Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Artist's Talk - A Rough Draft

I've determined that I will share with you the rough draft of my notes for my artist talk on Friday.  I have been under the assumption that nothing has changed in me since before graduate school for the longest time, but I now realize that this is a fallacy.  My work has changed, as too, my voice has changed.  Let me know what you think of the notes.
noun: totem; plural noun: totems
  1. a natural object or animal believed by a particular society to have spiritual significance and adopted by it as an emblem.

This body is really a culmination of several years worth of work. Tonight I intend to share with you the source of my interest in totems and native artwork, my love affair with found surfaces, the intersection between illustration and painting, and how we arrived at this point.
I have lived in Seattle twice. The Seattle Art Museum, SAM, has an extensive collective of Pacific Northwest Artifacts. I'd like to stand in front of you and say that my interest in totems was derived from my exposure to this work. It's not. That exposure did not hinder my interest by any means, but I can definitively say that it was not the source of my interest in totems.
Seattle, I think it's safe to say, is known for its coffee shops. I frequented many of them. One of these was Top Pot Donuts, which made a might fine donut and some mighty good coffee. One morning after a domestic dispute, I found myself seated upon patio furniture out front of Top Pot eating a maple glazed donut and drinking a large coffee. As the crumbs started to fall through the perforations in the wonky table, I realized that I had a visitor. A small bird was hopping from one side of my foot to the other, on top of my foot, around in circles and every which way, ecstatic over the falling crumbs of my donut. While in my vacant domestic doldrums, it occurred to me that there was something about this bird, something not quite like escapism and not quite like omniscience, but firmly placed in a realm of entropy. He, or she, I am not really aware of the distinction in colors of this particular city dwelling species of bird, was completely free to hop around and eat crumbs, or, to more importantly, fly away.
Let's fast forward approximately three years. I was working with a gallery called The Hive in Los Angelos. The curator of the Hive requested that the artist regulars in his group shows all create an avatar. It hadn't occurred to me at the time, although it now has in recent years, but what I was searching for in an artistic avatar, was anonymity, escape, dream seeking and freedom. I wanted a world full of choose your own art adventures, because I felt that my own world presented myself and my peers with such a limited offering of adventure. I immediately thought back to my tiny bird friend. He had the capability of all of the adventure he could possibly dream of. I titled him the Mighty Lark, and he was all of the things that I was not.
I followed the Mighty Lark with a multitude of characters, all of which I thought were just cute little creatures, but all of which actually seem to carry little bits of my persona. I carried them to graduate school, where they were dismissed and ridiculed and I tried to hide them, but they kept coming out. They kept coming back. I couldn't hide my little illustrative troupe. They were my in crowd that I could never attend to in my real world. I carried as well my desire for found and weathered surfaces, another key element to my work that I could never begin to explain.
As I kept day dreaming about and developing these characters and these surfaces, I kept trying to come up with what I thought of as “big boy” art ideas. I wanted to create work that would appear in major galleries across the world, that would make people go oooh and aaaah in the way that Jeff Koons' huge shiny things make all art snobs and A.D.D. kids go oooooh and aaaah. But what has occurred to me in the past year is that I didn't want to say anything that big. I didn't want to make the things that kept appearing in my art text books which were categorized as successful fine art.
And so this past year, I realized that I need to provide a frame into my day dream, some way to separate the viewer from my characters and illustrations. To this end I discovered the grid. It was mathematical, but avoided the rules, just as I did in high school so many years ago. It was about color and order. It was about framing. I determined that I would provide my viewer with the right side of the mushroom, so that they could shrink into my headspace. More importantly, however, I realized that my band of merry and mellow characters needed their own cosmology. I needed to separate them from this earthly realm and don them with the moniker of myth. I needed to make them a spiritual other. As I was attempting to create this more spiritual idea of my characters, it was then only logical that the images of Pacific Northwest Totems began to mean something to me.
The characters in the original totem poles and native art told myths which related the origins of that which was important to each tribe. As I began to breathe the vital air into the pictorial lungs of my illustrations I started to realize that these characters and machines were actually very vague representations and allusions to the ideas and beliefs of my own tribe. Like the artifacts of actual tribes, however, I have always wanted my work to feel old, to feel like it has its own history, and so, suddenly it occurred to me that, “hey, this found wood thing carries some history.” It carries age. It is the perfect medium for constructing totems out of. This is obvious. What were totem poles made of? I had my answers, for now at least. I have come as far as I have come.
And with that I will open the floor for questions.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The White Lodge

I've been hard at work.  My son was born a week ago yesterday and after 5 days of sitting still, growing used to the idea of being a father, coupled with helping my wife out and about, I started to get very antsy.  I determined that I needed to create grids that were environments of their own.  I wanted to control the space, both from the point of how a viewer would be able to access that space and where that work could be positioned.

