Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Final Projects in My MFA Series

Some people may have seen my recent works in progress posted to Facebook and thought that I had gone a bit mad, just splashing seemingly random and muddy swashes of paint all over a giant canvas.  I know that most people have the reaction of "anyone can do this, when they see the giant mess I'm making.  But, I promise you, there is a method to my madness, and I'll do my best to describe my method and process to you.

Short summary of previous works:

My first series is based on capturing the physical imprints of my body upon a surface.  The images consist of my physical body in addition to marks and imprints that were unforeseen as a result of my working in the dark.  What this reveals is the underlying psychological process associated with the memories I have based the images off of, or more simply, the memory of my body unintentionally making itself known on the surface that speaks a clearer truth than my preconceived ideas.

My second series utilizes the methods I discovered in the first in that I use the intuition of my carnal memory to produce an image.  These paintings are different from the photograms in that the method is more deliberate than the unintentional recordings resulting from working in the darkroom.  In fact, I used my iPad to record a quick memory/intuition fueled sketch, that I then referenced as a intuitive compass as I worked in a much slower larger scale.

My final series will be two large scale paintings composed of multiple layers of tinted blacks.  For these pieces I am actually drawing inspiration from another artist's methods concerning a specific set of works: Mark Rothko's Rothko Chapel paintings.  These paintings are composed of many layers of uneven black washes that are different tints.  When you first look at them, you don't see much but black.  However, as your eyes adjust, you begin to see the layers of subtle colors that pull you into an infinite depth.  As Rothko put it, 

My works take the concept of creating a limitless space upon the canvas, but instead of applying the concepts of universality and infinity I fuel my expressions with intensely personal carnal mnemonic responses.  I perform each wash with an intuitive anchor, like the iPad sketches, only this time the anchor is musical.  I have been performing musically from as far back as I can remember.  Indeed my earliest childhood memories are performing singing and dance numbers on a stage for an audience.  That being so, music has embedded itself deep within my psyche, and nothing can recall the physical chemical responses associated with the memories of a period of my life like music can.  As soon as a song plays it's as if I step into a portal and relive those most potent memories of my life.  With this technique, each pass of color on the canvas becomes a physical marker of the memory within my body, building a map that displays not the response to an isolated moment or time period, but a window through which you can perceive a lifetime of experiences of joy, sorrow, love, hatred, envy, and every other hue of the emotional spectrum that paints my identity as a human being.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


Here are some highlights of my work in our end of the semester show for Viza631.  And in case you're wondering, yes, the pictures of pieces that have fallen off of the work is indeed intentional.  My work is designed to degrade slightly over time, as the changing surfaces mimic the fluctuating nature of memory and perception

Wednesday, April 24, 2013


So due to an error in mixing the plaster for the central portion, I lost a large chunk of the mid-right side.  I am very sad at this, but I also kind of like it.  Currently I'm struggling with the decision to repair it or not, since part of my concept is that I surrender control of these pieces upon completion, but it may take me a while to figure out what the correct answer is.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


4'x6' (wax, salt, acrylic, powdered charcoal, plaster, plaster sculpting clay, playsand)  
Today I completed my final piece for the semester, titled "Dysmorphia", in which I address specifically my struggles with body image, my diabetes, and gay culture.  My original plan was formulated in a previous post, but as you can see there have been some significant changes, all of which were discovered by accident.  There's a lot of talk about process here, but if you want to get straight to the meaning of this painting, you can skip to the blue section near the end :)

I began the way I normally do, looking at the intuition drawing to reorient myself on the emotional memories, and then letting my body intuitively express them on the canvas.  Next  I next began painting, using water to mix the paint with the charcoal, after which I began constructing the gash in the center with a mixture of plaster and (though I didn't intend this) plaster sculpting clay with I though was another carton of lightweight plaster and tossing around salt and powdered charcoal.  At this point I was feeling lost.  Everything seemed arbitrary and contrived and did not carry the emotional weight I had obtained in the intuition sketch.  So, I went to a crock pot in which I had been melting blocks of paraffin wax, and, since there were no handles to prevent me from burning my hands, i had use some oven mitts to lift out the pot.  Generally speaking, the pot was ceramic and therefore slippery, and this in addition to the lack of friction with the mitts its no surprise that I dropped it on the canvas and spilled wax across almost the entire surface.  Obviously, there was immediate horror, but these things do happen and I have learned to move with the situation.

