I am one who has a lot of deep questions. I’m desperate to decipher my place in the world, within society, and in the cosmos. Yet I apply little effort at finding answers through traditional means.
I’ve tried reading philosophy, physics, and mysticism. But reading, lectures, and other standard educational means do little to satisfy me.
Instead, I make art.
Let me be clear: I don’t make art to find answers.
The majority of my art is created when I’m confused about myself and my place in the world. I’m generally disconnected from my sense of self and find it difficult to bring my feelings to clear awareness. But if I take that struggle into the studio for investigation, I will gain some clarity about what’s troubling me.
I make art to reveal my most earnest questions.
I once heard the artist Enrique Martinez Celaya state something along the lines of “art is about asking questions” in one of his talks. * This is true for me. Even if the imagery of my art appears to be well-constructed and clear, the questions are what drove me to arrive there.
The impetus for my work is what confounds, troubles, or disheartens me. The questions are the root of the problem. They are the reason why I struggle in this world.
My struggle is relieved in the act of creating.
I’m resigned that my deepest questions are unanswerable. They involve things beyond the body and arise from the experience of being. Without the reflection that comes out of making art, I would have little sense of how to live with these questions. Also, I would have little clarity about who I am.
The artworks I create tell a story of what I desire, what I fear, and what I care about. But they arise through a slow process of action and response.
Questions guide my creative process.
Almost always, I begin with color. In this example (which became “Not At One With”), I arbitrarily choose white, beige, and silver, with blue and pink as accents. I create a cloth in my signature technique, cutting and sewing the silk back together in repetitive turns. Below is the result, and from this piece I cut my body’s silhouette.
Question #1: Why no head?
Here, I make my first compositional decision: this body is to have no head in the frame. My mind registers this decision but does not probe further into its meaning. I continue without analysis. I rework the remaining fabric, adding only white, and further reducing the shapes into long lengths running horizontally. I then add my silhouette:
Question #2: What is lacking?
Still, without trying to discover any ultimate meaning, I look only at what’s present in the composition and ask myself, “What’s lacking?” Where in the frame does there need to be action? It is obvious to me it needs a vibrant color. Yellow, I decide. What is something that is yellow?
Butterflies are yellow. Butterflies will offer exactly the right amount of grace to this brick-like figure. But I am feeling resistance to having the butterflies be well (healthy). I’m not feeling that butterflies are well in this time of climate change. My mind also notes the strong horizontal background. I feel into it. It feels like speed. It feels like wind.
Question #3: What is this artwork about?
I’m one who makes art first, then looks to find its meaning. I rarely draw something before diving into the work, When I look at this piece, I see a figure that is nearly invisible. It is made from the same fabric as its environment, so much so that it is difficult to distinguish its immobile form. I see a figure with no head or feet, with nothing to ground or to enlighten. I also see butterflies, tossed and struggling in a violent wind…
What, then, are the questions this artwork asks?
*View Enrique Martinex Celaya giving a talk in 2019 on his work at Robischon Gallery (Denver, Colorado). This is where I heard him discuss art and asking questions.