Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Self-involved and Egotistical/Made of Money

Ten years ago, during the summer of 1999, a local activist asked me if he could interview me for a documentary project he was filming. One of the questions he asked was "where do you see yourself in 10 years?"
"Still alive, I hope." was my initial response. (funny how mortal you feel in your early 20's!) I went on to say that I would be making art, hopefully surviving off of it. Today that's basically true, though a great deal of my survival still does not come directly from the art. Not yet.
"Immaculate Conception" 1999

At the time I ran a streetfront gallery where I showed my art, and I had a habit of hand-writing a funny description of each sculpture in the window to add another dimension of entertainment for the viewers. I figured with something to read they might linger awhile longer. While the documentarian was visiting my studio, he filmed over my shoulder as I wrote one out for a statue depicting the Holy Virgin Mary. I still remember it distinctly: "As any great artist will tell you, the true purpose of artwork is to impress girls, and this one goes straight for the top." Classic.

This summer, when a room went suddenly empty in the loft where I live in Brooklyn, I found myself craving the vast empty space. My bedroom is my studio, and over the years has become stiflingly claustraphobic with layers upon layers of new things being added regularly. I had an idea for a new project and when the person who decided to rent the room didn't want to move in till the middle of the month, I struck up a deal to rent the room for 2 weeks as a temporary studio.
The project was tentatively titled "K-12". It would be an introspective exploration.
I set up the room with a tripod and video camera, a big empty table, and some comfortable furniture. I didn't plan to leave for the next 15 days. It would be like taking a vacation in my own building.
The basic premise of the project revolves around my school photos. Here are 13 portraits, made in October of every single year of my childhood. There's nothing special about the fact that these exist, yet they offer solid evidence of many moments I've once experienced.
Making them again would be like going back in time, yet now I would capture myself with money, not film. My infant flesh would be replaced literally with the cold metal objects that had already determined my existence long before I was born. I liked the symbolism and the ritual.
Areas of light were made from silver coins, and old copper was used for shadows. I experimented with some kind of acid to introduce highlights.
I completed the background and applied adhesive, yet when I looked at the finished product, I was not satisfied. I wanted to transform the image from coins into flesh. I wanted the viewer to get the chills. This was an okay illustration, but not the photographic replica of a moment in time I needed. I could do better.
For the second attempt, I used only acid-treated pennies. I had access to a fire escape out the window, and every morning I'd make up a fresh batch of shiny copper medallions in the Brooklyn Summer sun.

I chopped them up and laid out the mosaic with subtle variations of lights and darks to create shimmering skintones. Through hours of careful study, I found I could apply the pieces of pennies as if they were paint.


30 years later: recaptured!

Using this new approach, an eerie effect emerged.

When I squinted my eyes, the mosaics almost looked more real than the photos. Sweet! This is what I was after.
Day after day, I continued through the grades. I came up with a method to affix the tiles temporarilly to the paper using a very thinned-out waterbased glue. I'll figure out what comes next later. These two weeks were for my heads alone.
In about a week, I was almost finished with elementary school.
1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Grades. 1982-86.
During these many long hours spent studying my young faces. A great deal of memories came flooding back from my childhood. In fourth grade, at age 10, I was already absorbed deeply in my art. I had a strong confidence in myself that came from naivety and inexperience. It hadn't occurred to me to be self-conscious, so I soared. This was also the same time I began to develop an interest in girls.
One in particular, a girl with the last name Quirk, was the first of my fancy. I remember she kind of dressed like Punky Brewster, flourescents and stripes. I definitely had a crush,but I didn't know exactly how to approach the situation. Sure, I'd show off at the pool or on the playground with my friends, hoping to be noticed, but that kind of passive approach can only go so far. Eventually I had to make a move. So one day, in the hallway lined with our lockers, I came up behind her and hit her on top of the head with my mathbook, apparently thinking that might win her over, but it only made her scream and cry. Ooops! The look on her face still kind of haunts me. We never spoke again.
From that point forward, I stuck to a less violent approach. The new plan was simple, and used skills I was already developing. I would make art, and it would be so amazing that everyone would love it, and, by default, they'd all love me as well. Any girl I chose in the future would be so impressed by my creations that she'd surely accept me if I liked her. What a relief! That settled, I got on with my life, and my life was making art.