So, I let everything cool down, meditated, and play with the new surface, discovering it was impossible to paint on but also froze everything underneath the wax which was awesome.  So I took it further, pouring on more wax, throwing n more charcoal, getting a knife and carving into the surface, spraying on a clear matte primer which allowed me to paint again, but what was this telling me?  I had done all these things to the surface but had not discovered anything.  But of course, this is when the revelation came.

When I first started dropping the charcoal, I had gotten a water bottle and sprayed water on to see if I could freeze the powder to surface with it without blowing it away.  Here I did the same thing, and unintentionally created pools of water that drifted across the surface, picking up particles of paint, wax, salt, and charcoal and depositing them in the cracks and crevices of the wax.  Unintentionally, I had discovered a way to reveal every mark and scar in the surface. 

How does his relate to dysmorphia?

Glad you asked!  I came to the realization that in this piece, the wax becomes my body, and every element that I added to alter the surface becomes a reflection of what I feel I need to change about myself.  These efforts destroy and alter the surface in ways that are mostly invisible to me, yet an unintentional element reveals the truth.  The water washes away the surface, picking up the superficial materials and redepositing them into the traumas that I have inflicted beneath the projections, forcing me to acknowledge not only the fact that they exist, but that I am accountable.  In many ways I do not see myself as I am, but only in terms of the environment in which I am placed.  This relative identification is corrosive because those elements are not inherent to my body, placed, instead, by the cultures of which I construct my identity.  The images of male models and masculinity are merely simulacrums of perfection, yet for me they have become reality and I am a deviation.  

You may wonder about the significance of the scar in the middle of the image.  Well, to me, the flaws in my appearance are the only things I see.  They become magnified to extreme proportions, though in reality they are mostly unnoticeable.  This scar is a side effect of my diabetes, called lipodystrophy (the deterioration of fat due to frequent insulin injections).  On my left thigh, I have developed a small dent where the fat has deteriorated, and though it's barely noticeable, I obsess over it enough that it is perfect for a representation of how I see myself.  

Sunday, April 07, 2013

2nd Pass of a Final Piece

    Completed a 2nd pass on this piece today.  I added blown up printouts of a journal I kept during my undergrad, and let me tell you how terrifying it is for me to put them there.  I literally had panic running through me as I read the entries, some of which contained detailed descriptions of my darkest thoughts that are more in depth than the posts that I put on this blog.  After placing them on the canvas, I immediately began a process of burying them and concealing them once again from view. However, eventually I was able to realize that hiding and concealment has been such a huge part of my life for so long, that I needed to excavate it and reveal it in order to accept myself and past.  Therefore, I began to wipe away what I had buried and reveal the texts (some of which the ink had begun to bleed and distort from the moisture, which is interesting).

    Overall, I was finding it difficult to tune into my memories today, so to experiment I took the painting outside while it was dark and continued to work on it in very minimal light.  Just enough that I could find my tools.  Since the concept of this piece is the blind search for self, I figured I might as well try to do it literally and see what happens.  The result?  A very intense emotional recall of some very specific and terrifying moments of anger and frustration connected to my inability to connect with others due to my fear of condemnation.  The passage in the upper left of the painting is where this took place, and in some places my brush strokes became so violent they stripped the layers of plaster underneath off the canvas.  Eventually, I got to the point where I threw the brush out and literally applied paint through my own hands, clawing and wiping at the surface as my body became tuned to the frantic search for form and structure that my memory was surfacing.  As usual, I'm not sure how I feel about the results, but currently I don't think I can observe the piece until the residues of disgust and frustration are washed away over a night's sleep.  You can also compare this iteration to my previous version here.

