A Taste of Some New Work

I have been spending my time in the studio taking full advantage of the short time I have off between illustration jobs, gardening/container design jobs, and life as a professor at art school. My love of the esoteric has beckoned me farther into the dark depths of alchemy and hermetic symbolism. There is so much for me to trudge through, so much to explore. The chaos within matches the chaos that is my studio at the moment.

Besides a few small pieces (3"x3" of course 3 and its square are my favorite numbers) that illustrate three stages of the alchemical process (Nigredo, Albedo, and Rubedo) I have been working on a 3' x4' piece. This piece is an exploration of something different within my body of work. It seems to have been a long time coming, actually. I'm not worried about realism but just in the act of painting, of the act of creation itself.

Here is a taste of this work in progress...

You can keep updated on what I'm up to and the progress of this painting through my Instagram.

Artprize 2014 - Edgar Allan Po(p)e

Surrealism is destructive, but it destroys only what it considers to be shackles limiting our vision
— Salvador Dali

 

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Artist Statement

All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.
— Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe. Mention the name and dark images of phantom ravens lurk on the edge of your memory pulsating with the dull thud of a heartbeat you try to place in a time that has undoubtedly become timeless.  His name conjures the same familiar mood brought on by happy fairy tales told in childhood, but echoes the horrific and often strange reality of life reminiscent of lessons told in Grimm stories. Insanity, darkness, depression, terror; some words are forever associated with the legacy of this noteworthy American literary.

Illness, death, poverty and failure Poe knew all to well. His struggles are familiar to many and relevant especially to laboring creatives. His bizarre and unruly imagination, despite his life’s hardships, have inspired artists across genres and continents to continue to explore the surreal, the grotesque, symbols, and psychological expression for all the risk of being misunderstood and denigrated. Poe lives on through these people, today, in myth; his work passed on as tradition, his memory, a man with dark sullen grey eyes who possessed a mood twice as gloomy and three times as deep and complex.

Edgar Allan Poe, because of his fantastic macabre sensibilities and fits of insanity, has become a romantic and much loved Gothic icon; Poe the Patron Saint of the Dark and Weird. Naturally, he has always been a fascination of mine. His struggle to live the life of a poet and writer while constantly being pursued by unrelenting fate is a relatable existence. Not until recently, however, had I thought about the myth that is Poe, or that we have made of Poe. His name has become an illusion which encompasses ideas greater than those of his own and also, at the same time, less than those of his own. He has become an icon and is held accountable for reinterpreting Gothic literature. Even though some critics have dismissed him, I find it fascinating how such a figure has been woven so tightly into American culture that most everyone can understand the near-universal familiarity of Poe references in episodes of the Simpsons, South Park, and in songs such as John Lennon’s “I am the Walrus.”

While pondering Poe and the ideas of popular iconography the play on words Edgar Allan Po(p)e popped into my head. Immediately I created a sketch. I had to paint it. The pieces fit too nicely together to ignore. What greater way to play with symbols, iconography, and allegory that to incorporate one of the best known literary figures with religious, philosophical, and Hermetic references. I could construct a new narrative using the cultural legend of Poe by digging deeper into his psyche and drawing parallels he had laid out secretly within his work.

Besides pointing to two of his most famous works in this painting, also my favorites (The Raven and The Tell-Tale Heart), I also reference the Cross of Lorraine and other Hermetic or Alchemical symbols. I believe the duality and esoteric effect of these symbols compliment Poe’s own use of cryptography within his work. Poe, being highly intelligent and literary obsessed, was versed in ideas of Alchemy and other writers who utilized the philosophy. In The Gold-Bug he uses tremendous skill to construct a tale woven with arcane ideas of alchemical philosophy and symbolism to complete his narrative into an aesthetic whole. The tulip tree in the tale draws parallels between the alchemical “tree of life” and the duality inherent within the symbolism. The tree stands in for a ladder braced between two worlds. The “physical” and the “spiritual”, the “profane” and the “sacred,” “As Above, So Below.” I also, incorporated this tree onto Poe’s gold papal vestments.

