Paper is the main material right now, assembled without a complete idea of the final form. I am usually thinking in terms of film-like events. Most compositions are the result of an associational process branching off into different directions. The landscape aspects are inspired by local life intertwined with dream elements that act as place setters. Most of the architectural shapes come from photos I’ve taken mixed with recollected buildings. The figures are made up or lifted from elsewhere. They exist either as wholes, parts, animals, plants, items bought at the store, hybrids, or as architectural entities.
One thing about paper is its edges. If, in the early afternoon we stand on a peak off of the S22 highway as it passes Culp Valley just before it begins its descent to Borrego Springs and look south-east, we will be on the closed end of an arch laid horizontal and delineated by the Anza-Borrego State Park mountain range. From this scenic point we can get a look at California. As one tilts the head upward, the low land between the ranges opens up on either side off towards the Salton Sea. The sky looks grayish white under these conditions and there is the feeling of a subtle but perceptible flat decline in the landscape the further one looks off. The land disappears into the distant iron haze somewhere below sea level. It is as if horizon itself is pulling away from us.
If paper could have edges that created experiences such as the above we’d be in business. But perhaps we can settle for the possibility paper offers, a sort of budget sublime for a medium historically tied to preliminary and supportive activity. Its expanse is vulnerable to change and can easily continue on; paper can always be glued to the ends, end over end. Through patchwork addition the edge can increase in perimeter and pull away. With painting, the pre-framed edge has a physical invulnerability whereas with paper the edge is a suggestion. Most application on paper leaves a mark that cannot be completely effaced. Layers of paint deform the paper as moisture is wicked and evaporated. Collage covers over and leaves seams while erasure cuts burn-lines into the fine and shrubby surface. These unavoidable traces bring to light the potential of activity that never really ceases.
With the ink jet prints in the ‘movie mashup’ series I am interested in the mosaic quality of immediate awareness. Each picture is an eye looking out. Repeated and altered scans overlaying each other to build up the image act in a metaphorical manner and manifest as distortions and offsets in the final work. The subjects are derived from screen grabs from films.
The poppy flower series comes from photos of poppies from the web. These give me a chance to explore color and painting. As political, emotional, and economic plants, poppies are subject to Orientalist fantasy and dreamscapes while providing society with a vast casualty count. The graphite framing parodies control of the subject.
Simon Rodia’s Watts Towers stands over California art. Rodia was operating outside the folk arts and avant garde at the time of the towers’ creation. Like many transplants in the early 20th C. who arrived during a time of concentrated California boosterism, whether to work or to found new religious cults, Rodia may have inhaled the fresh history of the place, like fresh paint over ‘America Tropical,’ and felt himself upon new grounds of possibility. Now Watts Towers looks contemporary and completely integrated. We can link Watts Towers to a certain mode of art reception by discussing Outsider Art.
‘Outsider Art’ has become the defacto name for art that has by general consensus (critics, galleries, collectors) a modernist or contemporary feel to it (it looks interesting), yet comes from outside the both contested and agreed upon sphere of acceptable practice. A work of outsider art could come from someone whose biography does not overlap with the art world but whose art imparts a curious intensity or urgency that points away from kitcsh. Modern art has always held a fascination with curios, particularly artifacts from cultures deemed ‘primitive,’ and held them as symbols of, or an actual case studies in, artistic essence existing beyond the horizon of Western meaning making. This romantic mirage persists in consuming what attracts it but signs of weakness can be found in cases where modern and contemporary practice have crossed paths with and maintained an egalitarian openness and reception towards alternative production by those we would today designate as outsider artists.
In 1936, MOMA curator Alfred Barr introduced Dada and Surrealism to the American public along with something called Comparative Material. Comparative Material included cartoons and the work of untrained artists. MOMA trustees only later realized this was a trial balloon for what Barr had in mind: a solo show for Morris Hirchfield, American primitive painter, in 1942.
No sooner had Barr’s desk been cleared out than one of art history’s great’what-if’s was established. If Mr. Barr had continued to arrange well-funded and regular shows in this vein, how would later artists and critics have reacted and how would his shows flow into culture?
In France, concurrent to Mr. Barr’s ouster, Jean Dubuffet was collecting a trove of untutored art which he then had published or put on show with mixed results. He had less means at his disposal than what the MOMA would ever allow. Despite this, Dubuffet managed to call around hospitals and siphon off scribblings otherwise destined for the trash. If not given works, he would generously purchase them at cut rates. Psychiatric hospitals and marginal quarters, both urban and rural, are where he found his vessels, whose unholy art furnished his radical sensibilities with the inspiration and artillery necessary to attack high culture. His eye was informed by the latest art trends and we are left to wonder what art he rejected. Interestingly, Dubuffet’s art looked nothing like that in his collection. It was the ideal of freedom he took from them and to him freedom meant rawness expressed literally with contingent, “impure” materials like dirt and the use of fingers instead of brushes. His paintings were intended as red hot skid marks on the dead walls of mainstream art institutions.
Further points of contact between outside and inside include Joseph Yoakum, a retiree without formal training, who showed with the painters from the Art Institute of Chicago in the 60s. We could compare this to the situation of Henri Rousseau and the avant garde of Paris at the turn of the century. Picasso held a burlesque banquet for Rousseau in his studio in 1908 and we can imagine a riot of plastered and forward-thinking Parisians hoisting aloft the ailing 64 year old “Customs Officer.” Sixty-odd years later the Chicago students, among the first generation raised in TV culture and civil rights, were primed to view Yoakum as a fellow traveler, a maker of things, in a time of the dematerialization of the art object.
In the early 70s, Roger Cardinal, a researcher of art outside the art world, responded to Dubuffet through the filter of 60s social awareness. A revolution in pharmacology allowed afflicted artists to function outside of institutions and mass media pressed on all but the most isolated. ‘True’ primitives were harder to come by. For Cardinal, Art Brut occupied one wing of an expanded realm of parallel productivity and he went through hundreds of names before titling his book ‘Outsider Art.’ This book is still out-of-print.
Today, for curators and critics concerned with power relationships, things are understandably tricky. To say someone is an outsider artist seems to preclude the possibility of dialogue. Their work is destined to be viewed through a seemingly impassable window and we may feel a little guilty peeking in. Since categories are often a necessary evil, and we can’t treat artist biographies as if they don’t exist, I believe the most important element in the reception of outsider art is for the viewer to open themselves to empathetic response.
MFA in Sculpture, Tyler School of Art, 2007
Post-Bac in Material Studies, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, 2003
BA in Mathematics, UC Berkeley, 1997