Monday, April 01, 2013

First Pass on a Final Piece for the Semester

As usual, exploring the effects of different orientations

close-ups of specific techniques of burial and excavation
So this painting is 4' x 8', and the scale is critical to the theoretical basis of my work this semester so the pictures really cannot do it much justice but I'll do my best to give an accurate depiction of what's going on here.

Staring at the huge blank canvas before me, it was incredibly difficult to make the first marks.  For whatever reason the sight of such a large area of pure possibility can be slightly paralyzing, and I have this fear that my influence will ruin that purity.  To help myself, I chose one of the intuition exercise to serve as a map for my emotional state:
Now I am not using this as a 1:1 sketch for an exact composition, but more of a guide to assist me in honing in on a particular emotional memory.  In doing these exercises, I am able to quickly sketch and express and remain true to emotional responses without the distractions of conscious mental processes.  However, working on a piece of this scale I am unable to maintain a continuous expression simply because I have to pause so often to prepare materials.  To remedy this, before I start throwing things on the canvas I stop and meditate on these sketched images to tune my intuition back into the region of memory response that I achieved during the sketch, and once I achieve that start letting my body create what it wants.  I literally use no constraints as to what artistic techniques I use: if I want to throw dirt and plans in with the paint I go outside and dig a hole and mash the dirt into the canvas.  If I want plaster to dig through I mix up some paint and plaster and glob it on and start digging through it, or if I want to cut through the surfaces I find the nearest object and started scratching and grinding away.  The process is incredibly liberating, and much like the photograms reveals much more than I ever could have consciously chosen to demonstrate.

As I worked on the piece, the meditations on my memories began to take the form of a mad scramble, as if I were digging to uncover something that I knew I needed though not knowing what it was  This is what it was like for me, especially in those first few years on my own as the strict rules that governed my younger years broke down and I built a new framework to live by.  This concept took root in my mind and I naturally began to look to earth and organic matter to form the surface upon which I literally dug through to uncover previous layers on the canvas.  I plan to continue to incorporate different materials over the next month to build mass on the surface and to further support the sense of history and discovery I am working towards.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

More Intuition Drawings

Intuition #4

Intuition #3
These are a few more intuition paintings I did over the weekend in preparation for my final project proposal for my Contemporary Art Studio Seminar class.  In terms of Semiotic communication, these pieces are descriptors of my body in terms of Index, which is a physical symbol made by its signifier ( i.e. a fingerprint as representation of a finger).  Literally, my body is imprinted in the photogram leaving both an Iconic representation of my physical body as well as a physical Index.  These photograms are placed on top of layers of materials which become a representation of my intuitive interpretation of my identity within the time period I meditate on.  I am interested in examining the way my conceptual identity changes as I work on these pieces, for I find that I am constantly defining and redefining myself in memory.  How does this fluid self-interpretation relate to my current body and how do the materials I intuitively select to create the grounds of the painting redefine my present?  Connected by a similar thread, in what ways are these objects represented in proportion to one another related to my body, as in how are the materials and methods proportionally and methodically distorted by the misconceptions inherent in my thinking?  I know this is a lot of theoretical jargon, but it is necessary to understanding how my art relates to modern aesthetics, and I need to be able to discuss my work in these terms in order to communicate and more clearly understand where these images come from.  If anyone would like to know more about these Indexes and Icons of representation, you can refer to this Prezi I made on art in relation to Semiotics.

Intuition #3: Reaching for myself through fear, foundations of medical paraphernalia weaving, stitching, and creating structure for my body.  If you scratch away the surface, you can see the layers and layers of evidence of what my body requires to function, and what I must consume to live.  My skin becomes a focus here and an obsession, as it both covers the marks of my injection sites, builds as scar tissue, and deteriorates in ultimate lipodystrophy.