The equilateral double cross also represents these same ideas of duality while also referencing the “secret knowledge” of the Philosopher’s Stone. This cross is the perfect Hermetic icon as the equal mirrored bars allude to the words of Hermes, “That which is above is the same as that which is below;” macrocosms is the same as microcosms. In essence, Hermes believed that God is the counterpart of man on earth and man as the counterpart for God on earth just as cells are the counterparts for humans and atoms for cells. Poe was held accountable for being blasphemous when he voiced similar views. Poe writes in Eureka, “God, self-existing and alone existing, became all things at once, through dint of his volition, while all things were thus constituted a portion of God.” In the book he explores conceptions of the nature of “matter” rather than the nature of “spirit.” In alchemical terms, matter (things of the earth) would be referred to as the “profane” and spirit as the “sacred.” Suggestions of the profane relate well to Poe’s inspections of earthly fears, delights, and sadistic tendencies in his other works as well.

It is speculated by many that Poe’s only true god was Art. He was obsessed with technique and his genius manifested not only in his distinctive creativity but also his analytical powers. It was his incisive thinking and detailed analysis that most likely lead to his presumed lack of faith in religion and unconventional views, for which, he was criticized and misunderstood. It is with irony that I paint him in iconic Catholic wardrobe. The effect is satirical with concerns to modern day acceptance of horrendous sentimental religious artwork that lacks substance and reality. Demand for diluted imagery which neither expresses critical though process or questions anything has lead to a cheapened art experience where reality of life has been stripped of profanity all for the sake of sparing us scandal. Poe, being a man of technique and mind, refused to stand for work he believed lacked artistic adeptness. He was extremely critical of his peers. I believe he would have been amused by my painting, if anything, in recognizing the satirical nudge. 

All this is not without respect for Poe, but in celebration of his memory. Poe was a perfect tragic hero. His intelligence and creativity has put him at the top of the list of truly unique poetic artists. His struggles with melancholia and his despairing and sullen disposition only add to his darkly romantic appeal.  It was he himself who wrote, “…that fitful stain of melancholy which will ever be found inseparable from the perfection of the beautiful.” His life’s work, in all of it’s uniqueness and his pursuit of literary perfection was indeed beautiful. Lorine Pruettf writes of Poe’s death in, A Psycho-Analytical Study of Edgar Allan Poe, and describes it as, “a release not to be regretted by any who love Beauty as an end in itself and who crave for its expression a form no less perfect than that which Poe was able to give in the days of his greatest power” (401).

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365 Days/Artists Interview

I participated in a collaboration project for Frank Juarez Gallery and Grey Matter Gallery where they are interviewing artists every day of the month for a year from all over the world.

 

Read the interview here!

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Briefly describe the work that you do.

My art encompasses the technical realism of natural science illustration and also the strange imagery that is associated with modern surrealism and lowbrow art. My work is usually laden with symbols and features subjects from the natural world in correlation with these symbols or as symbols themselves. My paintings draw from ancient history and the present to create contemporary narratives and parallels.

2013 Thesis Artist statement

Among & Within: The Animistic Spirit

 

The body of my thesis consists of works that call attention to 21st century environmental issues viewed through a deep ecological filter. I look to animism and posthumanism to flesh out the philosophical backbone that supports the imagery in my paintings. Both reexamine ideas of “personhood,” acknowledging that the word “person” is not limited only to human beings but also includes “others.” Anything—all others—who are social (even if not always sociable) are persons. This can include animals, plants, and even such things as souls, glaciers, and rocks. Most importantly, “persons” are those who interact, relate, and communicate. In this way, persons posses a spiritual life force or sacred power and are respected. Animism, much like modern deep ecological philosophies, is most concerned with learning how to be a good person in respectful relationship with other persons. This ideology is becoming paramount in recent times as posthumanists attempt to redirect ingrained speciesist notions and learned humanist hierarchies so that we can reexamine our relationships and treatment of other species and our environment.

