The challenge of painting with intent

Hey friends :)

I had the privilege of speaking with Angie Sykeny of The Hippo this afternoon about my work and influences, the upcoming show at Kimball Jenkins, and a million other things. I'd like to personally thank Mike Howat, who curated the show Figuratively Speaking, which opens this month, and to extend my thanks to Angie for reaching out to me for this story. I also want to take a minute to apologize to whomever is challenged with editing our interview; hahaha, I had too much coffee and a stomach filled with butterflies the whole time, so I'm sure there are a few tangential ramblings that could be scrapped! 

Talking with Angie brought me to think about the implications of claiming to create work about the environment – it's such a catch-all topic, and I say it inspires me and informs my work with the best intentions, but in the end, art is bad for the environment. I am creating an object with an intention of archivality - of never breaking down. I am using products that are synthetic and will never go away. Which brings me into the very literal incorporation of plastics in my most recent work. Rather than toss small plastics that will inevitably wind up as trash and find their way into our waterways, I am trying to incorporate them into my abstract works. This is challenging because I consider myself "a painter's painter" in that I adore mixing colors and applying paint to the canvas - it's why I paint. So to force myself to incorporate these small plastics into a painting, the challenge of still making a beautiful image despite this literal incorporation of trash – it's a tough pursuit and I have few successful attempts so far.

Still life with flowers (pillow toss), Oil on canvas w/plastic, 2017.   One of the works that will be on display at Kimball Jenkins this February.

Still life with flowers (pillow toss), Oil on canvas w/plastic, 2017.  One of the works that will be on display at Kimball Jenkins this February.

Detail of a new  Plastic Piece  which includes an expired bank card and red plastic netting

Detail of a new Plastic Piece which includes an expired bank card and red plastic netting

I'd have loved to talk with Angie today about the challenges and rewards of incorporating plastic into my newest pieces, but in such an anxious state, I didn't think to bring it up - perhaps because only one of the ten works (pictured - R) I'll have at Kimball Jenkins in two weeks incorporates this trash in the way my new work is beginning to. For a long time I've used found objects to make marks in my paintings. I have a roofing nail that I've kept in my painter's box since I was a teenager and I often use it to incise through the paint or create blurred stippling with the nail head. I also have made a habit of using expired credit cards to scrape and apply paints & mediums with. It wasn't long before I was cutting the cards to create different shapes (and therefore different marks), and in Still life w/flowers… I began applying the actual plastic of the card to the paintings surface. Instead of using the card as a tool, it became the medium. I know it's a bit crazy of me to keep all these small plastics: milk caps, "disposable" lighters, nylon fishing rope, and six-pack holders, which notoriously strangle, deform, and wreak havoc on the sea life – but I'd rather see them incorporated into something people will want to look at than feel a hit of guilt every time I throw a piece of plastic in the garbage. 

In one newer piece I've incorporated the red plastic netting they wrapped our xmas tree in, and in another, one of my empty inhalers, hangs suffocated in plastic. Instead of talking about these I tried to focus more on the work that will be in the show – paintings and prints about the landscape and a type of visual memoir expressed through repeated shapes and patterns that have kind of embedded themselves into my visual vocabulary, Seeds, pillows, rain, flowers, stars, birds, discs that float like angels: these are the marks I find myself repeating over and over.

Angie asked me if my intent with these pieces was to raise awareness of ocean plastics and environmentalist issues, and I had to admit that I don't really paint with intent, and I'm ashamed to say it! Perhaps because I don't work from preconceived sketches or ideas, and instead I'm discovering each individual piece along the way… not all of my paintings are about environmentalist issues. Perhaps because some my paintings are quite literally about pillows or pasta or whiffle ball, I felt that I couldn't also paint with the intention of spreading environmental awareness. Yet some of my pieces are spent marveling at our very existence in this fragile shell of atmosphere we insist on polluting. I paint what is on my mind, so even though I'm not painting to raise awareness, it's a happy side-effect to have more and more people to start thinking about ocean plastics and their own garbage production and plastic consumption. The average American produces nearly four and a half pounds of trash everyday. We don't think about it, but we're brushing our teeth with plastic brushes which we're "throwing away" every three months, we're buying plastic water bottles by the case. It's roughly 500 "disposable" coffee cups per working American, per year. It's baffling. Next time you're in the grocery store, think about the packaging of the food you're buying – how much of it is plastic? I suppose I should own the fact that I'm concerned about our planet. I should try painting with the intent of education, of raising awareness. 

I'd love to be the type of person to organize an event that will incite understanding and compassion and knowledge about our hurting earth, that will generate proceeds for the continuation of real organizations working to combat the problems of waste, plastic, and the climate emergency. I want to be the type of person who betters their communities and their environment through education, and outreach, and action. It feels like a big, challenging task. It feels like maybe the problem is too big and too out of control, and that I am only one person. It feels like 728,000 tons of daily garbage. But change is something that needs to be practiced, and if I could create work that might contribute to the betterment of something as important and wonderful and deserving of celebration and preservation as our fantastic little planet, well that feels like a good place to start. 


You can read more about Figuratively Speaking, and the work that I'll have there in next Thursday's issue of The Hippo.
& RSVP at the FB event page here.