I'm currently in the GTA for the weekend, slash-pleasure-slash-business. I went to The Artist Project show in Toronto in support of my colleagues, and it was an interesting space! Definitely a lot of talented folks, and it was good to note patterns and trends going on right now in the art world. I also got the chance to pick up the laser-engraved iteration of the Lonely Hydra and I'm so excited to print off of it when I'm back in London! It'll be great to compare it with the vinyl-cut and blasted iteration I worked on a few weeks back. I am a little caught up up here to I can't sit down and take pictures, so stay tuned to my instagram to see what's up.
In studio news, I've been currently working through the prep for a project! Made a rubber casting of a clawring I picked up someplace, then made my own iteration for a bigger project, down the line. I'm basically making digits for Death's gauntlet, and I plan to make a series of sculptures of holding symbolic items. I was considering casting the components in either pewter or impact beads! But I will expect obstacles to block my path and delay things. This past week is a testament of how I haven't had a chance to sit down and work digitally for the online shops, let alone anything else. I'm hoping there will be a lull in life real soon or else I'll have to start brushing people off. Life of an artist.
So, in the last two blogposts, I discussed the base concepts that fuel my creativity, and now we'll connect them to the contemporary. I will preface and say that I may not be consistent or very clear with my ideas because when it really comes down to it, it's the aesthetics that matter most to me. But I'll give explaining my reasoning a real try!
Concepts such as the sublime, hope and despair, and a graceful death still carry over into present day. Confronting fear and pain through art embodies a form of the Romantic sublime, one that questions our survival of the terrors of ourselves. A contemporary realm that does his is Anthropocene art. The term Anthropocene describes our time period, dating back to the moment Earth started showing significant symptoms of humanity's influence. Our lifestyle and its harmful consequences evoke creative minds to speculate potential dystopian outcomes if these problems persist. Artists who choose this topic as their focus often emphasize disastrous side effects (such as environmental pollution) and display them as shockingly beautiful things, so beautiful to the point it nurtures fear. They offer a reality check, if you will.
Post-apocalyptic settings in media often focus on the people living in the aftermath, and they usually depict them having adopted a regressed lifestyle. To me it relates to the cycle, or coil, of hope and despair. It's not necessarily a clean slate, because it can't quite exist like it had when time began. There would be people remembering what life was like before a calamity, as opposed to previous events spanning millions of years.
As a coil, things repeat, but not in the same way.
The fantastical narrative that attracts me, however, is a world withstanding some great equalizing event that make all other political affair or corporate conquest irrelevant. Everyone is in the same boat trying to survive in a familiar yet ultimately changed landscape, forced to adapt. That's what every other creature on this planet's had to do to co-exist with us, so it serves as a fruitful allegory. It's like the people who survive the event are a different kind of species from the people that existed before; more raw and simple, even though they could have existed in both times.
I dunno if any of that makes sense, since I usually refer to urban ruin more as a form of aesthetic than philosophy. The storytelling behind the scenes I delve is all up for interpretation. I get cautious talking about the people-side of things because it can sound a little political or preachy. Like, I've always had this innate opinion that the greatest threat to man is man itself and that our hubris will be our downfall. It's happening as we speak in the form of climate change. But yadda yadda, what about it? At this point it's a very common mindset, and I believe it can be quite pessimistic and selfish to think that way. We shrug off the responsibility when we chatter and say it's up to the big corporations to take action, and it may well be beyond us, but it becomes a whinging dirge that jumps from one generation to the next. Our attention span is too fleeting, and those who remain focused, or 'woke', end up consumed by their loneliness and hopelessness.
But despite the name or politics, most of the works in the Anthropocene realm that draw me lack any human subjects; the scenes are strictly describing what the world looks like in the absence of people, with only ghosts of their promise remaining. Urban ruins are my aesthetic. They exist in the wake of destruction, victim to some great, terrible, sublime event that rendered them asunder. Then there's a stillness, a peace, a spirit. When life still persists in the wake of death, oof! It's very pretty. The Japanese isle of Hashima, the documentary series After People, the far future in Cloud Atlas, the forbidden lands in Shadow of the Colossus.
I don't expect anyone to get all of that when they look at my work. I'm more interested in the spirit that exists in these landscapes. Romantic painters flocked to ruins as a subject since there was something seductive about their downfall and the memory left by their inhabitants. That really resonates with me, too. Angular bricks overtaken by flora, fauna constructing dens or nests in the nooks of broken structures, why, there is no final death there. Death occurred, and it's the end of someone or something, but not the end of all.
At this point I feel I've just word-vomited everywhere, but long story-short, I like ruins. They are sad, yes, but they heal overtime. Scars are beautiful. Contemporary media takes it up a notch and we get breathtaking visuals that drive the relationship between man and nature home.
