The End is Only the Beginning

For those just tuning in, I will be graduating from the Columbus College of Art and Design with my MFA on May 10th, 2014… Holy crap.

It's been a hell of a ride and I definitely believe that I have gotten exactly what I needed: a fresh perspective... a chance to evolve. I love my paintings but after a decade, I seem to have taken them as far as I could without becoming redundant or worse: a cliche' of myself. This left me in a sort of limbo. I kept asking myself; “Well, what NOW, smart guy?”

Indeed. I continued asking this question on a ceaseless loop throughout the whole of last year before being able to come up with any sort of answer. Looking back, I could see tendrils of my new direction aimlessly creeping along the ground in front of me... My first project came off the wall and directly confronted the viewer, ready to fight. A spray of puzzle pieces on the ground screamed at me to go deeper. The second project distorted my vision – challenging me to skew my perception, while still actively reducing and distilling my visual language. By the time the summer rolled around, it felt like I was losing my mind, so I stopped fighting that feeling and just let it happen.

Best decision EVER. Enter my thesis project. 

What began as a reactionary series of work born of personal experience, has quickly become an examination of diagnosis, treatment and the various perceptions of each. 

As taxing a series as “Survival Tactics” has been on my overall well being, it's also been a real win for me, in that I feel more capable of evenly straddling low and highbrow sensibilities. In essence, I've learned to embrace my bipolar nature across the board. I now find a certain “mid-brain” satisfaction in being able to function in opposing extremes and to do so with greater ease. 

What that means, is that my hiatus is officially over... time to get back to work!! There are residencies to seek out, grants to apply to and art fairs to reconnect with. Many of the galleries I am associated with are mostly paint-centric, pop oriented or strictly underground/counter-culture. My hope is that they will be willing to continue representing me in this new incarnation, while also opening doors to a wider range of venues and possibilities. Fortunately, I've got a solid foundation, a loyal following and a long-standing, positive reputation to back me up...

cicadas.jpg

Crunch Time

As I have mentioned, in this new body of work -- "Survival Tactics" -- I am addressing themes of isolation, loss of identity, stigma, dehumanization and to a lesser degree: our society's obsession with diagnosis and medication. This has meant, by way of self analysis, taking specific imagery from my own psyche and developing a code of personal signifiers and internalized visual stereotypes and tropes and projecting them into the real world by way of distillation. This, I feel, will give way to a deeper, more universal exploration of how these themes may affect one's perception of the world. Literally, this requires of me to give corporeal form to the intangible with the hope that the work will ignite a healthy discourse amongst its viewers.

Initially, I began with free association writing exercises. I would wake up each morning and immediately write down whatever I could remember. I would sketch without purpose in a stream of consciousness. This ultimately led to my exploration of ink blots. Inkblot tests – specifically those compiled by Rorschach, are what psychology experts call “psychological projective tests.” It is believed that these tests are a way of getting into the depths of a person's subconscious. Therefore, to continue along this philosophical route, I tested myself to see what I might learn. Then, I began creating my own. I would recall a memory -- relive it. While in the throws of recollection, I would then make a blot. One became several, several became dozens. I studied these inkblots and began sketching what I thought I saw. As I sketched, I edited, discarding surface imagery and diving ever deeper. A pattern soon emerged. This pattern, coupled with the elements of the code I had been developing, led me to carefully manufacture reflective cut-outs that initially resemble the inkblots that first bore them. The few quickly became many. 

 My cutouts

My cutouts

A primary symbol in this language is the Cicada. 

Cicadas live the majority of their lives underground, hidden from the world, before one day emerging to shed their shells and procreate. A common insect found across the globe, the Cicada is the subject of much folklore. Generally speaking, they often represent transformation, reincarnation and  evanescence. Of special importance is the fact that the cicada molts, leaving behind an empty shell.

 A Cicada shedding its shell

A Cicada shedding its shell

Metaphorically, this particular trait -- in regards to my thesis, is a manifestation of the empty, hollow feelings associated with depression, while the suggestion of transformation or leaving the past behind evokes a sense of growth. In antiquity, this speaks to enlightenment. For the purpose of my code however, it has come to represent self awareness. In ancient china, glass cicadas were often placed in the mouths of the dead to symbolize rebirth, which aligns them to the realm of the pyschopomp, which is believed to guide a soul from one life to the next.

 Crows as pyschopomps

Crows as pyschopomps

The Cicada is, for the most part, benign and often overlooked until the end of it's life cycle, when it emerges back into the world to procreate. It's "chittering" song, which seems directionless due to it's low pitch is, appropriately, created by vibrating a hollow chamber within the cicadas own body. This song is akin to white noise or static and is for me, an iteration of  the rapid or intrusive thinking that is symptomatic of mania: intense, overwhelming and impossible to escape. Naturally, this lead me into an exploration of diagnosis and treatment. 

Among the many, many pharmaceuticals associated with treating such symptoms, is Valproate semisodium or, as it is more commonly known: Depakote. Based on personal experience, I chose this particular medication as representation for all prescribed medications primarily because of it's pink, candy-like coating, but also for it's perversely reminicent scent of circus peanuts. This association with cheap candy sparked the production of 5,840 pink plastic, candy-like cicadas. Each one represents a dose of medication that passed through my body during the first four years of treatment. Stylistically, I chose a life-sized bone carving of a cicada from China, in order to echo the historical affiliation with Asian antiquity as described earlier.

 Circus Peanuts

Circus Peanuts

Depending on the context, the cicadas I have made allow me enough latitude to explore their potential as a surrogate for the body as well as invaders or even -- on some level, purification. To better explore this dialog between the cicadas and their environment, I have been photographing them in public/private scenarios as a type of place holder for the individual. 

 A place hiolder

A place hiolder

This exercise has brought me to an exploration of the absence of the body. The shell of the cicada, as it were. Early on, I had been thinking of the body in distress. Images of the Pompeii figures came to mind and I explored the themes they suggested through sculpture and drawing. There was a sense of fragility in those frozen moments that whispered in my ear, and on a primal level, informed the core of my work. Also, the figures suggested a notion of the body as a container -- literally a vessel, hollowness.

I explored sculpting a figure in a huddled, defensive pose. Of casting a shell for it. Then I created a life cast of a figure emerging from nothing, into nothing. These didn't feel quite right. I focused again on the shell and have since come up with the idea of defining negative spaces. The absence of the body. The emptiness that remains or perhaps, the emptiness finally left behind once the body has gone.

 Form

Form

 What was left behind

What was left behind

 Absence of the form

Absence of the form