Monday, November 05, 2012


    So now I've gotten comfortable enough working with the emulsion that I've begun to do more large scale works, even though using so much of the emulsion at one time kind of makes me cringe!  The last piece I completed, which I will post about later even though it did not turn out anything like I had planned or expected, had revealed an entirely new direction in which to take my art.

    In this piece, titled Touched, I draw upon one of my most vivid and powerful memories: the events leading up to my first kiss.  At this point in my life, I was struggling greatly with the knowledge of  my sexuality and the fear of the consequences from my family.  My father vehemently forbade any expression of being gay,and forced me to go to therapy in order to correct the mental illness I was suffering from.  However, myself, being as strong-willed and bullheaded as he, knew that this was not going to change.  I had known my orientation from the age of 10, and had spent the previous 5 years concealing it and dealing with the emotional consequences on my own.  But this suppression had a backlash, creating an obsessive desire to find someone, to touch, to express these terrible desires that were forbidden, and yet pulling at my core as potently as the need to survive.  I finally found someone who was capable of returning my affections when I was 15, and you cannot imagine the excitement, the relief of knowing I was not alone, that overwhelmed my senses.  Yet even still, I was terrified of my father and of what could erupt upon the discovery of this treasure.  And then that summer, at a friend's birthday party in Galveston, I found myself outside with him out on the patio overlooking the ocean with a strong warm breeze washing over us and the sounds of the crashing waves drowning out everything but us in this electric moment.  The year had already been difficult, with me coming out to my parents and dealing with depression and isolation and the constant threats from my father to both of us.  So at first we were just talking, each safe in our own sleeping bags, but the longer we looked into each others eyes the more irresistible the pull became, until suddenly we were holding each others arms.  Each of us were so desperate to touch one another and share this simple contact and yet so horrified at the thought.  Him with the backlash of religion and me from the strong boot of my dad pressing on me.  The strain of energy coursing across my nervous system was so great I felt as if I could burst at any moment.

And then he kissed me.

There has not been another moment in my life when the touch of another has filled me with so much thrill, so much wanting and need, than in that moment.  Every single detail of that moment and the unimaginable bliss that someone could want me as badly as I wanted them for the first time in the five years I had suffered alone has never faded from my memory, and it is due to such things that I now feel the confidence in myself to express in my art. 

    Here was my process:
I laid a foundation of an oil based primer with my hands upon cloth, using my body to throw and spread the paint, leaving traces of my palms and fingers across the material.  I then used a paint roller to cover this with emulsion, almost erasing the traces with the medium I would then use to capture my body and that of Gavin, in the position that mimicked my memory.  Because the emulsion was a bit tacky, and because it could not bond properly with the oil primer, the contact with our bodies loosened it and caused it to tear where it contacted our skin, and later while processing, giant holes appeared.  The image has become a mirror of the emotional turbulence I felt: a suppressed desire to touch, covered with a superficial appearance that was slowly degrading under the power of this basic need.


Pam Beeler said...

R. J. -- The piece and your description are both inspiring. Thank you, for both. Thank you, for sharing your gift with us.

R.J. Peña said...

You're welcome Pam. I'm happy that you find inspiration in my work :)