Now, 25 years later, I have a different take on things, yet still I follow the same pattern. My constant attempts to get attention through making art have continued, basically unimpeded, the entire time. Far more often than not, I've found that this approach fails, yet in the process of figuring that out, I've generated massive amounts of great art.

Last Autumn, for instance, I met a girl from London who seemed to be everything I'd ever wanted. She was a musician, and I always like the idea of mixing and matching creative fields. There's synergy in that.
She was my neighbor, and I was inspired to write a blog entry after hanging out with her. I thought maybe she'd read it and start to like me too. She did, but remained aloof. In time, sensing I wasn't making as much of an impression on her as she was on me, I began working on new art, my first chopped coin mosaic. The next few months saw a burst in my productivity not rivaled for months. She liked it, yet nothing really developed between us. Eventually, my crush faded and she moved, but the artwork remains.

Back in gradeschool, I found myself obsessed with a girl who shared a table with me in homeroom. I remember being constantly devoted to the notion of her, to the point of praying at church to Jesus and God to make her like me back, yet I never told her, nor anyone else for that matter, how I felt. Everytime we were given a creative project to do in class, I would make mine shine, thinking she would break down and be drawn to me like a magnet to metal, however, nothing ever happened and eventually my interest faded in her and my focus shifted to somebody else. I still have lots of these school projects at home in my parents' closet. Brilliant!

When I rented the empty room in Brooklyn this Summer, my mind was still occupied, but with a different girl completely. I'd met her a few months back, at a local bar where I was having a beer with a friend. We talked for hours that night, until the sun came up, about what I don't even remember. But I just knew that I'd enjoyed being with her and that she was extremely beautiful. In addition, she was super cool, and I could totally see myself with her. I work in my studio all the time, so it's very rare that I meet girls I like in NYC, so I made an extra effort not to let her slip away. We began on ongoing text exchange.

During this period, both she and I had been traveling on opposite schedules, so it was only possible to see each other once every couple of weeks. This was frustrating, but unavoidable. Patience was crucial, and she was definitely worth it.

When I rented the space for this project, I had envisioned her coming over, hanging out in my spacious, sunny, breezy new studio with me, having coffee while I took a break from my work to sit with her on the couch and talk about whatever came naturally. I could show her my work and she'd simply be amazed. Surely seeing me in my element would make her believe I was special.

This was a great idea, and kept me going strong for the duration of the 2 week period. With images this spectacular, I figured she'd be unable to resist.

Unfortunately, my multiple attempts to invite her over went unanswered. She'd just gotten back from San Francisco, and was busy, I understood.

Yet I definitely wanted her to make it to my studio before I had to dismantle the project and move back to my cramped, tiny room down the hall. Strangely, my contempory life began to mirror the pattern I'd begun in Middle School. Again, I was struggling with a crush I could not escape or reconcile.

My telephone would be the mathbook. With two days remaining, not having heard from her for over a week, my text messages became slightly more frantic, asking her if she'd maybe lost her phone, and basically telling her to make a decision if she had enough time for me or not. The classic Middleschool: "do you like me? Yes/No" note. When I heard no response, on the last day of my rental, I texted her wishing her the best, and expressing regret that things had fizzled out.

She shot back, finally, saying I should relax, and that she thought it was "egotistical and self-involved" of me to expect a response to every text I sent. Looking down at my project, I had to laugh. I don't think visiting my studio during this project would have done much to make her feel otherwise!

In addition, she mentioned that she thought I was weird. hmph. Since when was that a bad thing? I think she's onto something, but at least now I'm made of money....
1st-8th grades 1982-1990.

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