Artist Bio

Throwback Thursday – Art and A Story

Today’s post is going to be a bit different … I’m going to share a story. I used to do a lot of short story or flash fiction writing 8-10 years ago while I was in college, but got out of creative writing in favor of technical as other creative pursuits took over. My first mixed media piece was actually inspired by a story I wrote, and was a bit of a self portrait. I was very committed to and unapologetic about the use of rick-rack. Hard to believe this is where it all started … It’s crazy what 8 more years of practice will do!

Another reason I’m sharing this is because next on my list of new art things to try is to make some sort of illustrated short story or children’s book. The following story is not a children’s book, or a bedtime story. It’s actually rather sad and strange but if you feel like giving it a go, below is the weird little tale about self expression, human connection, grief, dependency, identity, and odd characters that inadvertently got me started in the wonderful world of mixed media art and birthed the piece that was the first inkling of what would be my future defining art style.

i am the room

Cathedral

I am nothing without my telephone. I know when to wake up each Sunday morning because my neighbor and the only man I think I’ve ever loved calls me that day every week at 8 am. He suffers from delusions whilst he sleeps and every Sunday at 8 thinks he is calling his ex-girlfriend who lived in my apartment before me but died a few years ago. When he wakes up, he has no idea he even called. He used to sleepwalk and leave roses at my door too, but now he just calls. I saved them all and pressed them between the pages of a phone book, pretending they were for me.

I have 240 clocks in my one-room apartment, all 11 inches in diameter. I like to perform surgery on them so they all tick to slightly different beats, though I’m sure one of them must read the time right, I just can’t see which one. There are no doors in my apartment save a curtain in front of the bathroom so the 240 sets of clicks can be heard throughout the entire home, a pleasing tune that helps me keep my own personal rhythm in the outside world.

My telephone is how my best friend and I talk when she’s feeling depressed. She feels depressed often. I’ll pick up, and she’ll lament in a timbre so tragic I’m sure it could make angels scream, “I have no one at all. I am completely alone.” When I ask her if she’d like me to come over, she is only a six minute drive away after all, she usually says no, that’s fine. And then she’ll hang up.

If we are what we eat and it is what’s inside that counts, I wonder if I ate my telephone what would I become? I guess it depends if we believe we are defined by what we need or instead by what needs us. It depends if we are defined only by ourselves or by the other living beings that surround us, and if the latter is true whether the ones that shape us are those that choose us or those we chase after.

There is a group of people I call my friends that meet at the same bar every Thursday night. I know they meet there because social media tells me so. I know everywhere they go. I have a theory that the internet is so popular mainly because it is the only other communicable entity that can be as into you as you are. It also allows us to assume everyone else is just as interested. My mobile has a clock in its tiny right-hand corner, a sad clock that does not tick, a clock with no soul at all. These friends never tell me they are going but they say hello to me once I arrive, so that must count for something, right?

I have another theory that says human beings can be paralleled quite closely to furniture and architecture. Some people are chairs, tables, bedside lamps. Some people are windows, doors. Some people are picture frames or Persian rugs, and some people; some people are the entire room. They are the walls that contain all the other items that have no real value or function without them, just a hapless collection of what could have been a catalog worthy design if only there were walls and a floor to set the tone. I was a chair, and my friends were all the room.

They discussed memories from parties I never attended and shared stories about people I’d never met. I laughed along with them as if I had. I was a chair. People always liked the fact that I existed, but were all the same vaguely disinterested. As I sat on the end of a long table sipping a beer the conversation turned to a concert last week that I had actually attended, and when the break in conversation flow called for it I interjected. The others hardly so much as nodded in my direction. I could say the same things they said, use the same mannerisms and vocal inflection, dress the same way and listen to the same music but still my voice would remain at that inaudible frequency that results when chairs attempt to speak to rooms.

I was not the room, and nothing I or anyone else might do would change that fact. You see, rooms are only attracted to other rooms, and so houses are built of big, vacant cubes with no doors leading from one space to another, no windows to see into the other aside from themselves.