A little over a year ago, I adopted an image of falling houses as an indication of nuclear families surrounding me but never feeling terribly apart of me.  I'm now one child away from a nuclear family but that house image still sits with me.  There is something very profound to me about the symbol that indicates stability, family, good health, American Values, and prosperity.  I don't think any symbol of the American Dream is more accessible than the simple house.  Our children understand it and draw it from a very young age.  It is not so much the object which makes it important, but everything that it represents to the child.  That is where his or her family lives.  There they are, or at any rate should be, completely safe.  It is a symbol of the thing that they have come to understand from living in a space with the same people for a number of years, people that most likely have been with you since day one.

Ideas of family still appear far different in this 21st Century than they did in previous centuries.  Our families are not as close as they used to be.  College age people move all over the country, sometimes never to come back.  We are a trans-familial society if we are to use Baudrillard's logic.  When Baudrillard uses the prefix "trans," he refers to an item in culture which is experienced by the simulacra, or copies that depict things that either had no reality to begin with, or that no longer have an original.  In essence, our idea of family is what we see on television and in the movies.  This cookie cutter existence which is prescribed by various clothing, household goods, and technology companies is indicative of a happiness that never existed in that way to begin with.  It's similar to that saying "money can't buy you happiness."

During my wife's pregnancy and our ensuing birth, I began to lose myself in reading on cultures which stressed oral histories passed along through the bloodlines.  The indigenous tribes of the Pacific Northwest particularly held my attention.  The art work and mythologies which are so unique and specific to each tribe seemed a healthy alternative to the cultural sameness which modern America seems to prefer.  The design and pattern in the work seemed to speak of an order and a logic by which the people lived.  Naturally, as my social life changed, I sought out this same type of order through patterns of my own.  I also started to reincorporate characters into my work, defining them through mythologies that I steadily made up.  The final straw which cast me into this present work occurred while reading about Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce.  Christian missionaries worked with the Nez Perce, who were a very receptive nation, to instill in them the ideas of Christianity.  After a time of adopting the Christian Religion, many Nez Perce returned to their owner dreamer faith.  The Nez Perce believed in spirits called weyekins which would, they thought, offer "a link to the invisible world of spiritual power"(1).

This idea of spirits linked to spiritual power reminded me of David Lynch's Twin Peaks.  I started to think about the White Lodge and the Black Lodge.  My brain leaped to the falling houses again; symbols of a lodge, a home where people congregated, a spiritual dwelling.  It suddenly made sense to create a lodge of my own.  It is the Lewis's White Lodge, where the Mighty Lark is omniscient.   It is a place of safety for my boy.

 The idea is still taking a little shape, but at least I understand how there is a context to mix these creatures and my more contemporary painting work.  There is a spirituality and a mythology brewing which I think will explain for me some of my dependency on this more illustrative method of communication.


(1) Hoxie, Frederick E.; Nelson, Jay T. (2007). Lewis & Clark and the Indian Country: the Native American Perspective. Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press. pp. 66–67. ISBN 0252074858. OCLC 132681406

Monday, June 2, 2014

Hey Man, I'm a real Fungi

When Shirah moved out of studio she gifted me 4 large pieces of panel.  Somewhere in hanging my show at Sohns Gallery I started to see all of the layers that I have been producing for years.  I started to see how everything was connected, not as though I made the same painting over and over again, but more that I was creating a body of work which all fit together, delivered different messages although always in the same tongue.  I started to see my language and my vernacular more than the limitations of an imagery.

I have been making several different zines over the past two months.  They have been reduced to making different patterns.  I have two different sketchbooks that are being filled entirely with pattern.  I feel as though I am seeking an order where there wasn't one previously.  From the library lately, I've spent a considerable portion of time reading about indigenous people of the Americas, herbs, and fungi.  I've balanced out these more academic subjects with Gabriel Garcia Marquez's 100 Years of Solitude and Herman Melville's Omoo.  I've been immersed in the identity of a pregnant couple.  I'm soon to be a father and now the head of a household.

These are all patterns.  We produce similar situations to the situations we have previously experienced because these situations are unique to the individual.  The individual most likely defines the situations due to the choices that the individual makes.  The patterns surround everything.  This all seemed clear to me as I was looking at the panels that Shirah gifted me.  I've been practicing in the zines, considering how different marks create different thoughts, how the different thoughts are then amassed to create new webs of knowledge.  When I was in school I was very much into the ideas of Guillez Deleuze.  I felt that the rhizome idea of thinking was how our brains worked, but as I read more about the fungi and think about the mycelium in mushrooms, I am understanding my brain differently.  There are things that I constantly see as my knowledge base.  I am going to consider this the organism that I am preying on.  As I delve into this knowledge base numerous angles dive into it.  These are like the mycelium web.  My brain works like a fungi, which in all honesty makes more sense anyway since human beings are more closely linked to the consuming fungi than the food producing plant world.

Here are a few images of the grid pieces that I have been obsessing over lately.  I hope you like them and that perhaps they have you making connections in places where first you had not suspected.