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Saturday, July 25, 2015

Building Unreality - One Artists Journey Towards Understanding His Work

I have to face it. Through all the phases I've gone through in my artistic career, the element of unreality always exists. Whether I am painting or sculpting or experimenting with new art forms, this single element always exists.

I am not talking about fantasy. That is a different thing. While some of my work has some elements of fantasy within it, this is something different. This is an ability to create an otherworldliness along with a basic message.

Whether it is creating art related to climate control, or a sculpture that makes a pointed message about religious extremist, or just something fun like an abstraction. I can't seem to get away from that simple touch of unreality that seems to exist in all that I do.

For example, in the piece "Cause & Effect" there is a very stated message about climate science and our disregard for it. Yet there is that haunting skull that lurks out of the ice with its leering smile. In "Menace in the Night" there is the swirl of a giant hurricane making landfall over the twinkling lights of a city, yet you float above it in silence, watching it. Knowing what it is about to do to that community far below.

In both (and many more) there is an illusion of unreality blended in with the hardcore reality of the message.

You may say, "so what? That's your style". But understand that most artists aren't really consciously aware of their style. It is usually for others to say after seeing a body of their work. For others, that style fundamentally changes with each phase of their career.

I've been through many. In my early days I was strictly painting flat canvases. Then I gradually moved towards three dimensional canvas work that was part painting and sculpture. After that I moved into luminescent art, which was flat painting done on heavy vellum where the light could shine from behind the painting and illuminate it into a different piece of work than what you would see if it was front lit. From there I moved on towards wax work paintings, using wax with a soldering iron and a hair dryer to create vibrant color pieces. After that I came full circle back and began making huge sculptures that could still be hung on walls like a painting. Finally and in my presence phase I have become a sculptor of small pieces, usually something that can be set on a desk or a pedestal, but intricate in detail.

But through every single phase, when I look around my studio everything still has that air of unreality.

To be honest I hadn't noticed this until recently. I suppose that is why I am writing about it now. I think artists suffer from a sort of myopia where it comes to their own work. We can only see whats right before us. We focus on each and every brush stroke with a fanatical devotion to detail. Yet we have a hard time stepping back from our work and looking at it as a complete body of work. I think if we did so, we'd see things we never ever considered before.

When I first saw this, I wanted to label it "fantasy". But fantasy is a completely different thing. Fantasy art can hold many of the same elements of illusion and unreality, but its goal is not the same. A great fantasy artists can create other worlds in their art without ever creating the illusion of unreality.

Author Terry Brooks is an fantasy writer of the Shannara series. Terry has always had this amazing ability to strike just the right level of unreality to his work that it goes a bit past just basic fantasy. He uses elements of the here and now, blended with this other worldliness to create true unreality. I remember a scene in his first book where the heroes of his universe are moving through a dark and deadly forest and they come upon the ruins of an ancient city. But its immediately apparent that this is no dead city from the ancient past. This is a city from OUR future. This is a Chicago, or a New York City that will someday fall to ruin right amidst this amazing other world he's created.

This isn't just fantasy. This unreality. This is a blending of illusions that surpasses basic fantasy elements to take the viewer in and out of their own reality in the blink of an eye.

One of my studio interns recently said of one of my sculptures that he'd lost himself for a moment looking at it. That for a split second he wasn't in the room, but he was soaring like an eagle past the giant waterfall I had sculpted to rest on the slate ledges of the nearby cliff and feel the water spraying on his feathers.

THIS is what creating unreality is all about.

I suppose this is also what separates a "phase" from a "body of work". Phases change, sometimes radically. Where an artists body of work has basic elements that always seem to be present and marks their works almost in the same way a signature does. You can look at a piece of their work done 20 years ago and compare it something they did more recently and say "I know that artist. His work has evolved but that's definitely the same artists work".

So think on this a bit when you are creating your art. Think not only about the project before you, but what your work as a whole represents to you. You may be surprised what you find.


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