In case you have not seen (and you probably haven’t because I just did it), I’ve got a new page on the website for prints! Please check it out here if interested: https://www.tonycavalline.com/prints. It features my new monoprint series, with three of each design shown. If you’d like to see all available versions, or discuss a custom print, please send me a message.
I’ve taken the other print galleries down for the moment, because.. I dunno, spring cleaning maybe? But, I wanted to let you all know that I still have a bunch of editions of my Labyrinth series available for sale. Just a few examples of each design are given below. Let me know if you’re interested in seeing all available options. There are four different prints, in the sizes listed, and they come with a mat and backboard ready for framing at the sale price of twenty-five bucks.
This was going to just be a post to highlight one piece of work from my recent collection. It’s one I particularly like, I think it’s one of my favorite things that I’ve done in recent years actually. It’s called Some Old Story About A Boy Who’s Just Like Me, and you can see it in the images below. But while thinking about what I could share about it, what details I could give about making it, I went down a bit of a rabbit hole thinking about my work in general and how it is often made up of various visual elements, with whatever meaning I glean from it coming from how those elements interact with each other. "But," you say with eyebrow raised, "that's like, all art though, right?" Well, sure, maybe. But just bear with me, I guess.
I am a mixed media artist. This has been the case as far back as I can recall, or at least as far back as I think it would be accurate to say I had an artistic medium at all. I’m doing a little mental inventory as I sit here and I am having trouble recalling a single time, in the last twenty years, when I have made a painting just by using paint, except when I had to for an assignment. I suppose since I started making relief prints I have done a few that were straightforward ink on paper, but those were very much exceptions. My preferred media is, and has always been, very much mixed.
This involves elements of collage. (And assemblage, which is like collage but with 3D stuff.) I don’t tend to focus on the collage part when I describe my work, because I do not consider myself a collage artist. The technique of collage is a small part of what goes into what I make. The ideas behind collage, however, have a lot in common with my own ideas of creating, and what a finished piece ends up being all about.
Collage as a medium gets kind of a bad rap a lot of the time. I think there’s a perception that it is a quick and lazy way to create something. Well, it can be, but drawing can be too. Maybe because collage is often a jumping-off point. Everyone expects young artists to start out drawing and painting in a naturally immature way, and then gradually get better at those things as they grow and practice. Whereas a lot of the time the teenager with scissors, a glue stick, and an old Rolling Stone is as far as the collage journey goes. It’s not as often taken further, explored, and elevated. So we’re just left with the work of young humans looking for their own voice, which at the age of fourteen probably manifested as a lot of angsty headline words sloppily pasted up amongst celebrities with their eyes blacked out.
But there's collage as a technique (sticking 2D items on and around other 2D items) and then there's collage as an idea. A really interesting thing about collage as an idea, is that it’s not centered in the concept of creating a new visualization. (Warning: overgeneralizations abound, obviously.) Drawing and painting, in their most basic forms, are about rendering. Whatever else they are doing is wrapped up in the creation of images, what things look like. Collage is about association. In the world of a collage, what things look like has mostly already been established, it’s taken for granted as part of the existing world. The artist is putting something that already is in the world next to something else that already is in the world, and then stepping back to see what they say to each other. The takeaway from experiencing it is in how things relate to each other, and the stories the viewer creates simply by what ideas occupy the same space as other ideas, and in what ways.
Some Old Story About A Boy Who’s Just Like Me is not a collage, really. There’s a bit of that to it, because the shield-like sigil is a piece of paper, with ink and masking tape. The rest of the piece is paint, plaster, and pencil. Compared to a lot of the pieces I make, it's actually fairly light in materials. But when I started thinking of how to unpack it a bit, explore the process of making it, I kept thinking about the associations of a collage. As you may know if you've been along this journey with me and read any previous posts, grappling with the idea of "meaning" in artwork is something I have a complicated relationship with. But once I am looking at it in the context of a collage, allowing the elements in it to be separate things that are occupying the same space, the resonances become clearer. Each element, with all of the associations it might bring to it, interacting with the other elements, and eventually informing what the whole thing is all about. I would not say I use collage as a technique, usually. But maybe each finished mixed media painting is sort of a collage, as an idea. "Yeah," you say with eyebrow back down where it should be, "that's kind of obvious. You've been doing this for years." Well, aren't you just ahead of the game. Some of us take a bit longer to really sort things out.