Urban ruin. Post-mortem beauty. A beautiful death.
We are destructive as a species and we should do everything we feasibly can to reduce our mark. If not for us, then for everything else after us. Our world is in constant battery so it doesn't have time to heal, so any effort helps it catch up.
I want to see more healing.
Okay that's enough! It's about time we get to the craft and medium of things. I can't promise concepts won't slip in here or there but at least you get to SEE something right?
Until next time!
I hope you're all doing well! I've been quite busy this week with my own projects but I also helped with a fundraiser event with my printmaking collective. It went very well and some of my donated prints went home with such lovely people! It was a very nice evening.
Another wholesome thing: while the Commissions for Cause was a bust, I had one person follow up after the event in hopes of a commission. I told him that he could wait until the next charity event (so the proceeds could go for a cause), or pay directly to me as the artist, which he ended up deciding without hesitating. I kept the rate as it appeared on the charity event though; I had hoped the lower-priced items would invite more to donate but it did not! So I will adjust the list to directly reflect the materials and labour. This one was fine though, aside from translating the difficult pose it wasn't any trouble. As thanks for being the first to commission at all, I gifted him a complimentary print to choose from. I really enjoyed the experience!
News aside, it's time to dive into another section of my concepts: Narrative. More specifically, the narrative of Hope and Despair.
I was first invigorated to pursue this topic from one of my favourite video games, Shadow of the Colossus. It's been through a few remasters but it's been an influence of mine since its first release in 2005. Fumito Ueda, the creator of the game, tells a story of cruelty through abstraction and minimalism, dubbing his approach as design by subtraction. This approach is a method he developed to ensure that the idea or “feeling” of his concepts are unclouded by overt substance and clear narrative, oddly reminiscent of Romantic sublime qualities. To be more specific, the size of the monsters the player is faced to kill, the picturesque landscape spanning countless leagues, and the instances of overwhelming saturations of light fulfill some of Edmund Burke's guidelines. The narrative one can derive from this game is one of cruelty and senseless sacrifice, as illustrated by this quote: “when you have killed all sixteen colossi, you feel loss rather than triumph”. I feel that the basis of Shadow of the Colossus' narrative lends to the relationship between hope and despair, in which the confrontation of certain consequences results in further sacrifice, but this time in the form of reconciliation.
In literature, Paradise Lost is a great example that explores this narrative. John Milton's epic poem recounts the fall of humanity through a more elaborate retelling of what occurred in the Garden of Eden, starting with Satan's own fall from heaven and ending with Jesus' resurrection. It is through the consumption of fruit from the Tree of Knowledge that original sin is birthed and final death is introduced to the world, the consequence for disobeying God: “Greedily [Eve] engorged without restraint, and knew not eating death” (Milton, Book 9: 791 – 792). When further investigating the significance of the gardens that exist in Christianity, consequences of Adam and Eve's actions are thus noted:
“No longer would Adam and Eve enjoy a flawless environment. Instead, among other things, childbirth pains would intensify and man's labour became toilsome and less efficient as thorns and thistles would infest the ground – the ground to which they would ultimately return in death.”
It is this mistake taking place in Eden that creates a deep despair in which neither Adam nor his ancestors can ever personally repent. However, the poem expresses that this ordeal may have been somewhat fortunate. According to Christian belief, it is in the coming of “the second Adam”, Jesus Christ, that humanity can also experience salvation. Jesus suffers in Gethsemane and dies in Calvary, absolving the sin Adam and Eve committed under Satan's advice. The story of Paradise Lost provides a much more personal conceptualization of Christianity's pursuit of redemption and everlasting life by explaining the birth and conquest of the final death, which relates to my interest in post-mortem beauty and a beautiful death.
Which we'll get to later!!
In my process document, I go into a very quick explanation of what hope and despair contribute to our lives. Experiencing a balance of both in your life contributes to the growth and maintenance of the human soul. A surplus of either entity will result in overconfidence and complacency (hope) or debilitating anxiety (despair). Nobody chooses to experience tragedy, nor do they enjoy it, but it's important not to live life fearing it or treading delicately through life to avoid it, because it's inevitable. It's going to find you at any point and in any form, and what you can choose to do is be open to it and its presence. Address it as what it is and come to an understanding.
I feel the most prevalent despair that we share as a sentient species is the fear or dread of death.
