Today I set my studio up for a drawing and painting project that will probably take me through the summer and early fall. Its Pilot #5, the largest painting I’ve attempted since 2006, and like with other projects lately, its a terrifying prospect. However I’m feeling very confident that it will be one of the best pieces in the set. It’s interesting when life interferes with an art project. My iPhone was recently stolen and that news was tempered by getting into a faculty recruitment program at R.I.T. in Rochester, New York. This balancing act between something good and something bad happening to me seems to herald big and positive changes with my work. The last time I can remember something like this happening was in 2008 when I found out I got a grant to do a big show in Boston during the same dinner my boyfriend broke up with me. Well I hope this positive record continues with Pilot #5, hopefully the cell phone was the big negative and not my lovely current relationship. Here are some images of the beginning phase of the Pilot #5 drawing.
I recently finished a small 4 part series called “Patrick Menagerie” based in part on these cute doodles made by my best friends kid, Patrick Smarr. I consider it a break- set from doing large exhausting works. This pattern of going from a large to a small work is something that seems to have emerged from being in this studio, so I think of it as a natural healthy development. (See below Patrick’s Menagerie 1 -4)
Also I’ve been really thinking about race in my work. In a way, “Patrick’s Menagerie” represents more or less a conceit that’s long been the case in my work, that being that I am a painter interested specifically in the black experience more or less as it relates to my personal experience as a gay black man. Painting caged animals and monstrous creatures, thinking about two minority pilots navigating the meaning of patriotism and heroism, creating works that explicitly speaks to my interest in sex and sexual performance; these are just the latest examples of subject matter that my works have dealt with that relates back to my experience as a black and gay man. I use to make fun of artists who made race work. I’m somewhat embarrassed of that naive attitude now. I understand now why I needed years ago to insist my work was something more than just minority work. In my experience there’s a tremendous pressure artists of color often feel regarding their talents and their place in the larger artistic community. Stereotyping black art is perhaps a useful shortcut to describe some work by people of color but it’s also a burden. For example the expectation that their work – if they are a minority – is coming from a natural authentic unconscious place, rather than from a strategic and well formed plan. I always hear terms like natural, urban, raw, and authentic to mean black, unskilled, political, difficult and not pretty. Also there is the pressure to render magnificently, which all artists I believe feel. This expectation is heighten when one is of color due to the socioeconomic conditions many blacks find themselves living in. If work in not steered towards a consumer market that revers realism then somehow your not legitimate, is the implication. I fall somewhere between these two extremes with some work especially lately being very clearly black and raw while others suggest my affinity for land and especially skyscapes. On that note, I had a guy in my studio today – another artist who I greatly respect actually – and this fellow told me he liked my paintings with skyscapes because they had more space to breath. My dense urban raw work was too dense for him. That’s the whole point I thought.
In any case I’ve been thinking of this stuff a lot lately, especially with race being so in the news. I’m sure I’ll speak more about how identity affects my artwork in the future.