Back to the piece at hand. Some Old Story About A Boy Who’s Just Like Me is visually simpler, in a lot of ways, than many pieces I make. It has five main elements. There's a figure on a hill. There's a round emblem with a greataxe design. There's areas of textured plaster. There's a border. And there's a title, which I am counting as an important element. Here are a few brief notes about those elements and how they relate to each other.
The figure is a young man. The textured plaster areas are like a chain link fence. The man is looking off in the distance, to the other side of the hill. The greataxe motif can have to do with all sorts of things, like battles and heroes. The figure on the hill is an old man, he's kind of hunched, he's in a coat. The axe is strength and adventure. The hill is made of graphite, it's dull and gray. The chain-link fence goes around a factory. The man has never been in an adventure. He remembers being young. The fence goes around a schoolyard. The axe is about games, kids playing at battle. The figure on the hill is a boy. The axe is held on with tape, a fake moon stuck to a fake sky. The title is a line from a Belle & Sebastian song. The song has to do with heroes and stories. The graphite pencil has a varnish, it sparkles when the light catches it, something dull turns to something magical. The axe moon is impossibly huge. Sometimes kids’ battles are more war than play. The figure on the hill is a young man, he disappears in the glare the varnish has made. Fences can keep in or keep out. The title of the song is Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying. The figure on the hill is an old man. The whole hill is a scribble in graphite pencil, drawn by a boy at a school desk. The painting is about old stories and it is an old story, imagined by a boy, who drew a man on a hill, and put a border around the whole thing.
And maybe that bit of stream-of-consciousness is the best I can do to describe what, for me, this piece, or any piece, is all about. I often hesitate to give that much, I don’t usually. Maybe because it feels like gibberish that no one else will understand. Or worse, they’ll understand it but just think it’s foolish. Maybe that’s how a lot of artists feel when they try to describe the art they make. We don’t want to wreck someone’s view of our work by explaining it and revealing to them that it’s actually dumb. Or maybe it's also that what we are putting out there are just pieces of things that already exist in the world, ideas that to us are already full and real. We step back and see what those things say to each other. And we hope that if we're quiet, someone else might hear them talking too.
Hey-o. My show, A Map & A Key, is wrapping up, and I've gotten a lot of questions about my monoprint series and how they're made. So, I thought I'd give a little step-by-step guide to explain what that process is all about.
Awhile ago I was interested in the idea of making prints, something where one cool design idea could be reproduced in multiple editions. In the past I’ve experimented a bit with digital art and with printed reproductions of paintings. These are often a great way for artists to provide a more affordable option for buyers as well as to improve their output - one work of art can be copied and shared with sometimes an unlimited number of people. I definitely enjoy this kind of art and have purchased it for my own home. But I could never figure out how to reconcile those methods with my own artmaking. What I love about my own work, what (to me) makes it what it is, is the hand-touched feel. Everything is tactile, organic, textured in unique ways. It feels real, somehow, like it couldn’t be reproduced in any other way. And I think that’s usually true. There’s always a bit of chance put into each piece, I would never be able to recreate one of them. And that’s a big reason why I like what I make.
At the intersection of these ideas, where a reproducible design meets hand-touched and unique, I found monoprints. If you aren’t familiar with monoprints, here’s what that term means.
Most traditional printmaking is based on the concept of making the same exact image multiple times. You carve a design into a piece of wood, rubber, or other material. Then you ink it up, stamp it on paper, and get an image. You do that fifty times, give each one a number (1/50, 2/50, etc), and sign them - boom, an edition of fifty prints, all pretty much identical.
Monoprints take this idea and just do away with the identical part. It’s still the same carved piece of rubber that you’re stamping fifty times, but now you can make each one different. Use different color inks. Paint the paper in different ways. Draw details on afterwards. Paste some collage onto the paper first, whatever, go crazy. There’s so many options! It’s a mixed media artist’s dream - it never gets boring and there’s endless ways to experiment.
