Sunday, February 11, 2007

Against my better judgment, I open myself.


I trust the process—research, collective critical analysis, emergent forms from visceral object making, alternate views that manifest themselves via found objects, questioning my assumptions about the nature of things, and daily writing. But most importantly I have found that if I force myself to remain open, open to alternate views, open to outside direction, I learn. To learn requires me to make mistakes, to be wrong. By allowing for failure, attempting to not avoid that which hurts, I am able to explore new things in that illusive space were sense and nonsense become interchangeable. This type of experimentation surprisingly often produces something quite coherent. Openness also allows me to recognize the herd (the mechanical human drone state which avoids painful mental, physical, and social conflict resulting in a deadening of the potentiality for change) and to navigate to its outer edges. I cannot avoid the herd (I am the herd); I cannot avoid culture (I am my culture). But on the skirts of the herd, my movement and exploration is less hampered by cultural dictates; more options are available to me; my assumptions become more transparent. I cannot fight the system. But I can learn to spread my proverbial wings and glide within the existing currents; flicking my wrists to alter my path. Openness, even when everything within me screams “NO!” improves me. Without it, I would remain the same. And what a boring life that would be.


“Impossible to have found so little a thing, in so great a clutter of thick, and deep grass.” Nathaniel Fairfax, 1674.

Research is an untangling of a cluttered, clotted mass of coagulated knowledge. I have so many questions about culture, the self and the nature of existence that research is obligatory. The more I research, the more I know; the more I know, the more I recognize that we do NOT know. Supposition is great; the factual is minimal. That we are missing the obvious seems apparent and it weighs on me. So I dredge the archives of theory on human development, object relations, social constructionism, cultural materialism, and my faith.

This research becomes critical to my making. The work is a vehicle for my ideas, my understanding or lack there of. I hunger for research (consumption) and art making (production). One without the other would make the remainder useless and of no value to me. I require them to be conjoined, equal in value when paired, worthless when separated.

I like to believe my work begins with this research, but this is not the case. There is significant play in idea/image/object development between the research, the collective critical analysis, visceral making, the found object, and writing. Each piece of work is an amalgamation of these processes. Research is critical and I thrive in its flow.


The collective provides an external motivator for following through on my interests, research, and form making. Furthermore it forces me to take the idea, the one that usually sits just out of reach, and stand up, snatch it, and force it into the box of language. The group enables me push and pull on it until I am able to knock off the rough edges and create something coherent. They also reveal to me when I have pushed the idea to far into the realm of nonsense (bullshit), or when I need to eject the idea totally because it is simply wrong. Often they suggest an entirely new tangent that I had not considered. I especially enjoy a group that mixes together what appears to be opposites, left and right, straight and gay, Christian and agnostic, Shiner Bock drinkers and Diet Coke drinkers, and east and west. A diverse group quickly reveals the fallacies I hold, but it also exposes the currents of commonality.


Water and oil do not mix, therefore plaster (that forms through a chemical reaction with water) and tar (an oil based product) should not mix. A positive times a positive is positive. A negative times a negative is positive. A positive times a negative is negative. Why? How is this like tar and plaster? How is this like my internal nature of goodness and shadow? So I set out to mix the tar and plaster. I built a simple mold, a cube, to test my questions. The tar and plaster mixed but didn’t mix. Wrestling within the cube, within the light and shadows, an emergent beauty, an odd sense of wholeness and redemption surfaced. I built a better mold into which I could pour 18 cubes at a time. More was better. I explored the relationship of the cube to the self—the open self and the closed self; the compartmentalized, fragmented self and the whole self; the empty self and the saturated self.


I collect things from the road side, both the incidental by-products of urban dwelling, such as shredded tire treads along the highway, and intentional discards left out for big trash pick up. Why do I do this? What is it about certain objects that draws me to collect them?


I am drawn to both the symbolic and formal elements of decay, the way in which an object has been altered by its mere existence. The worn, broken, torn nature of the aged object seems to make it more real, more honest. Decay’s reference to ensuing death serves only to bare witness to life and decay becomes terribly rich, with a fullness of character. So I collect these decayed objects. I hold onto them for awhile. Cogitate. Eventually the formal and symbolic elements of the objects and my current research meld. Then I make.


I trust the process, I definitely trust my body knowledge, the way in which it reacts and works certain materials. Tar. I work it directly with my hands. I empty myself—forging a direct and raw connection with it.

But, why tar? It is industrial; we are industrial. It is everywhere in our urban environment of which I am a part—streets, roofs, parking lots, exercise trails, plastics, etc. It is carbon based; I am carbon based. It is decay (fossil fuel); I am decay. It off gases...well you get the point. It is nasty, dirty, and gets everywhere, sticks and won’t release. These characteristics of tar appeal to my sense of our own dark nature—all the wanting and taking, the unrestricted selfishness. Besides, for a moment, I terribly enjoy being disgustingly dirty. Tar is my rebellion against the slick and fake in myself and our culture. We try so hard to be beautiful, smart, strong, and likeable, yet we can be ugly, weak, stupid and repelling. We don’t seem to have a whole lot of control over these things. As with tar, I have some control but not much. It is ugly, messy, and unpredictable but can be worked into something beautiful, sumptuous, and sophisticated.

Sometimes I make just to work the material and do not consider the symbolism or end product until later. For instance with The Shadowland series, I just needed to hammer twenty seven pounds of nails. It was about process, about visceral making. The black nail painting was the first of my artwork to be accepted by the art community and my design professors.