Intuition #4:  How do I measure the worth of my physical appearance?  How do the physical side effects of my diabetes magnify and distort the imperfections in my body and how do I show the looming fear of what will become of my body in the future?  How much of my life is defined by this fear and is it the underlying motive behind most day to day decisions I make, and is this intensified by the affects of gay culture where looks are regarded as wealth?

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Intuition Experiments

Intuition #1
Intuition #2
    Here's a post about something different that I am trying.  In talking with my thesis advisers and examining my own intuition about what to do for my projects this semester, I've found myself moving away from photogramming that demonstrates specific moments of my past and more into imagery that examines my present interpretation of my previous experiences.

    When I completed my previous works, I had always had a specific plan in mind which was almost immediately debunked upon the completion of the piece.  It seems as if my work needs a more fluid and malleable interpretation that is not constructed from a rigid plan; in all honesty the art does not want to be concretely directed and instead wants to flow uninhibited from me and into the world.  There is always a battle which occurs within my head about what my MENTAL processes want the imagery to look like and what my BODY actually creates.  This can be quite distressing at times, and indeed I looked upon many of my works of last semester in utter despair before closer examination revealed a new lens through which I could view my past.  The ability of my mind to impede my body is not something which I feel will be productive in the macro perspective of my future, for I know myself well enough to  ultimately see frustration winning over my desire to create. 

    With this in mind, I have begun taking steps to exercise the surrender of my mind to my body and its intuitive nature, which has indeed proven to be difficult.  I feel that my works this semester want to be large, and while I entertain the romantic notions of an uninhibited pursuit of art I do have to remember that I'm a broke grad student with limited resources at hand.  This is where my handy iPad comes into play!  It allows me to draw, paint, and conceptualize prototypes without any fear of waste or irreversible mistakes.  The images I have posted are two intuition experiments that I have completed, where I physically engage in art and remove my mind from the process, working entirely by intuition and emotion.  I do have a few new themes that I keep way in the back of my mind to give my body a purpose, but I am working to minimize the extent to which the theme dictates the imagery.  I know I want to not recreate moments, but to illustrate how the moments felt without being too heavy handed with strict narration.  For example, in college I began to obsess over my body due to several factors, including the inevitable erosion of my body due to my diabetes and my superficial worth as an attractive homosexual man.  I don't want to say to people: my body is deteriorating and I suffer from dysmorphia, but rather: this is how my deterioration feels to me and this is how my physical obsession feels to me.  This is far more personal and moves away from the realm of the pedantic, which has been a constant struggle in the past.

    And so I look to methods of measuring my current emotional interpretation of my undergraduate development, which I'm positive will change as I work on my pieces and that I hope will remain evident in the final product.  You will see not an illustration of a single event, but evidence of a pursuit of discovery that is traceable throughout the surfaces of my art.  With what materials I will use to realize this I'm not entirely sure yet, but the question of which forces carved the deepest trenches in the construct of my personal development will provide the clues I need to decide.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Body Casts

 There are two things I would like to talk about here that contribute to the conceptualization of this piece.  The first is what I had mentioned in this earlier post about wanting to incorporate a more physical presence to my body's influence on my photograms.  The second is the concept of Marxism, which I was assigned to research and apply to a piece.  I'll post the finished image of that later today after I present it, but this is what went through my mind: 

Anytime I am asked to look into a particular theory, I read up on as many sources as I can in the time I am given, and then begin to digest it by examining how my work fits into it.  This helps me understand both the theory and my position within the context of art history which is definitely  something that's being pushed for in the MFA program here.  Marxism, as I understand it, is the an idealized utilitarian concept of society, in which most indulgences, such as fashion, art, and expression, are minimalized as because they have no direct and immediate usefulness in terms of benefiting society.  I do not agree with this from any angle, and this piece can be seen as a criticism of it.  So, imagine a white sheet covering this form like a funeral shroud.  The white is for the purity of a Marxist society that is placed over the individual.  While the form provides structure and some identifying human attributes, it is truncated at the knees, elbows, and neck, which erase the form's identity and ability to move.  This is the effect I believe Marxism would ultimately have on the internal psyche of the individual: personal stagnation, the inability to progress in personal or expressive pursuits, and the erasure of individual identity.  More to come on this in the next posts :)

Photogram Painting

Here is my first experiment with new materials incorporated with my photograms.  I've uploaded a process photo, since this methodology involves several stages of development. 