So, about a year ago I started designing this series of prints. Not one, not two, but twelve different designs, each made to be in an edition of fifty unique pieces of art. The designs themselves are clean and somewhat minimalist sigils in a uniform circular framework. In a future post I’ll talk more about what these designs are all about. This post is about the process. Which is what I am going to outline now (with pictures!)
Each design started with a pencil sketch, which I made inside a circle that I traced from a drinking glass.
Then I started designing in Photoshop. This actually took the longest time, mostly because this is when you can fiddle with a lot of different options to get it just right, and I spent a lot of time fiddling.
Once I had the finalized design, I added little nicks and imperfections to give it that whole ancient seal vibe.
The design was printed out, and I then used a charcoal transfer to apply it to a 12”x12” linoleum tile.
Using the lines from the transfer, I carved the design into the tile.
During carving, I would do a few test prints and then refine it further as needed. Once the test print came out right, that meant the carving was done.
Before the final printing, I prepared the paper. Some prints I would start out on plain paper, but for others I wanted to create unique backgrounds, which I did mostly with paint and pencil.
The next step was to actually do the printing. If you’re not familiar with relief printing, this means laying out the ink, applying it onto a hand roller, and then rolling it over the uncarved portion of the tile.
Then I pressed it by hand to transfer the ink to the paper. With traditional printmaking, you’d want a consistent application of the ink to each print. For this series, I liked the variations I could get to make each print special, and sometimes it added to the archaic feel of the design in cool ways. Even so, it sometimes took quite a few misprints to get the ones I wanted.
After the prints were dry, I went over each one with additional hand details. I found that using ink to outline the prints in black or metallics could give a really vibrant look, and the graphic lines also made an interesting visual contrast to the organic texture of the ink. The detailing is where the one-of-a-kind aspect of the monoprints really comes into play. In the future I am excited to try out a lot of different techniques. They can even be personally customized - I hope to expand on this idea, so if that sounds interesting to you then stay tuned!
After the detailing is done, the prints are cut to size, sprayed with fixative, signed, and numbered. I include “V.E.” in my numbering - this indicates a “variable edition”, meaning each print is different.
Then each one gets matted and framed, and there you have it. Lemon squeezy. A piece of original printed art in just sixteen time-consuming steps. And to tell you the truth, I love each step along the way. (Well, except for the matting and framing, that’s just kind of work.)
If you have any thoughts about these, or ideas for future versions, I’d love to talk to you.
Hello, and a happy Ides of March to you! Well, belated. I meant to post this yesterday.
Thanks to everyone who has come out to see my show, A Map & A Key, at Boxheart Gallery so far, or have done the tour virtually online. Minutes are precious, and the world is chock full of content - thanks for taking some time to look at what I make. I appreciate you. If you haven’t, I invite you to. You can experience the virtual show right here. Or stop by the gallery to see the actual show, if you can. The benefits of going in person include: being able to see the details and texture close-up, a free limited edition sticker you can get literally nowhere else, and feelin’ fancy because you’re gallery crawlin'. You will also still get a chance for free art, by completing the very simplest of quests. (And let me tell you, as far as quests go, your chances of scoring something on this one are pretty high.)
I'm not kidding about the sticker being limited edition. I only had so much paper.
And now, an abrupt segue into the post I wrote for this week. After viewing the show, I have had a lot of people comment on the titles. So, that made me think more about how the titling of my work comes about.
I love words. More specifically, I love combinations of words. I often use combinations of words to reference specific works of art I make. So do a lot of artists. We call it the title. Everyone else also uses this term.
Artists use titles in different ways. Sometimes they give their work descriptive titles. They take what you experience and affirm it, categorize it, make it specific. They make what you are looking at realer, I think, by anchoring it in an identifiable system of space and time. A Bowl of Fruit. Some Fruit For Miss Lucy. A Vessel Of Apples And Plums Floating On The Hudson River. All in all it adds up to: The Thing That This Title Is, Is The Thing You Are Looking At.
That same bowl of fruit could be titled The Slow March Of Time, and then you'd probably start looking for bad spots and thinking about how it would all rot away eventually, just like all of us. I would still call that a descriptive title. When I think of that kind of title, it seems like it exists apart from the artwork. It describes something that is, separate from it being called anything. The title might draw your attention to something you didn't know about the image, like that the fruit belongs to Miss Lucy, or to something you weren't thinking about at the moment, like that we're all going to eventually die. But it doesn't change what the image is, inherently.