My work uses these animistic ideas and deep ecological practices to immerse the viewer into nature while permitting thought on a more fundamental plane, one that does not allow for only anthropocentric concerns to prevail. Standing among other-than-human persons (the subjects of my paintings)—while also immersing oneself within these persons (looking through their eyes)—allows for the viewer to know viscerally and empathetically, the pain of the world and its inhabitants. My hope is that this interaction may rekindle the human-nature relationship and awareness of the spirit that exists within all nature and beings.

My paintings are also an understanding of my own ecological and metaphysical self. I paint not only because of my own identification with this subject matter, but also because of the sadness, the permanent grief I experience, when discovering what humanity has done to the Earth and the truth of the present state of the environment and its creatures. Painting gives me solace, so that what I have learned doesn’t eat away at my soul and helps me—and hopefully the viewers—better connect to other-than-human-persons and know their intrinsic values.

ArtPrize 2013

Hello all.
It is that time of year again...ArtPrize season! This year I will be exhibiting at the Grand Central Market. Come downtown and check out my piece and the thousands of artworks that are currently occupying Grand Rapids, Michigan. It is a sight to see.

View. Contemplate. Vote!

To visit my ArtPrize profile please click here!

 

To view more information about my painting for ArtPrize click on the image below.  

Installation day.  

Installation day.  

Art.Downtown. 2013

Every year Grand Rapids opens over 30 sites and invites 300+ artists to participate in a one night exhibition full of fun, food, and loads of art.

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I exhibited at the Grandville Studios with all the other Kendall Graduates and showed two pieces: "St. Gitche Gumee" and "Martyr" 

Saint Gitche Gumee

This piece is a representation of the conflicts arising out of new legislature in Michigan that would allow for the hunting of wolves. I have followed the discourse surrounding this issue since the beginning and have been able to expand my knowledge on the subject and see the deeper issues at play after reading "Of Wolves and Men" by Barry Lopez. Wolves have been persecuted for centuries and nearly exterminated due to the hatred and evil symbolism humans continually impose upon them. It is estimated that one million wolves were killed, or more, during the years 1850 to 1900. This is in America alone... 

Rifle bullets orbit her, a reference to the new hunting legislation and the years of persecution and hatred. A silver bullet calls upon humanities’ fear of themselves in relation to their hatred of their own animality; the beast within; the werewolf. Her yellow eyes glow with a knowledge and power against her dark from which settles like a shadow amongst the icy shoreline. She stares in a focused trance beyond the viewer. In this way I make her non-confrontational and invite deep contemplation form the viewer.

Something mysterious happens to us when we hear the howl of a wolf, or look into the eyes of a wolf. Something familiar is calling back to us, or looking back to us. Ourselves? Yes, but we also see the other…The ‘other’ is very important because it is through the presence and respect for the ‘other’ that we recognize and heal
ourselves
— Renee Askiins
3' x 2'   Oil on Board

3' x 2'   Oil on Board

Progress

"Its the job that's never started takes the longest to finish."  - J. R. R. Tolkien

So here is a progress photo of a painting I started a while ago. Shouldn't be long now till it is finished and ready for my MFA Thesis show at the Federal Building. Still haven't pinned down a name. Naming seems to be the most difficult part as it can demystify the unknown that lurks within. Naming, however, can also bring that unknown to light for the viewer... so the name has to be just right...

Oil on board. 6' 5" x 3' 4" 

Oil on board. 6' 5" x 3' 4" 

Thesis Work

Time has been flying by and my Thesis Show lurks ever nearer. I have been frantically photographing my work and getting new business cards around while thoughts of homework and research papers loom over my head...

Shame there is little time to enjoy the emerging forest floor from beneath the depths of melting snow.