Sometimes, often, I feel different than how I seem to have been born. I am tall walls with cathedral-cut windows and boldly colored masterpieces on all the walls, masterpieces that can make viewers involuntarily excrete from one or more orifices, that induce early labor in pregnant women and that make the old and toothless drop their dentures. Only, there are no viewers. There is a round glass table, jade green glass and low to the ground with silken plum colored pillows surrounding; a place where no one sits. And this entire world fits inside a modestly sized rust-orange armchair, covered in dots shaped like pimento-filled olives. I’ve outgrown myself, my skin just a sack of old clothes too short at the ankles and awkwardly fitting under the arms. My visions of myself cannot fit inside my worldly receptacle but they have nowhere else to go, and I realize this now more than ever.

After leaving the bar I walk to the local everything store and pick up a roll of plaster bandages. That man I love, my neighbor, I didn’t tell you before but he works at a morgue. I imagine he too feels out of place, immersed in death yet his own organs and tissues still very much alive. He knows I am “one of those creative types” and together we have a special understanding. When he works the night-shift, dressing and embalming the newly deceased for funerals, he’ll let me in a back door most people who haven’t worked there for at least ten years don’t know about. “Hello,” he smiles and ushers me inside. New for today is an elderly man with a wide, exactly forty-five degree angle wedge of a nose and a distinguished, curled upper lip, a young woman in about her mid-thirties with round marshmallow cheeks and deep set eye sockets and a middle-aged gentleman with an extremely pronounced brow, a cliff casting a dark haze over the collection of facial features below. I set to work covering each cool face, like leather in air conditioning, with a thick layer of Vaseline.

“Not very old at all,” I indicate the one with the cavernous eyes, “What happened to her?”

“Poisoned. Something she ate they said. A severe allergic reaction.” He stops and tips his head up, away from the grey pillow before him, stuffed full with soft, springy fat and tender organs. His hair sways back against his face in one smooth, rhythmic motion, swinging forward again as tangled ropes hit against his elastic skin. Strands move and jump like pendulums and I wish he were made of wire and metal so a sound might reverberate, a sound I could record and add to my clock symphony. He was a clock, that was his parallel. He was a time bomb, but in this place more than any I knew that all humans were in their own way. He’d always said what he wanted to be more than anything was a broken tree branch, torn in a breeze carried far away from its tree.

“You remember how I told you my mother was mentally ill?” I nod. I have finished with the old man and am now laying the wet strips of plaster over the Vaseline, an old tin bucket at my side. Once the strips are smoothed and set, I move on to the poisoned woman, rubbing clear jelly around her soft cheeks, over her eyelids, the skin jiggling back into place after it is rubbed like pudding left sitting too long in a pan. “Well she tried to poison me once. I was home from school sick, nine years old, and she put something in my tomato soup. My neighbor stopped by to drop off the homework I missed for the day since she had a kid in my class. My mom had been outside gardening. When the neighbor realized how sick I was she insisted on taking me to the hospital right away. I could have died.” He shrugged and looked out an imaginary window, for this room had none, “I guess I just thought you should know.”

I didn’t really know how to respond, so I just looked up attentively. Most stories like that don’t want a response. These stories just yearn for the simple knowledge that the storyteller is no longer the only one who knows. We spent the last twenty minutes while waiting for the plaster to dry in silence. This was not uncommon though. There are a lot of people that wouldn’t believe me but sometimes relationships can be built simply by both persons existing at the same moment. A misconception is that interaction only applies to two of the five senses, hearing and touch. Simply by thinking about someone you are interacting because they are occupying a space in your mind, changing your thoughts and perceptions either by replacing those you would have had were you not thinking of them or by interjecting within your psyche some of their own words or ideas … just as I was interacting with the dead. Twenty minutes later I had lifted the faces from their fallen owners and bid farewell to the clock and his companions.

Why do I do it? Why do I collect the dead’s faces? It is not for the reasons you’d expect. It, for starters, has nothing at all to do with preservation or memory. The dead are just subjective faces no longer present in the world at this given moment. Their fleshy counterparts do not speak and move and act out a life independent of the plaster faces any longer. They can be whomever I imagine.

