Over the past couple weeks I’ve drawn a few new characters, and I’m feeling encouraged by progress again. This funny lil’ animal series, Billions Pass Through This Landscape, has evolved from where it began and has taken a few tangents, to be sure. What you may or may not know is that I am working toward one big piece, which requires the creation of 27 characters (I am over half way there). Each character takes me a while, and rather than chug along, cranking out these creatures, working in a straight line toward this one final piece of the series’ name, I am taking lots of breaks to play with each new character on the side. It’s like I’ve created my own set of paper dolls to play with, and playing I am. These painted versions that I’ve been showing over the past couple summers at the TOAE, QWAC, AWOL, and other various shows along the way (like the one at Bohemia I was hooked up with via Awkward Stage) are the results of my playing. This is all tangent. I am one of those people who tends to gravitate toward self-portraiture (which I’ve been wanting to write a post about as well) and about 5 years ago I started finding ways to do the same thing in a broader sense. This was how the Dis/Connect series began. And now this “Billions…” series is a different way of saying essentially the same thing. They are self-portraiture disguised. But it’s not all about me, because it’s about drawing parallels between all of us, seeing ourselves in others (past or future selves if not current, perhaps), the transient nature of personhood and the constant change we experience moment to moment. And I’m just another one of these creatures experiencing life, you see. I’m drawing myself, in all my different facets, just as I am drawing you in all of yours.
So, in my 3rd year of McMaster’s art program I carved a detailed, life-sized woodcut of my entire body, nude. Why? I wasn’t exactly sure. It just felt like the thing I needed to do. It was learning about myself. It was an act of acceptance. It was a way to present myself to the world as openly and honestly as I could while still feeling a smidge of reassuring distance. Craving into wood is such an intensely physical act – I liked the roughness of it, the feeling of carving myself before my eyes, seeing myself mirrored. The medium forced me to work slowly and encounter every part of my physical self and spend time with it. For me and the way I work, it was more involved and more personal, more revealing and honest even, than having a photograph taken to present. This way of doing it demonstrated intent, and absorbed weeks of my energy. I did little but carve for 6 weeks straight until my hands were covered in blisters and scars and had cramped claws for fingers. Somehow it was cathartic. It was meditation, confrontation, realization, lightness. By the end, sharing it with the world seemed like the easiest thing to do. I had spent so much time with it that there was nothing shocking about it to me; nothing unusual about casually presenting it to an audience; there were no hidden vestiges of discomfort.
This is another case where the creation was the point. The end product was irrelevant, and I didn’t know what to do with it after – rather, I didn’t feel the need to do anything with it. …All though on one hand I felt like I had to take care of it. It was like I had created a double: a life-sized voodoo doll. Creepy?
So now I had this woodcut of myself. Next I did that thing I do, which is to play around, to see if I could get another artwork out of it, and I ended up printing just the face and chest on different pieces of fabric, and stretching them separately. This of course turned into the Dis/Connect Series.
…Which means that the base of each one of those pieces is me. It’s all different versions of me. I made about a dozen of them over time, and filled each with a different emotion, ranging from the extremes of lust for life (with my lil’ pollination joke, which was actually a hat tip to Zora Neale Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God”) to having given up on life. We are not stagnant creatures – we move up and down this spectrum on a regular basis; whether our range of movement is broad or not, we move. Over top of my open eyes I painted different people’s closed eyes, dreaming. Eyes are the focal point of a person’s face and though that’s all I changed, it transforms each face into a different person. Thus the series becomes different people, our commonalities anchored in the underlying print of one individual, repeated: me. The disconnect part is something else – there’s a bit of an explanation of it on my art website (this is just the corresponding blog). But that’s the gist of it – it’s to do with the cycle of emotions that each of us experience throughout our lives.
And now taking advantage of the stereotypes we assign to different forest animals by plunking them onto human bodies and allowing viewers to make general assumptions, I’m walking through the different personalities we each house in some capacity as our identities evolve over the coarse of our lives.
Consistent is a nicer word than redundant, don’t you think?
Slightly different version of the same thing.
So now, with these 27 characters I am working towards completing, I am trying to cover the entire life cycle, from wee babies to the richly aged, with a broad range of non-human animals and their corresponding associations and stereotypes. The divide we perceive between predator and prey animals creates a bit of a dichotomy but that is not the point; the point is all the varying shades of grey. These figures will all be presented together on one large panel of wood, with one blank space: an “X” in place of the 28th character. This is the start and end point: it is where we come in, and it is where we go out. It is what makes the series complete.
That big culminating artwork I envision is what I am working toward, and what I gave the name of “Billions Pass Through this Landscape” about 2, maybe 3 years ago now, when I first came up with it. That is The Landscape I am working toward representing. The whole thing. The landscape of our lives, and the transitions that each human throughout history the planet over has navigated.
Well, if you read all that, thanks. Happy navigating, you lovely humans, and try to remember to be gentle with yourself. Everything’s cyclic, everything’s temporary, everything changes, and no matter what it is, it could always, always be worse. …But it isn’t.
PS – I always love hearing feedback and responses from you. If you have something to add or ask, please post a comment below or send me a private e-mail if you’d rather. Even just a story something here made you think of. I love hearing people’s stories. Really, they’re all that we are.