Art Hamptons Edition

Rashid Johnson May Have Saved Joel Mesler’s Life


In 2016, I found myself at yet another bottom. Most people pay attention to warning signs, but for reasons I don’t have the word count for, I never had. This time around was different. Maybe it was age, maybe it was having three children under the age of 3, maybe it was because I had the unwavering support of a dear friend, or maybe it was that I was finally ready and could stay still just long enough to listen and see the signs, and maybe, just maybe, it was all of those things.

At this moment in 2016, the dear friend I mentioned had been encouraging me to try some time off the booze. Funnily enough, I really hadn’t ever considered this to be an option. Since I was 16, drinking had become synonymous with living, my go-to for everything. From boosting confidence and celebrating life milestones to simply just drinking to keep busy, alcohol was an ever-present feature of life.

Now, when one has spent nearly 30 years using a bottle as their higher power, it’s not so easy to just put it aside. Never mind the physical dependency, but the spiritual and psychological components really threw me. Returning to sobriety found me as an emotionally stunted 16-year-old boy in a man’s body with a wife and three young children. This was understandably unpleasant and uncomfortable, to say the least. The only person I thought really understood me was this dear friend I’ve been mentioning, Rashid Johnson (quite the hero in his own story, too).


So anyway, around this time I had also been making some doodles at night, post-bedtime. Adam Abdalla, the PR maestro, took an interest in these doodles and suggested I up the ante and put some of my ideas on canvas. Once he realized I wasn’t about to embarrass myself or him, he finagled a show of a few paintings at the Surf Lodge in Montauk. I didn’t know much about the Hamptons, but I knew this was a good opportunity.

For me, as for most people, a mention of the Hamptons conjured up visions of summer, wealth, large homes with swimming pools, and leisure. My only experiences out East had been attending this or that gala or fundraiser during the summer, because if you were raising money, that is where you wanted to be, for obvious reasons. But I didn’t actually know anything about the Hamptons, and without any additional knowledge of what I was getting myself into, I agreed to the exhibition.

Quickly, problems began to present themselves. Where was a struggling family man trying to kick a drinking problem going to stay when the average cost for a weekend bungalow out East approached my monthly rent in New York? Well, my friend Rashid once again extended his hand to me and my family and invited us to stay with him for a week.

Now, this story might seem pedestrian to some of you readers, but when you are kicking booze and drugs after 30 years, it’s like a rebirth. Everything is fresh, and my reality and senses were just getting ignited. It was like I was experiencing life again for the first time. As you can imagine, this was good, but a lot of times it felt BAD. But Rashid kept saying it was going to get better, and I trusted him.


He and his family welcomed us into his home like it was ours. When it was time to go to my opening, like the dear friend he is, he wanted me to look good. So he gave me one of his outfits and let me drive his car to really experience that moment. When you are drunk most of the time, being present with yourself and others is a challenge; but when you’re sober, scared, and vulnerable, the desire to connect with others and be present with them becomes its own safety net.

And who knew? It was a magical night for me and my family. And as I lay in bed that night, reflecting on the evening (because I could—that was a new one), I was taken aback by how different my experience was from what I thought it was going to be. Was it the air? Was that what was so different from the city? Why did I feel like I was in a place of healing, of calmness and reflection? I was grateful I was able to recognize it. 

Not a year later, my wife and I moved our family to the Hamptons. As a by-product of moving out here, I have truly found my serenity. I have located my voice artistically and as a father, a husband, and a man. I understand why others before me have wanted to find their place out here.

Aside from the light (which is truly extraordinary), the secret of the Hamptons is that it’s a place where one can almost magically recalibrate oneself, if one is in need of a recalibration. Over the past five years, I have found myself connected to and connecting with so many people, artists and others, in very substantial ways that give my life meaning. From the outstretched hand of love and support from my friend Rashid, I was able to recenter myself and land in this place that I call home.