I do this sometimes too, I think, but not usually. I think I usually do something different. And I think it has a bit to do with something I talked about in an earlier post, which is the difficulty of saying what a piece of art means. And that it might not mean anything, so to speak, so much as it contains some things. It has ideas in it, and around it. And for me, the title is another one of those things that sort of float around and about the work. It's an important thing. It's another idea that makes up part of the whole. A little string of words that completes the picture.
I don’t really like to create this set of words though.
I have a little notebook full of combinations of words that I’ve collected. Because I like to borrow them from other places. Songs and books, mostly. An occasional poem, but I don’t read a lot of poems. Sometimes a movie. Every now and then something I just heard someone say.
They seem more important, somehow, these combinations of words, and more beautiful, for already existing. And they add more to the work than just what those few words say on their own. They add other lines from the same song, the next sentence in the book. Backstory, lore, feeling. A little bit of a whole found experience, another piece of the collage.
What of that comes through in the viewing of the artwork, if any of it does, I don’t know. It’s a whole lot of intent that could in the end just be for my own benefit. But I’m pretty sure that when I have all of that driving the piece forward, everything just works better.
These are all thoughts that I’m kind of just sorting through lately. After completing a body of work I find there's always a bit of processing of what has been learned throughout the creation of it, what has changed, and what can be taken into the future. This collection has given me some new perspectives on the importance of subtext to my work, and has allowed for a reckoning of sorts about this sneaky idea of the meaning of art. And a lot of those ideas are well exemplified in the way I use titles. And I plan on leaning a bit more into that and seeing where it goes. There’s just so much magic in those little bits of words found buried deep in other people’s creations.
I wonder what you think about titles pulled from other sources? And if you're an artist, how do you title your work? I won't ask you to tell me in the comments. But you are welcome to message me if you think it's an interesting conversation to get into. Or maybe save it until we can have a beer together, your choice.
A post-script: This piece is titled For Every Step There Is A Local Boy Who Wants To Be A Hero. What ideas does that add in to it? Quite a few, I think, but you'd probably have to listen to the whole song.
Hello everyone, just a short post this time to say that my new exhibition, A Map & A Key, is up at BoxHeart Gallery! I talked a little bit about this collection in my past few posts, and in the future I will probably go into some more detail on individual pieces. For now, all I want to say is that I’d really love for you to go check it out! Hours and other info can be found here on the gallery website. Understandably, not everyone will be able to see it in person. But this show is built around a spirit of adventure, and so for anyone who can visit the gallery there will be a small token waiting for you, and a clue. For those willing to accept the call and embark on a small quest, treasure may just await. And to you, my friend, I’m okay giving the spoiler that the treasure will be in the form of a custom-designed and framed monoprint.
I do think that the work benefits from in-person viewing - there are a lot of intricate details and textures, as well as metallic details that are hard to capture in photos. So, please do that if you can. BUT, if you are not able to make it in person, BoxHeart Gallery has created a very good alternative in the form of a cool and easy to use virtual tour. Just go to this link: https://boxheart.myportfolio.com/cavalline-21.
The box in the upper right of that page will put you in the middle of the gallery, Google Earth-style. Just follow the little arrows and make your way around the gallery to see all forty-two pieces of A Map & A Key. Most of the show is in one big room in the first floor gallery, but be sure not to miss the four pieces in the front windows. You’ll be able to click on any of the art on the walls to see it closer, and then you can even click again on each piece to see multiple views, including close-up detail shots.
And, because I love a full experience and also because I’m a little bit extra, I’ve created a playlist to accompany the exhibition. I think it captures the tone of what I am putting forward with this work, but it might also just be a cool soundtrack to whatever adventures you might currently be on. You can listen at this link or by scanning the image below from the Spotify app.
Hi there, friends. In my last post I talked about my upcoming exhibition, A Map & A Key, which I am pleased to say I have now actually finished all of the artwork for. It’s not the last minute at all, it’s a good six whole days before I need to deliver it to the gallery. Way ahead of the game.
