A Matter Of Perception

The following essay is what art academics refer to as an "intellectual trajectory." It is essentially an artist's history of their life as an artist, what they've gone through to get wherever they are, and where they see themselves headed.

This is mine:

As a child, I was mystified by anyone who could draw. To create something out of nothing was to me – in no small terms, a divine act.

When I was nine, an uncle of mine pulled a tiger out of thin air and confined it perfectly to paper. It was the most amazing thing I had ever seen. When I asked him to do it again, he handed me the pencil, gave me a pad of paper and left the room. That was how I was initiated.

I began collecting books on the Baroque, Renaissance and Dutch masters hoping to better understand and emulate their mastery over composition, form and light. Content to me was irrelevant. For the first six years of my life as an image maker, my primary focus was centered on the “how” of art. I was mentored by painters, object makers, photographers and draftsmen. I studied theory, application and technique, honing my ability to see.

But as I got older, I began to realize that there is a subtle difference between seeing and SEEING. That is, what is perceived versus what is actual. There was an unfortunately great deal of violence in my home. My mother hated her life, resented my father and would often take out her frustrations on me. Never flinching, never reacting, never giving into her lunacy was my only defense. But outside the home, she was the perfect mother of an enviable, hard working family and I was helpless to convince people otherwise. There was my perception, my mother's perception and the perception everyone else seemed to have. I escaped into literature and music, gravitating towards examples of one thing being taken as another all while obsessively pouring myself into countless sketchbooks. For me, it was about surviving. It was here where I found Salvador Dali and the way he challenged a viewer's awareness by dancing in the periphery of an accepted reality. In his biography, The Secret Life of Salvador Dali, a point that was made that still lingers with me is how he struggled with the knowledge that to his parents, he was a replacement for his dead brother and namesake. His work, therefore, presented a paradigm shift that gently ushered me into the “why”of art.

Two years later, a fellow artist approached me during the reception of our most recent group effort and gave me my first ever critique. "It's not just about looking and copying y'know, it's about feeling it too. Paul Cezanne said that." I blinked at her. Then she handed me a book about the Impressionists, smiled and crossed the room to go talk with the curator. I was never the same. Drawing and painting had always been something I did to cope with my life but once I began feeling it too, it quickly became my life.

Since then, I have devoted every waking moment to creating something out of nothing.

In college, I dove head first into creative exploration developing the “how,” pushing the “why” and ultimately seeking out the “what” of art. In those critical years, I kept a quote from Picasso taped above my desk and rewritten throughout my journals; “Learn the rules like a pro so you can break them like an artist.” To that end, I spent much of my time in the San Francisco MOMA conferring with Rothko and Davis and Hopper, gleaning their wisdom. On the advice of my anatomy instructor, I devoted two days a week for over a year examining and sketching science lab cadavers at the medical school just so I could have a more tactile understanding of the human form.

By the fourth year of my compulsive practice and studies, I had reached a fever pitch. I wasn't sleeping, I rarely ate. I did nothing but produce and work and produce and drink and produce until one day, when I was twenty four – graduation mere days away, I pulled a tiger out of thin air and confined it perfectly to paper.

I used to wonder, when a dog would chase after a car, what it would do if it actually caught it? In hindsight, this was the beginning of my nervous breakdown. I sought counsel, was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder and Posttraumatic Stress disorder and spent the subsequent five years in and out of hospitals and learning how to live life in perceptual ambiguity. This was a dark, scary time filled with antidepressants, blackouts and a medically induced creative block that utterly unmade me.

By the time the fog had begun to lift, it was 2001. I was off my medication, attempting to self-manage, and I had lost the ability to make art. The World Trade Center was in ruins and I had lost the ability to make art. The economy was losing altitude and spiraling into a nosedive and I had lost the ability to make art. Across the country and at every turn there existed only bedlam and I had lost the ability to make art. Clearly, this was the perfect time for the prodigal son to return home to New York and confront his estranged father.

If you're going down, you might as well go down swinging.

Six excruciating months later I learned that I had a brother and two sisters and that my father's greatest regret was having children. So, I left. Uncertain where to go or what to do next and unable to find an affordable place to live, I drove to St. Mark's place, and purchased an old 38 special from a guy who knew a guy. I had friends, so couches came easy and when they didn't, I tagged some buildings. I wrote terrible poetry. I wandered the streets thinking long and hard about my revolver and whether or not tomorrow was worth the risk.

A year-to-the-day after being home, I experienced a string of events that could only be described as divine intervention. These events led to a tiny San Francisco apartment with me surrounded by the entire contents of my collective portfolio. I worked. I took long walks. I fasted. For three weeks, I sifted through innumerable drawings and carefully retraced my steps from my earliest memory right up to the moment when I started to detox. Somewhere, amidst my life's work I decided that a hard won life is a life worth living. That's when I began to paint again. That's when I discovered the “what” of art. It was September 23, 2003.

I'm not one for self portraiture. Not in the literal sense, anyway. Mostly, my interests center around social commentary. I present things that often get overlooked. I introduce you to people that either amaze me or break my heart. I speak clearly with intent and, as my Grandmother put it, “cut the bullshit.” I strive to be articulate and succinct – brief. People call it graphic. My work often has a narrative arc because, in my opinion, life has a narrative arc. My voice is loud, carried along the vibrations of color interactions and high contrast, but it is also hand-crafted. I take raw pigments and make my own paint. I take the time to construct the panels I work on with the hope that they will out live me. In a disposable world, in this short and fleeting life, longevity is my final stand. All these elements are woven into a piece called “Myself.” In it, my back is to the sunset. My posture is tired but stable as I stare at the shadow cast before me. The sunset is my past. I face the uncertainty of my future with resolve. My shadow is there to remind me how far I've come and that ultimately, I am not alone.

 "Myself"

"Myself"

Not too long after my epiphany, I met the love of my life. She's a writer and an educator, a storyteller, like me. We live for art and as a result, transcend it. I found new inspiration, a new momentum fueled by a new life. My paintings started to gain serious attention, taking me across the globe – connecting with viewers of all walks of life and now, ten years later, I have entered a new phase of work that encompasses communication and community. Through murals and installation, sculpture and mixed media, I find myself reaching beyond the wall, beyond what painting means to me and more importantly, beyond the limits of mere classification.

As a child, I was mystified by anyone who could create something out of nothing. It is – in no small terms, a divine act. Right now, in our homes, in galleries and museums and on the street there is a dialog going on, a grand narrative that in one way or another we are all a part of. How you hear it, whatyou do or do not see and why, is just a simple matter of perception.      -DeROSAart, spring 2013