Romanticist artist Francisco Goya, in the later years of his life, composed the Black Paintings. These murals displayed horrific scenes on the walls of his living room, dining room, hallways... I believe these to be results of Goya coming to terms with his fear of death and mental state. Frescos such as The Drowning Dog and Saturn allowed Goya to release all tension accumulated during his lifetime. He was able to explore themes of sorrow, pathos and panic with complete freedom. I argue that this form of expression is a way of confronting despair and crafting hope for self-care. Experiencing close encounters with death, he bought a property away from the city and chose to express himself in ways that no patron would have the mind to request. These paintings were meant for his own private viewing, in which he expelled these morbid scenes from his mind and onto his walls. Upon given a form, despair and death seemed much more manageable.
Other instances can be a bit more subtle in terms of addressing death. Vanitas still-life acted simultaneously as a comment on Dutch citizens' vanity for their material possessions and as a prompt that mortality is temporary. Memento mori, the reminder of death. The presence of certain iconography, like skulls, timepieces, or cracked walnuts imply something or someone that no longer exists elsewhere exists in the painting. The commissioning of such pieces connotes a belief that paintings immortalize the presence of whomever the vanitas is referring to. Artists often inserted small self-portraits of themselves for this reason, given that any of the objects have a reflective surface. I believe that this idea helped artists and patrons alike with handling the idea of death, reminding them that their worldly possessions will not serve them in the afterlife. The idea that there is an afterlife at all strips death of its finality, making it more easy to accept.
But we don't know what lies in the realm of death. A garden, a kingdom, or pure darkness. We can believe what we've been taught or believe the accounts of those revived when they flatline. Or call it all lies. We believe what makes us feel better about it because we know it's inevitable. The key, I feel, is to not be consumed with a fear for it, neither be so careless or apathetic to its existence. You know, a balance of hope of despair.
Coming full circle, baby!
Personally I try to take a more positive outlook on death. I focus in on the idea life goes on even when our life doesn't. I am in love with the idea that once I'm gone, some new form of life or spirit flourishes in my remains. There is something so dang gorgeous about post-apocalyptic scenery, where nature reclaims the industrial landscape. Life and death, hope and despair, are not simply cycles to me, but coils. It's gonna be different, but the same, every time.
Things got a bit grim, but we'll get over it. This one has a few paragraphs from my research essay two years ago, which provided a basis for my process document and my 2019 thesis works, Anthrocopia and Self-Vanitas. Next week I'll dive into how all of this relates to the contemporary sphere and to my practice.
I hosted a poll last week on the contents of this post and “Concepts & Inspirations” won over “Medium & Craft”! I will do both, this just determined which one I would do first. I got caught up in some tasks and commission work so I'll try and give you a comprehensive summary of the things I consider when diving into new work.
I would say it's fair to start from the beginning, which would be Western. Before this point (aka. Elementary & highschool) I was mostly interested in drawing fantasy and cartoons, which can be the case for any kid who loves to draw what they love. As I mentioned in a previous post, I loved drawing dragons. When it came to secondary-education, they wanted me to think about it more. Fantasy still supplied most of my work, even though they tried to beat it out of me, which is probably why I wasn't cut for fine art at the time. I found solace when I learned about Romanticism.
If you're unfamiliar with the movement, it was the time during the Industrial Revolution when artists started rejecting classical values and the mechanical (logic & machine) in favour of the spirit that exists within ourselves and the landscape (emotion & the world). It wasn't necessarily regressive in nature, they just found the path of progress not without its consequences. I think I summarized it well enough in a document I made in my final year at Sheridan, and I'll highlight some keywords as we go:
“Ever since I was first introduced to the Romantic movement over a decade ago, I still believe the best way to describe their motive as thus: to evoke a “stirring of the heart”.
"The artists during this time, late 18th to mid-19th century, had a preoccupation with valuing emotion over logic. Social and political conflicts urged artists to respond through their work and elicit a stronger response from the public. Landscape painters sought the picturesque and used the landscape as a vessel for allegory: a union between soul and the natural world. Sometimes the presence of people was only noted by their memory in the form of architectural ruin. Romantics tried to harness a more spiritual energy to charge their work, which many of them did when they reacted to the world of their time. Many of these artists referred to the writings of Edmund Burke, who described the various relationships of beauty and the sublime.
"The Sublime is an experience caused by something that inspires both awe and terror. Burke theorized the various traits that contribute to this feeling, many of which Romantic artists utilized in their paintings. Such characteristics include magnitude, sensory intensity, and the degree of danger it presents the viewer. This presented threat held at a distance sparks pleasure in the guise of “survival”. A painting can house dark and terrible things, yet be composed in stunning, breathtaking scenes that dwarf and humble the viewer.
"Romantic artists and theorists like Burke wished to issue a warning to humanity, that in forgetting our spirituality and our relationship with the landscape, we deprive ourselves of an enlightenment that only the sublime can help us obtain. This mixture of awe and terror, of hope and despair, allows artists and viewers alike the chance to experience serenity on a level that logic could never offer.”