Included in this collection is a new series of monoprints, and I’m really excited to show them. I’ve been working on them for about a year, really. I started creating them at the beginning of lockdown last year and have been gradually designing, carving, and printing them since then in order to have the whole series ready for A Map & A Key in March. I’ve been calling them the Adventure series - a system of sigils based on fantastical archetypes of magic, battle, and lore.
These twelve designs represent… well, I suppose they can represent something different to everyone. To you adventurers out there, they might be a symbol of identity - maybe when you look at them you see one that represents you. Are you a raging warrior, a roguish trickster, a sage of knowledge, a hunter of the forest? Nerds like me love to create characters, and to me these are the symbols of heroes. Maybe they are to you too? ;) If not, that’s ok. They are also more than that. I love the idea of emblems whose full significance is lost to time. Maybe one of them symbolizes something only you know.
I’ve made them in the style of an ancient seal or crest, with weathered edges and nicked sides. And the really cool part is, every print made is unique. I suppose now would be a good time to explain a little bit about what a monoprint is. I’m gonna go ahead and offset this part, come join me for this very scholarly explanation:
In traditional printmaking, the goal is to make each print identical. There are different methods of creating the image, but when the prints are made, they are usually all done at the same time and they look exactly the same. They’re numbered according to a set amount of how many prints will be made (an “edition”) - so if it is in an edition of twenty, each one is numbered 1/20, 2/20, etc.
Monoprints are distinct from this because even though they are printed from the same block, each one is intentionally made to be one-of-a-kind. This can be through changing what kind of ink you are using, painting or drawing on the paper before you print, or adding details after printing (I use all of those methods). As with traditional prints, monoprints can still be made in an edition, but they’re often labeled with something like “VE” to show that the edition is “variable” - each one is at least slightly different. You'll see this kind of numbering on my prints.
Hopefully that explanation makes sense. There might be artists who would define some things a bit differently than I have, but with printmaking, I am really making my own way. There are some way serious printmakers out there who’ve spent years studying the craft and perfecting their technique, and that is not this kid. I started exploring the idea of monoprints because they really align with what I value in my own art practice - organic lines and textures, a hands-on approach, and a no-rules policy on what materials can be used.
So basically, they’re just a lot of fun. You start with the same base print block, but there’s tons of freedom to make each one a special work of art. Below are the first two prints of a few of the designs, showing how varied the final products can be:
You’ll see that they’re numbered - I’m doing these in editions of fifty. Which is exciting to me, because there’s so much room for evolving and experimentation as the printing progresses. I'm hoping to start doing some custom versions soon.
I’d really like to talk more about the process of making these, but I think I’ll save that for a future post. If any of you process nerds out there can’t wait, just message me, I’d love to chat about it.
For now, I’d like to wrap this up with an enticement and maybe a little bit of a teaser. I’ll be posting more monoprint images from this series on Instagram in the coming days, and I hope if you’re able to you will come see them in person at my upcoming show A Map & A Key at BoxHeart Gallery in March (or at least take in the virtual show experience on BoxHeart’s website).
For those who stop by the gallery during the show’s run, there’s a small bit of adventure that I have planned, waiting just for you - along with some big giveaways. More on that in the next two weeks.
Hey, blog post number four! Look at me go here. I’m totally not that person who started a LiveJournal and only made three posts, because now I’ve made four.
I’m very happy this week to invite you to my upcoming exhibition, A Map & A Key, and give a few details about it. It will take place at Boxheart Gallery from March 3 through April 2 of this year. Due to the pandemic conditions, there will not be an opening event for this show, but the gallery will still be open for in-person visits! Masks are required of course, and there is plenty of room in the gallery to be socially distanced while you view the artwork, so I am hoping that you, my friend, will be able to stop by. If you want to be extra safe, you’re even able to book a free private appointment right on their website.
If you haven’t been to Boxheart before, you’re in for a treat. It’s a super awesome gallery that features really interesting and thought-provoking work. They exhibit many emerging artists (like me) and mixed media artists (also like me) and I’m honored to be a part of their artist family.
