At least once a week I’m asked: what do you do? This is after it’s been established that I’m an artist. I always quickly answer: I do everything but painting. I answer preemptively because if I allow a moment and don’t beat them to the punch, they typically follow the question with: Are you a painter? Do you paint?
My mom asked me why couldn’t I make artwork that was more pretty. She complained, why does it always have to be depressing? Recently, I shared with her a positive review I received in the newspaper. For the work described in the review, I used red silk as one of the materials. The art critic described it as “blood-red silk”. From that, my mom’s only response to the article was, I don’t understand why you’re always so obsessed with blood!
In 2005, I found a box of drawings my mom kept from when I was 3-5 years old. The drawings looked like the kind of abstract paintings I wish I could make but couldn’t, not with my academic background. I was fascinated with what my motivation could have been at that age, other than just doing it. It wasn’t for a studio visit or a show. It was uncorrupted self-expression, which would be impossible now. Around the time I found the box of drawings, I’d also seen F is for Fake (1973) by Orson Welles, a film about art forgery. It was hugely influential. I got the idea to convert one of my drawings into a painting, and pass it off as an original, which looked similar to a trend in painting at the time. The work was a one-off and took its title from Welles’ film. The painting was cynical and pranksterish. I didn’t feel good about it afterwards.
I started teaching this past year. For a majority of my students, my class was their very first art class and for the others with previous art experience, they were still raw. I reminisced about being a young student and became jealous. I was jealous of existing at that same age and being introduced to a life-altering artist, book, film, or musician for the first time. Yes, I still get wowed, but it’s never with the same intensity and impact. Around the same time I started teaching, I discovered two large binders encapsulating my entire undergraduate experience while purging my bedroom. Enclosed was every syllabus, every homework assigned, every reading, every handwritten note. First, I was startled at how organized I was. Then, I became nostalgic for when the art world seemed less gross. If there was ever a period I could relive, it would be then. So I decided to go back and redo some of these assignments, a sort of return to basic training, while simultaneously attempting to resuscitate those same emotions. But then I thought: why not go farther back? Why not start from the beginning and revisit the childhood drawings again?
The earlier work, F is for Fake, I saw as forgeries. With this new work, I see them as collaborations.
If I was still asked what do you do?, I’d still say, I do everything but painting.