When it came to Burke's writing I was only ever interested in what constituted the Sublime. I don't much care for his outlook on women but I remind myself that it was a different time. If you'd like to look up his work it's now public domain and you can read it online here:
What does this all mean to me, then. Well I'm a very emotional person, so emotional to the point I can't go without destroying myself. Rarely do I express anger interpersonally because the intensity of it is too much for the regular person. Sometimes I wonder to myself if its a form of emotional immaturity, but I feel I would be much too apathetic otherwise. I am aware of what is both beautiful and ugly in this world, and I am not consumed in the game of life to cope with it. When I draw monsters, death or ruin, it really isn't a matter of what's conventionally good or bad. It can be both. This is my way of coping, of reflection.
When I pair that with fantasy, I feel even more fulfilled. Imagine that my body is a lens, and when the world we know passes through me, it becomes magnified and transformed. I remember having a talk with a friend once; fantasy worldbuilding is the most successful when it's believable. From the outside eye, my world might not look it, but it contains many of the building blocks of reality. Sometimes their forms are so raw that they're not immediately recognizable. It's also ever-shifting, which can be daunting to many and even to myself sometimes. Soul and emotion govern it all, so I can't have much say in the matter.
How sickeningly poetic eh? I never considered myself a romantic in the traditional sense but this sort of begs the question. I can't tell you if I'd be a model example of a Neo-Romanticist either. Maybe if it's an umbrella term... I guess I'll know by the end of my lifespan.
I thiiiiiiiiink that should be it for today. I've been esoteric enough for the week. Yet it's just one segment of my concepts, oh boy! Tune in next week and I'll talk about narrative.
Looks like Medium's gonna have to wait a couple weeks, oops!
Today I'm gonna talk about my practice. Putting my concepts on the backburner again since I'm still thinking about how to approach it. One of my instructors once described me as being in the midst of it all, floating in organized chaos where everything makes sense to me where I'm standing but it appears convoluted to those peering in. That's just how I've always been, a space cadet. So! That one will require a bit more time, a little like essay-writing but not as scholarly or cited.
Some news first. The Commissions for Cause... failed. Bombed like nobody's business! The positive feedback and interest was nice at least. I had mentioned some issues with it last entry, but someone brought up a good point saying that Facebook's algorithm isn't at all great for it, which I'd known previously but wanted to try anyway. I placed paid ads to help extend its reach, but it didn't quite make a big difference. It bore the fruit of a few new faces, but no participants. It is what it is, though. I'll look further into how others go about it and what platforms they host upon, since Facebook is proving to be no good.
While that was going on I entered a bit of a lull, but I remained productive. I realize I'll have to dedicate a post strictly explaining what it is I do, so for the time being I'll just brush the surface. On the glass casting front, I'm currently building up my mould library. I make rubber moulds of both found objects and sculpted items of my own. These help skip a few steps, but in the end they'll always need refinement. Here are just a few wax pieces:
Glass painting has been on hiatus because, while I do have a lot of imagery waiting to be painted, I feel something holding me back. I figure that the wax-sculpting has taken precedent and it's difficult to transform the space every time. I should figure things out soon though because I do have access to a sizable kiln, I might as well use it. Plus, I'd love to get back into soldering them with different coloured stained glass. Something warm and fiery.
The most immediate project of mine that will probably see fruition first is the Lonely Hydra vitreograph. This one has been a doozy since mid-December. In the past few weeks I had plates laser-engraved, as well as vinyl cut for sandblasting on others. It'll be interesting to see the treatment of both in print form. The laser-engraved pieces are waiting for pickup sometime next week or the one after, while the blasted ones will hopefully be completed tonight. I wanted to get them done sooner but sometimes you can't rush these things.
I have designs lined up for the online shops, no sweat. I have one in particular that I would love to purchase for myself since my room needs a bit of personal flair. I hope you guys like them, because I do! I especially love seeing photos of people who've bought them from me. I got one yesterday and it made my day, honestly. I'll compile the photos here of my younger classmates rocking hotshop attire. I hope more people send them to me once they get them!!
I've been given the impression that people think the print-on-demand shops are proving a distraction to my practice, but I don't think so. I'm generating content that can be later transformed in my medium, if I so choose. We live in a digital age where anything and everything can be translated. Some of the designs are even glass pieces that I digitally manipulated. It's true that it's not a sustainable income, but if I have the images, why not put them up for sale? If anything, having a shop is an incentive to keep drawing. I'm very happy with it, regardless if I haven't gained traction. It will come in time.
Welp! It's studio day so I gotta mozy. I think I'll host a poll to see what people are interested in first; concept or medium.