In my apartment I have 240 clocks hanging right now. I grab three new faceless clocks out of the storage closet, housing clocks being all it is used for, and affix my new faces to them with strong, chemically smelling glue. I will have to find a space for them somewhere; the party is getting crowded.

I need these faces to define myself, just as much as I need my telephone. That is why I do it, face collecting. This way I am not the only one who knows I have a world inside of me with cathedral windows. It’s another question that bothers me often: Are we the people we see ourselves as or are we a collection of how others see us? Do we define ourselves or are we defined by the effect we have on others outside our own world, by the adjectives we bring to mind in their world? Or are all definitions as useful as broken clocks …

It is 4:30 am when I hear a frantic pounding on my apartment door. The rattling of the wood adds a new pattern to the rhythm of the clocks, their own sounds offset by the fact that they shake along the walls. I run to the door before the whole place comes crashing down. Through the peephole I see that, thankfully, it is just my neighbor from the morgue. I unlock the door and ease it open; he forces it the rest of the way and jumps into my arms, knocking me backward over the arm of my couch. My form is instantly surrounded by soft pillows and I can feel the contours of his limbs pressing into mine, imprinting. His breath is warm against my chest, my heartbeat pushing his face in and out. He is sobbing, the tears containing as much heat as his breath so that it feels as if I am being soaked in blood.

“It’s my fault she … it’s my fault … it’s my fault she died,” he gasps for breath. “She drank poison. I poisoned her.” His eyes are upturned and silvery blue, moisture on the tips of light yellow eyelashes like dew on a field of grass dead from winter. “I had meant the poison for me, but she accidentally drank from the cup …I, I hadn’t wanted her to be left knowing I killed myself. We were together, I loved her … I couldn’t have her knowing that was the cause of my death, I couldn’t do that to her. I was trying to protect her, have her think it was just a random act of fate. Instead, she’s left this miserable place and I’m all alone, still here …” he paused, “I wasn’t meant to live since I was nine years old, and now, now I can’t die. But if I would have, she would never … she would still be …” He turns his head and brings up his arm to caress the face of a clock on the wall behind the couch. “I’m so jealous of them all, every single day,” he caresses the plaster as one would a lover. His hand is shaking until suddenly in one final act of brutality he throws the clock from the wall, afterward burying himself inside of me once again. The woman from earlier now lies broken, dead a second time and so soon amongst scattered golden screws and clock parts, still making a slight twinkling din as they roll across the floor and into each other. Her eyes are in pieces now, but I can still feel those dark holes upon us, judging, always judging.

His frame is so tiny and fragile in my arms, I’m cradling him like one would a small child. I want to protect him from the woman’s gaze. His arms reaching tight around my neck, I can feel the smooth contour of muscle against my shoulders and clavicle and I know he could hold tight enough to strangle me but despite all his strength, I have never seen anyone look so small. “I’m just like my mother,” he whispers. “No matter how hard I tried to stay away, how hard I tried to make my branch fall. I became her I became her I became her …”

I hold him tighter until his face seems to seep through my chest … his eyes crying my blood my heart pumping his tears until I can feel us containing each other. His eyes might seem vacant now, his face expressionless but that is only because he is wandering in the room with the cathedral windows, looking outside upon a tree with many fallen branches. I can hear the clocks even louder now as he has stopped crying, and to their rhythm I in my own mind chant, I am the room. I am the room.

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Artists To Know

Artists To Know: Black History Month

It’s been awhile since I’ve done an Artists To Know post, and I wanted to take the opportunity for February to highlight some of my favorite black artists currently working – most new, some mentioned before. Enjoy, and be inspired!