Fist, I experimented with the ground on which I would do the photogram.  I found this awesome gesso at Michael's that, although a bit pricey, has the awesome effect of shrinking as it dries and thereby distorting the canvas and cracking.  Since this semester I am focusing on the erosion of the body and false identities, this seemed like the perfect material to experiment with. 

Secondly, I began a painting with no particular image in mind.  Mostly, I wanted to choose colors and strokes that were tuned directly into how I felt.  I began with warm colors and smooth gradients in the top right, but as my OCD sank in and I began obsessing over details, the motion became broken and circular with a colder and darker palette, which created an image very similar to the perpetual storm on Jupiter's surface.  I was not satisfied with the piece with just paint, however, and I felt like the darker area needed something else, something that reflected the weight and pressure of the manic desire for perfection.  So, I went outside and started pulling up grass and weeds, covered the canvas with glue, and threw it on and painted it in.  This enhanced the feeling of mania and hysteria for me, and connected a medium which I was in complete control with materials directly from nature that I attempted to force into my creative logic.

Lastly, I incorporate my body directly into the image with the photogram.  In the case, the emulsion literally becomes a mask, covering the color of the paint in black but unable to completely adhere to its underlying surface, much like my previous piece Touched

I'm not entirely sure how I feel about this piece, but I know that it needed to be created and that my future works will in some way be influenced by what I learned here, and that may be the most important thing.  I've learned more through my failures in the past year than I have in my successes, and though the lack of concrete "progress" in my mind can be infuriating, it is nevertheless necessary.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

First Test Piece of the Semester

    Here is my first test piece related to my new series of photograms for this semester.  It is definitely a work in progress, since I am attempting new methods with the projection of images as opposed to just silhouetting my body in addition to the sculptural elements, and I feel like this may take a similar path to the beginning of last semester: I try to assert myself and tightly control compositions with this new and intimidating methodology until it ultimately breaks down and reveals something truer than I could have purposefully created.  
    I attempted to project words from my journal onto this fabric, but due to the luminance limitations of the projector nothing appeared in my first attempt, so I tried a double exposure and ended up with a gray mess (although there may be something profound in that no matter how hard I tried I couldn't get the words onto the fabric).  I then took the cloth and attempted to mold it to the plaster hand I created last week, and ended up with a faint impression of an object beneath the surface, which is what I wanted.
The piece is raw and unrefined, but I think that's okay.  Whatever I create from this point could not come into existence until this piece had been let out of my mind, and it is only the first step in what promises to be a frightening and illuminating journey over the next 15 weeks.

A New Darkroom!! II.

    The biggest challenge in building this room is the walls.  The current walls were left with open studs and visible tar paper, which had developed large holes from previous tenants nailing things, which is definitely no good for a darkroom.  So, we will be upgrading the structure a bit by building new, insulated, sheetrocked, and taped walls.  There was also a bit of electrical work to be done:  There was only one light, whose switch was to the right of the garage door (horribly inconvenient).  We moved the switch to the interior of the space, and added and rewired some electrical sockets, which you'll see later.
    We never use the garage door at the front so we just decided to wall it off, which meant removing the tracks for the door, building and insulating a wall and even a portion of the ceiling, which was difficult since it came up at an angle from the top of the door.  We also added a layer of plastic to add additional weatherproofing to the numerous holds in and around the door frame.  Boy oh boy has this been a LOT of work!!
    To stabilize the walls we needed to shoot bolts through the floor tracks and into the cement foundations.
    This is a shot from the interior of the room.  Thankfully the one wall that divides the garage from the house is solid enough that we don't have to build a new one.
Here you can see the current stage of the room, which is floating and taping all the seems between the sheet rock and filling in any holes we created while drilling them into the studs.
 This angle of the garage is the same angle as I showed in the previous darkroom post that you can see here.  There was no source of light for this side of the room, so we had to add two florescent lights in the ceiling, as well as adding some plug sockets near the bottom.

