to the portrait of the musician in the painting, thank them – FEEL them – send them my love… And then move to the next portrait… I had tears streaming down my face half the time… It was SO INTENSE, almost too much to take. There were times when I almost lost it…

But I kept telling myself, “You have a job to do – do your job. Do your job. This isn’t YOUR project. You’re only here to make sure it gets into the world.

At the very height of the eclipse, when Black Star started playing, I dropped my brushes… Raised my arms to the black star in the sky… Closed my eyes… And fully absorbed the lyrics for the first time…

“Something happened on the day he died… Spirit rose a meter and stepped aside… Somebody else took his place and bravely cried… I’m a Black Star… I’m a Black Star.”

Black Star is a CALL TO ACTION for ANYONE who speaks this language… ESPECIALLY the artists - to STAND UP, BAND TOGETHER, DO SOMETHING GREAT in this world – and use ART as the force for good that gets it done. ART is one way to help HEAL this issue.

I know this message won’t resonate with everyone – hell – I would never had believed this story if I hadn’t directly experienced it myself, so I don’t blame ANYONE who doesn’t get it… But for those who speak this language – who really GOT David Bowie, this is your opportunity to answer his call - lay it all on the line and give it everything you have.

I SAID YES, and I can’t begin to express the gifts I’ve been given as a result of stepping through my fear into this calling… One thing I will share with you…

This HEALED much of the pain and anguish I’ve been carrying around for 30 years surrounding the deaths of my brothers. All the guilt. All the shame. All the regret I’ve been living with for decades has been HEALED and replaced with a deep sense of PURPOSE.

We were too late to save our brothers, but we’re here to help you save yours – and my brothers are standing with me now, on the front lines of this battle. We are here to help good people who have lost their way. We’re here to help them get back on track.

We’re here to illuminate the Black Stars that we’ve lost. And to be a beacon for those living, that they may see their own light. And live well.


Join us on the journey. Together, We'll Unite Art + Addiction Recovery.

I'm a Force for Good »


Black Star: Created by Jon Butcher in Bali, Indonesia, Black Star was painted on March 9, 2016 during the Neypi Holiday, under a full solar eclipse.

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is an astronomical term for a star that shines so brightly that it burns out and dies, but leaves its mass behind.


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