Initially, I had to consider scale. How large could I work and still manage to move it or hang it? So the piece became self referential, about two feet by six feet. I cut my first frame and stretched my first canvas (plywood on two by fours). Then I began. I smeared a little cold roofing tar in one corner and pounded nails into it. Pain is a quick teacher and I found that it would be difficult to use varying size nails. I discarded the found nails I had collected and went to Home Depot. I settle on one size and continued my pounding. Latex gloves (nitrile are too thin; they rip to easily) became a must have item. Baby oil, a gentle alternative to chemical solvents, for removing tar (and oil paint) from the hands, face, arms, and tools (plus it functions great as a mold release agent) was also required. Back to pounding. Tar. Nail. Tar. Nail. Tar. Nail. Hang from fence; pop back; straighten up carefully. Tar. Nail. Tar. Nail. Tar. Nail. Tar. Nail. Tar. Nail. Tar. Nail. Tar and nails for ten days straight, four to six hours a day, my physical limit. Hang from fence; pop back; straighten up carefully. Lather up with baby oil and detar self. At this point, I discarded my watch and to this day have not gone back to it—very un-American. I have learned to trust my natural pace versus the artificial units defined by the cultural mechanism of time.

Robert Rauschenberg’s black and white paintings, his combines embedded with everyday objects, and the Menil’s primitive collection brought out my own inclinations for the study of darkness and light, goodness and evil. Being egocentrical, I primarily considered how my own goodness gets lost in my shadow. This led to a more formal study of the self—theories of human development and social constructionism. These self considerations and research guided my work.

The size of my hands and the rhythm of hammering created repetitive patterns. I had to force myself to resist this patterning behavior, resist sameness, resist what my body so easily wanted to do. There was a working tension back and forth between my visceral body movement and my mind’s need to control the process and outcome. I slipped back and forth between these two parts of my self. My emotional response to what was visually emerging shaped this complex interaction of information processing and production.

This working between mind and body became a form of focused play. As with children during play, a set of rules (arbitrary?) was defined, “don’t make patterns with the nails.” Play became about following, testing, and manipulating the rules. PLAY. The body, the mind in rebellion, in synch; the nonsense and sense merged as a coherent object.

A coherent object, an art object, became a variable in which to store meaning, much like the self.
How can tar and twenty-seven pounds of nails be art? How can tire scrapes hobbled together be art? How can fifty year old twine and discarded metal shavings embedded in tar be art? How can these fit together to be art? NONSENSE! Yet because the work functions in a way that calls the viewer to overlay his/her own personal meaning onto the work, sense emerges. Why? Carl Jung would argue that the art object is a manifestation of cultural dysfunction, that the art is symptomatic of the collective’s turmoil with self, culture and the world. The art making becomes a lightning rod—it attracts desire for order which is disrupted by disorder, disorder creates tension, tension leads to making. And others within culture recognize an element of truth in the work, therefore sense a connection and derive meaning.

“ is awakened whenever the times are out of joint and a human society is committed to a serious error...When conscious life is characterized by one-sidedness and by a false attitude, then they are activated—one might say, “instinctively”—and come to light in the dreams of individuals and the visions of artists and seers, thus restoring the psychic equilibrium of the epoch.” Carl Gustav Jung

Am I a product of my culture with my discomforts in cultural praxis and the self being played out in my art making?

A step that brings me to a stop


Surrender infers war. Am I at war? War with whom? Myself? God? Other? Surrender to whom? Surrender what?

This also infers that I NEED to surrender? Why? Why? Why?

How do I know when to surrender and when to fight? Who gets to decide?

This is so unAmerican. And I am so very much doubt. I hate the idea of surrender. I am not saying your wrong in that I may need to do this, but the thought of surrender is well so very un-pullyourselfupbythebootstraps! And I am still pulling!

However, I do compromise (does that count?). Is surrender like submissive? Shoot! I suck at that too!

The idea of surrender sends me into serious rebellion! Based on that apparently I am at war. Dang.

I dissect the self only to discover it is but a mere flesh wound!

My design, sculpture and writing skim the surface of the construct of the self. There is an illusion that the self is an autonomous and masterful entity. Yet the self seems to function as a variable, a storage container for the dictates of society where the current cultural matrix defines what it means to be human—our limits, talents, expectations, and prohibitions. It tells us who we are and how we relate to the world. Emotions and identity are cooped as microregulators of culture. Want is appropriated as need. Consumer stimulation, pacification, and diversion are used to reinforce and reproduce the loci of cultural powers. If culture moves us toward unrestricted selfishness, we embrace our narcissism and revel in it. There is a struggle between the illusive independent self and the self’s dependence on culture. The self is incomplete, empty; culture completes.

Is this so? Are we social constructs? Why do I experience tension when I go along? Or when I resist? Can I enact change on the self or culture? Or am I impotent as a factor in change? Is it possible to step outside of the current consumer paradigm?

Who is in charge anyway?

How is change defined? Does it refer to a fundamental difference in a state of being or can change be just behavioral/superficial, as in managing ones funk versus no longer having the funk.

Are we purely complex systems of stimuli/response? What makes us uniquely human? What takes us beyond just being an object under the influence? What do we experience that is not based on our senses/stimuli/response?

How much risk is involved in thinking differently, behaving differently? Being different? What is the association/link between risk and energy? How might energy be stockpiled to use in risk taking in order to instigate change?

What is the role of solitude and group in change and change maintenance? Aren’t both required? Is the balance unique to each individual?
Is change possible?

I dissect the self only to discover it is but a mere flesh wound!