To describe my show, I’ll start with the blurb that is included in the press release and promotional materials, because I think it describes the intent of the collection pretty nicely:
In A Map & A Key, Cavalline offers a fragmented landscape of lost adventure and faint longing, pieced together from boyish ideas of an arcane and extraordinary world, softened and worn by years of misremembering. Using a rich combination of expressive mark-making, textural painting, and idiosyncratic collage, his compositions seek to capture memory as a moving cascade of fiction and recollection. Embedded with insignia that hint at the esoteric symbols of a forgotten culture, A Map & A Key recalls a sensitive boy’s pure and desperate creation of a personal mythology and speaks to a quiet and insistent longing for magic amid the devastating loss that comes with growing up.
So, to build off of that very swanky and impressive mass of art-speak, this is a collection about adventure. About things that are secret and special. Quests. It’s about maps, magic, hidden doors. You know, that kind of thing.
As I’ve mentioned previously in a blog post, describing my artwork doesn’t always come easily to me. And it’s even a little tougher for this exhibition, because this artwork is about stories you figure out as you go along. Symbols and histories that no one else knows. Treasures that you don’t understand, yet. Things that are found, and then forgotten, and then remembered.
It’s about the lost languages and secret lore of a kid who climbed a tree and made a kingdom there.
If you’re someone who ever found an old key right where an old key had no place to be, and put it in your pocket, and carried it around, because it could’ve been left there just for you, and there might be a door somewhere, that you’ll probably find someday, and that door could very well be magic… then I have a story to tell you. And if you never did anything along those lines… well, I guess I have a hard time believing that. But you should come along too.
I’m really excited to share this work. I’ll be showing thirty new mixed media panels, and I will also be introducing a new series of hand-detailed monoprints.
I really hope you can come and see! If you want to, please sign up for email updates (at the very bottom of this page) and follow me on Instagram (@t.cavalline).
I’ll be posting more details in the weeks to come... including a quite adventurous giveaway.
I don’t think it’s too bold of a generalization to say that every artist that is putting their work out into the world wants people to engage with it in some way. Well, I suppose it’s possible there are very talented artists posting amazing pictures on private Instagram accounts with no followers, but unfortunately there’s no way to know. Most of the time, visual artists like me want people to look at our work. If they like it enough and are in a position to, they might buy it, and that’s great! We really love that. But we also really just love people looking at it. First and foremost, we want people to simply experience it with their senses.
Secondmost, we want people to react to it, with their minds or feelings. Maybe it reminds them of something they love, and makes them a little bit sad, in a good way. Maybe it makes them think about things that are unfair, and makes them a little bit mad, in a bad way. Or maybe they just use what they know to make some mental connections about what they see.
And third: if you experience it, and react to it, we want you to talk to us about it.
Making art, for a lot of people, means revealing real pieces of who we are inside, and that’s hard. We want people to explore that with us, to ask questions. Seeing our art is
seeing us. We want to be seen. Don’t ever think an artist doesn’t want to talk to you about their art! They do. Unless there’s a reason, like they’re having a bad day, that happens. Or maybe they’re kind of an a-hole. But you can usually feel confident approaching an artist to talk about their work, because this is what we want.
And I feel like that is kind of an open secret. Even though we want people to talk to us about our work, a lot of the time we are conflicted about that. We don’t want you to know that we want you to talk to us. Because we want you to think we’re cool, and we’re doing just fine, thank you much. Also because we are awkward, weird, and insecure. Wait, I am doing a lot of generalizing, I should probably stop speaking for other people here. I am awkward, weird, and insecure, and all of that above only applies to me. (But I’m pretty sure it applies to other people, too.)
There’s a sort of mythology built around artists not caring what anyone thinks of their work. It’s like a force from inside them or something and they just have to get it out, man, and who cares what anyone thinks about it, they do it for them, and if you don’t like it that just reinforces how original they are. I guess the mythology persists because those artists do exist, and even though they don’t care what you think they are posting their art and tagging it #paintingoftheday and checking on how many likes they get. When you think about artists, let these be outliers.
Artists want people to experience, react, ask questions.
But then people do those things. And sometimes what they ask is this, often with an inquisitive head tilt:
“What does it mean?”
And then I freeze. Because I don’t know how to answer that. That doesn’t make it a bad question. For a lot of artists, this is a very fine and easy question. Maybe their art is message-based. What does it mean? It means that they’d like you to think about how important birds are to a healthy ecosystem. Maybe there’s symbolism they want you to unpack: What does it mean? Well, the river represents technology and the sun is capitalism and that bird over there means hope. Maybe it’s just a nice picture of a bird, and the meaning is a story: There Are Birds And Here Is One.