There is still at leas one solid weekend of work to do before the room is useable, but Gavin and I work well together and can get a lot of things done when we set our minds to it.  I am a little worried I have overstretched myself a bit, with taking Image Synthesis AND trying to complete the lighting work on the short film Sleddin', but hopefully it will work out great and I can make some rockin' art!

Friday, January 25, 2013

A New Darkroom!!

So, to accommodate the needs of turning my photograms into paintings/sculptural objects, I will need to make changes to the darkroom in order to overcome the fairly large space issue.  Even when solely producing 2D imagery I was hindered by the amount of space that I had to work in, especially since the photograms were so large.  The solution is a small construction project that will take the priority of the first few weeks of the semester.  We have a garage that has been used for very garage-like things, as in the storage of tools and the laundry machine and drier.  After measuring the space, we decided that we can consolidate the tools into 1/4 of the space towards the laundry machines and wall off the front to make a new darkroom that will be roughly double the square footage that I currently work in.  There will need to be a small amount of electrical work and the installation of sheet rock and insulation, and possibly some flooring, and an air conditioner so that I will be able to work comfortably and safely when the temperature inevitably climbs into the 90's and 100's.  As of right now, the materials for the room have been purchased for under $500 (thanks to my access to financial aid I'm able to do this!).  I expect the project to take the next two weekends, but fortunately I still have access to my previous space so I can continue to test new processes while the room in under construction.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Continuations and Expansions

This semester I will be continuing with the themes and concepts I established in the fall, but this time the subject matter will be what I consider to be the third era of my life. This period covers everything from my high school graduation and move across the country to Rochester, to the events leading up to my coming out and personal acceptance as a homosexual, my first love, and the struggles I faced in molding myself to seemingly impossible standards as a professional artist in the animation industry. When I look back on this time, I feel as if it was a rebirth and a new found infancy where everything was possible and yet horribly frightening. There were no chains to bind me except the ones I clung to from my past and the complexity of my internal struggles expanded to encompass wondrously new territories. I can reduce this bubbling concoction of experiences down to one simple word:


And so, with this new foundational concept, I have begun to examine the natural progression of form that would support my new themes. My works of last semester were primarily flat pieces that focused on images illustrating my struggles with the concealment and misdirected projections of my identity. This new theme calls for something more concrete and spatial, as it is one step closer to discarding the illusions that I had tried to maintain and, in truth, was the first time I openly invited others to peer beyond the screens of my fears.  The realization of these forms will be similar to my previous photograms with two exceptions:

1) I will be molding the fabric to my body so that it retains its shape, yet remains vague in terms of concrete detail.  The hand in the above picture is a test I did today with plaster bandages and is similar to what the fabric will look like.  You will see the form of my body as if there was a figure present underneath the fabric, still concealed but infinitely more concrete than the abstracted silhouettes of before. 

2)I will also be taking a more literal turn with the photograms by enlarging and projecting text from a journal that I had kept during college.  This act in itself is a huge leap for me in revealing things that I have yet been petrified to show. 

I hope to create a dialogue between the expression of my internal thoughts and physical manifestation of my body that reveals as much to me about this period of my life as it does to others.  It is an act of catharsis as well, for there is a lot yet left to express that has been pent up in the fortresses of my fears.  This semester will be a journey, hopefully a brutally honest one, that will allow me to openly discard my projections and reveal an intimacy that is closer to the truth of my identity and, hopefully, pave the road for a truer form of expression as a professional artist.