Lina Iris Viktor

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Viktor is a British – Liberian artist based in New York who creates “queenly self portraits with a futuristic edge”. Everyone knows I’m a sucker for surreal, fantasy-like portraiture and after coming across the image above, I had an instant new favorite! Viktor studied film, photography, and design and uses all of these backgrounds to create her unique fantasy worlds that combine elements of painting, sculpture, photography, and performance. What makes her art so compelling to me is the contrast of seemingly opposite elements … Her works are detailed with a lot of pattern and texture to look at but the colors are kept minimal; many of the scenes she creates are contemporary or futuristic in appearance, but still contain elements of the classical. As well as a diverse study of art, she also had a diverse upbringing as far as culture, being raised in London by Liberian parents and also spending time living in Johannesburg, South Africa. Viktor aims to use her immersive scenes to convey a philosophical commentary on both a social and historical “preconception of blackness”. Her work is a category all its own.

Woodrow Nash

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Nash is an artist from Akron, OH who works in stoneware, earthenware, terracotta, and porcelain. He is most well known for his unique bust sculptures that capture an expression, depth, and personality that I have never felt before in this type of art. He began as an illustrator, working as a fashion illustrator in New York in the mid 70s and then returning to the Midwest to do technical illustrations. Just as he uses multiple materials for his sculptures, he also employs various firing methods from pit firing, to electric, to raku (one of my personal favorites!). He calls his style “African nouveau”, because although it is influenced by African cultural aesthetic he blends in elements of art nouveau, and his sculptures tend to appeal to a wider audience beyond just those of African heritage. Each gorgeous figure he creates has a story, and they draw you in instantly.

Kehinde Wiley

If you can’t already tell, creative portraiture is my thing. I love portraits that transport the viewer to a new place of the artists’ making, where every pattern that is used is not only decorative, but an element that is used to speak to the subject’s unique psychology. I have been a fan of Wiley’s unique, powerful style of portraiture for a long time, and was excited when he was chosen to do Obama’s official portrait. Possessing a MFA from Yale, he combines contemporary figures with aesthetic elements from the past, giving his portraits a surreal, timeless feel. One of his most recent projects for the Saint Louis Art Museum featured oil paintings of black men and women dressed in their own clothing, styled for their usual everyday, posed in traditional poses from European and American art history to make a comment about under-representation. The photographic realism coupled with ornate pattern and creative approach make it no wonder his work has garnered the acclaim it has. His art is a testament to the fact that it is possible for an artist to stay true to themselves and not follow the crowd, and still be successful.

Tawny Chatmon

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A self proclaimed “army brat”, Chatmon did a lot of traveling as a kid and had resided in 3 different continents by the age of 12. Once settled in the US, she turned more in the creative direction of theater. She didn’t start getting into photography until her early 20s, when she was gifted a camera at 19 and through self teaching and experimentation saw an opportunity to make a living through the lens. After losing her father to a battle with cancer in 2010, Chatmon’s portrait photography became not only a career but a way to communicate and process emotions, an art. What first drew me to her work was the image above, part of her series titled “Deeply Embedded”. The composition and heavy use of pattern on the clothing reminded  me a bit of Gustav Klimt, one of my favorites from art history. Chatmon writes about this series on her website, “Deeply Embedded was created during a time where I continued to come across negativity centered around natural black hair & styles. Anger followed by frustration and sadness forced me to refocus that energy into creating work to speak for me as our words fell upon deaf ears.” There are many different forms of beauty in our world, and photography is the perfect medium to capture that fact.

Pierre Jean-Louis

 

I love art that plays with the merging of people and their environments, which is why I found this 26 year old artist’s work so inspiring. This self taught artist from New Jersey grew up in a deeply conservative religious household, but also a deeply creative one being the son of successful Haitian painter Bonaventure Jean-Louis. He moved beyond his roots with multimedia approaches, taking his inspiration from the beauty of the natural world that God has created, and with his series “Black Girl Magic”, explores specifically the beauty of natural hair. Models’ hair is transformed into forest, flowers, and galaxies, making a comment against exclusionary beauty standards.

I hope you will take the time to explore more of these artists’ amazing work. It was so hard to pick just one or two images to highlight!