But then there’s other kinds of work. No message, no storyline, nothing you need to walk away with. The artist would love for you to experience something, but it’s kind of up to you what that is. I think I'm in this vague category of artists. Describing the meaning of an artwork I've made is hard for me, because I'm not sure there really is one, actually. It's about things, yes. It has ideas sort of circling around in it, absolutely. It may put concepts forward, make possible connections between them, hint at a story, show a small part of a huge world. And that all feels very complex and important to me. But none of that seems like it’s Meaning. At least not a meaning I can easily summarize.
And that’s ok.
I think a lot of people have been made to think that art is something that you get or you don’t. When that’s the case, they want it to have a Meaning, so then they have Understood it and are part of the group of people that “get” art. Checkmark, mission complete, where’s that waiter with my martini. But! What I would like to tell you, my friend who is a real life person and has read this entire post thus far, is this Very Important Thing: You don’t have to “get” everything. Every piece of art is not out there to be Understood. That's not to say you shouldn't look at art with an inquisitive, critical, exploring eye. You should! It's fun. And it's way more fun when you know that there’s not a right answer you have to figure out.
I've been tempted to turn the 'what does it mean' question around. 'Well, you tell me what it means.' I don't do that though, yikes, that'd be pretentious. And the thing is, what is mostly being asked is what this piece means to me. Which is a very good question to ask an artist, and which I'm both excited and self-conscious to talk about. And it might sound something like:
"Well, it's kind of about being young, and how the world is smaller then but with more secret places, and also it's about my grandma, and this one tree that isn’t there anymore, and also kind of about libraries? Well, like bookshelves I guess. And the idea that there are things written in books that no one has read in years, and the inside of a book might be a secret place no one has seen in a lifetime, and things can disappear without anyone ever knowing, and also there's a bird."
It's in the form of memory and thought, the ideas just kind of swirling around, so it’s different from a message or a story. Stories have a meaning, or at least we usually give them one when we tell them, but memories are collections of disordered pieces that you gather and interpret as you go, in a way that changes as the world around you changes. So meaning works differently.
It can’t mean something, not exactly, because then it doesn’t mean other things.
Happy New Year, you guys. This new year seemed like a good time to think a little bit more about a motif that I’ve used a lot over the last few years - walls. Whatever else they are, walls are boundaries. They mark one side as different from the other, and that’s what a new year feels like it should be about. I’m not sure if everyone necessarily celebrates the idea of the new year, but it’s probably pretty hard to avoid at least acknowledging it. For me, I love the delineation between one era and another - anything can happen in the new one because it’s not colored by any of the awkward stuff that came before. A fresh blank page is relieving but it’s also dangerous, because obviously it can’t stay that way. It has to get colored eventually, and that’s risky, because the colors aren’t always what you pictured. I’m not a big fan of new year’s resolutions, for the same reason I always get a lot of anxiety over a new sketchbook. It’s a lot of pressure. You want it to be this perfect thing, a volume full of lovely and cleverly executed drawings, and the first time you mess up and doodle something wonky it’s like you want to give up and start a whole new book. And then you’ve got this stack of old sketchbooks that each stop on page four.
Walls, yes, this was supposed to be about walls. But the point there (I think) was that delineation between different things feels important, and meaningful, but it’s packed with complications. Walls always separate one area from another. The interesting and complicated bit comes when you think about what the distinction is between the areas that are separated. A wall can be about protection, it can keep danger out (or in). It can create a border around the things you care about, it can tell anyone who sees it that those things within it are yours. It can create a barrier, marking two kinds of people - those that got over it and those that didn’t. You probably see where I’m heading. When art is viewed as being an integral part of the world it was created in, there are so many implications that you can start to think about when you look at something like a wall.
It didn’t start that way. Well, what I mean is, when I started using the motif of a wall, I had something fairly specific in mind: the Labyrinth. Not just a labyrinth, THE Labyrinth, capital L, the one with the Minotaur in it. I’m a little bit obsessed with that story, and I’ve pulled a lot of different elements from it to explore in art. (I don’t want to set expectations too high for a future post, but sometime maybe we can have a nice long conversation about balls of thread.) In thinking about the Labyrinth, I kept thinking about walls. Walls that enclose the Labyrinth, and separate it as a space. Walls that make up the endless paths and tunnels within it. The Labyrinth is a maze, and a maze is walls.
(If anyone is revving up right now to tell me the difference between labyrinths and mazes, that is a conversation I am ready for, my friend. But it’s for another day.)
The thing about a maze though, is that it’s meant to be a puzzle that can be solved. The walls are absolute, you have to find your way through them along a path, you have to play by their rules. The answer is usually in the center. But to me, that isn’t the point of the Labyrinth. There isn’t one right path. There’s just a ton of winding ways that intersect and meander and make shadows and hiding places. And the Minotaur? He might not be in the center. This is his home. He can be wherever he wants.
What the walls of the Labyrinth do isn’t create a puzzle. They create a space where there are two shifting roles: hunter and hunted. The difference is that one of the two is an explorer there, figuring out their path... and the other one knows every turn and corner by heart. This is how I picture it, at least. I love to imagine the suggestions of that story, and play with the ideas in it.
And that’s when the ideas get bigger, and not so specific. The Labyrinth turns into a labyrinth, lowercase, and now it’s a metaphor. The roles between hero and monster become blurred. And in a world that values division and categories, walls can mean a lot more things. And they can take anything, and separate it into two groups. In and out. Ours and theirs. Home and everywhere else.
My current favorite way to imagine a wall? With a rope to help you over, and a waiting world on the other side.
So there ya go. That's a small, rambling, and hopefully only a bit disjointed look into a favorite motif of mine.
And hey! Bonus if you read this far: a fun wall-related word that I picked up along the way, for all you vocab nerds. Cyclopean (adj) - denoting a type of ancient masonry marked by the use of large irregular blocks without mortar.
“If there is no love in the world, we will make a new world, and we will give it walls...”
If you don’t know me, I am a mixed media artist from Pittsburgh. Welcome, you. Who are you? How on earth did you get here? No matter. You’re reading this now, and so I suppose we’re a little closer to being friends than we were a minute ago. The artist statement on my website gives the fancy, more conceptual version of what my art is about. Please read it, if you care to - it’s written in lovely turns of phrase that I spent days editing. But here, if you couldn’t tell, my tone is “conversational”, and I’m trying to just write things like I think them.
So, as an introduction: I’m into forests, fantasy, old secret things, and the idea that the world looks very different in your head. And I make mixed media paintings, which are like regular paintings, but with a bunch of other stuff in them.
If you do know me (and now that we’re on the second paragraph and we’re all friends let’s just say that counts everybody), you will know that putting my thoughts and feelings out into the world is not something I have generally been comfortable with. I put a lot of my soul into my artwork, and just showing that to people feels raw enough sometimes. Let alone actually putting the emotions and inspirations behind it into words. And let even aloner (?) just airing out my thoughts on art in general, or on life, or on, I don’t know, pancakes or something.
So why, you didn’t ask, am I writing this? I’m not completely sure but hopefully as we go along we’ll find out. Maybe it’s to give some context to me and my art practice, which is a smart and businessy thing to do. Maybe it’s to work on focusing my thoughts coherently (someone, probably not my therapist, may have said that understanding what I’m trying to say can be like trying to catch water in your hand). Maybe it’s to start conversations. Maybe it’s for me, maybe it’s for you. Either way:
I’m going to be making a post every two weeks in 2021, a year which we will all soon refer to as The Best Year Yet. I’ll be posting info on shows, sales, and updates on new works. I’ll be highlighting some older work and telling the stories behind it. I’ll be talking a little bit about some of the technical and conceptual considerations of art-making. And I’ll be doing it all in this effortless, conversational tone that you already picked up on because I pointed it out earlier.
And all that is to say: this is a thing I’m doing, and it felt odd to just start it without some kind of prologue. And it ISN’T some kind of New Years resolution thing, because I’m posting this in December. So.
I feel so vulnerable already. Thank god no one’s reading this. Well, you are. Okay, it’s just you. You’re fine.