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Artists To Know

Artists To Know! Installment Four

I really don’t give photography or sculpture enough love. I tend to have my eye caught most by drawings, paintings, and mixed media because it’s what I do and I understand the process, but there is so much more thrilling art out there in every medium. So, for these next couple “Artist To Know” installments I am going to focus on art forms besides the aforementioned. Today is photography’s day to shine. Though there is also a lot of stunning landscape and animal photography out there (I mean come on, nature is amazing!), I chose to feature a type of photography less often explored, utilizing props, costumes, and often times incredibly extensive handmade sets to create a new and different world that the photographer envisions. These photographs tell a story beyond the appreciation of beauty. These are not about capturing the perfect moment, but creating the perfect moment to capture.

Tim Walker

British fashion photographer Tim Walker shot his first fashion story for Vogue at the young age of 25, and has continued shooting for British, American, and Italian Vogue ever since. He has also created stories for W magazine and LOVE magazine. I love the entrancing worlds he creates ranging from the soft and ethereal to the colorful and kooky. As a kid, I always wished there existed a magic television that could record people’s dreams while they slept, so I could watch others’ dreams (curious and nosy kid, for sure ;)). I imagine Walker’s photos are what the recordings would have looked like. He invites you into his dreams. You really have to visit his website and see his series of surreal photographs featuring well-known actors and actresses that he did for W – they are of the colorful and kooky variety, and some of my favorites. Amy Adams, Julianne Moore, Bill Hader, Keira Knightley, and Eddie Redmayne? Yes please.

Alex Stoddard

Alex Stoddard’s first exploration with photography was a series of self portraits he began taking at 16. I find people that are able to simultaneously compose amazing shots and also act as model in them and convey the correct body position and emotion on their face mind blowing as it is. It is clear that each of Stoddard’s photographs tell a story, and the viewer is dragged straight into it, no longer just a passerby gazing at a scene or figure but an active participant in whatever is going on.

Lindsey Adler

Lindsey Adler is a professional portrait and fashion photographer, known for her bold, graphic compositions. What is also cool about her is she loves sharing her passion with others, and lectures tens of thousands of photographers each year worldwide. Not every artist is willing to share their secrets, or wishes to take the time out of creating work to teach others, and I find that very admirable and inspiring. What I was most drawn to  about her work is her super-close-up face shots that turn her model’s face into a work of art. There is obvious careful attention to color, space, and line, even when working with the natural hues and contours of a face rather than adding fantastical artistic details like below.

Kirsty Mitchell

Winner of Lens Culture’s Visual Storytelling Grand Prize in 2014, Kirsty Mitchell worked as a successful senior fashion designer for an international label until personal illness brought on unexpected life changes. It is then that she connected with the camera, and she states that it changed her life forever. Her series “Wonderland”; my personal favorite and the series from which the image below is a part; was inspired by her mother, who sadly passed in 2008. The sets, costumes, and props are hand-created and filled with exquisite details, which is what captivated me in the first place. Mitchell says she found herself creating pieces that echoed her mother’s stories, and the need to create the worlds of her dreams and make them tangible grew. The greater meaning behind these images is evident in the awe-inspiring end results of the project.

Michael Belk

Michael Belk is an accomplished fashion photographer whose work has appeared regularly in Elle, Vogue, and many other publications. He always said of his work “There is no hidden meaning in my photography, no agenda beyond the image itself. I am attracted to beauty …” Then suddenly, his focus shifted away from the model of “art for art’s sake” and he began spending all of his time composing modern day biblical scenes. In an interview with The Christian Post, Belk says of the inspiration for his new passion, “I was in New York prepping for a photo shoot a week after 9/11 and saw many people searching for something.” It was out of this realization that in the midst of chaos people were fearful and didn’t know where to turn, in conjunction with Belk’s own experience of faith in what he calls one of his “darkest hours”, that “Journeys With The Messiah” was born. Belk places the stories of Jesus in a modern day context to communicate timeless biblical themes in a way that is sharply relevant to today’s culture and issues. The strong light source and worn, sepia filter over all the images in this series communicate a strong feeling of sincerity, and seamlessly merge imagination and creativity with history. “Journeys With The Messiah” is beauty, with a purpose.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s photography! Next time, it’s sculpture. Have any favorite photographers I didn’t mention in this group? Give me a shout! I love learning about new artists myself.

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