Rita J. King, Megan Kingery, and myself. Megan is testing our radiation levels with the Geiger counter. Clearly we were incredibly radioactive. Photo by James Jorasch.
Growing up I wanted to be a photographer. There was nothing more glamorous than the thought of locking myself away in a dark room and emerging with grainy high contrast prints. As it turns out, I'm not a great photographer.
When Holly and I would take our road trips we'd bring along a simple point and shoot camera and a micro cassette recorder. We were frantic about documenting our lives, recording our voices, and writing everything down. Even when I wasn't with her I constantly had a journal or a camera with me. Somehow I thought, if I didn't document everything I would lose moments of my life. The last time I saw Brian I had a friend snap a photo of us. It's the only photo I have left. And when Holly passed in 2001 I was left with the photos, tapes, and journals. While I was glad to have these physical representations of memories it also fed my neurosis. I started to think that if I didn't document everything then I would have no proof it existed.
I recently met Wafaa Bilal at a salon on body modification hosted by The Hybrid Reality Institute and Science House. Wafaa currently has two camera's imbedded into the back of his head. He had three but his body rejected one of them. The cameras take a photo every minute and upload to a site. Wafaa explained that he grew up in Iraq under Saddam Hussein's regime and fled in 1991. He explained that he had no photographs of his time there, so all of it is in memory. Part of doing this project is to make a statement on the things we leave behind as well as to have in existence images of where he had been and the people he had encountered. Many of his works suggest the idea of the unseen and walking between two worlds.
People are always surprised when they hear I use actual photos in my work. Basically I have two ways of working. I was trained traditionally. In fact most of my first year drawings mimicked the notebooks of Da Vinci. I was obsessed with how he lay out a page and wanted my own work to have that graphic element.
Orthogonal views of the skeleton (1510-11)
I like to draw but I'm so anal retentive it takes me forever to finish a drawing. My sketches look like chicken scratch. I'm also a measurer, so will take the ruler to things over and over until I am certain they are the correct measurements. In order to aid this I concocted a style that is partially photographic and partially drawing and painting. I need the organic feel of paint and the slight weight of pencil or charcoal in my hand. I like the sound it makes against the paper, but I also need the permanence of the photograph. I make digital sketches manipulating photographs until I have the right combination and composition. I then print out three copies of this sketch. Yes it's always three. I paste one copy down on my bristol board and rip the other two into random pieces. Then I take out gesso and block out certain parts of the sketch. This way I can draw them back in. If I happen to mess up, I still have the pieces of the other sketches to paste over and start again. I work in layers, layers of paper, then paint, then pencil, and ink. I like using the printouts because the ink and paint merge together giving a surreal look to the image. I like to think I'm a pianist while making art, one hand crossing over the other, blending musical notes to create a composition. And the last part of all of this is glaze. When I was little I was obsessed with furniture that had shellac. If they had painted images underneath I was enamoured. I'm a textile kind of girl. The glaze sets in the paint, the ink, it smudges the charcoal and ink just so. It creates a dreamlike vintage affect to an otherwise matte piece. With this whole process, I'm feeding the need to create something organically merging it with technology while the neurotic tendency to use photography as proof of existence. Although I can't ever see myself imbedding cameras into my head, I can see why Wafaa is doing the work he is doing.
My friends Rita J. King and Joshua S. Fouts recently joined my friends over at Science House as Executive Vice President of Business Development and Executive Director of the Science House Foundation. Rita and I have had many conversations about imagination and inspiration. Science House even let me co-host a dinner salon about Creativity and the Imagination Age. I believe we all have one project that defines us as an artist. It's not to say that this will be the only project, but there's always one that paves the way to the rest of your success. For me, it's the tarot. Inspiration came easy for this one once the time was right. Mostly it's books or literature that inspires me to paint. That moment a sentence or melody wraps itself around my brain it's pretty much unstoppable. I described the feeling at the Imagination Age salon, "It's like hot wiring a car, there's that initial spark and then just like that, you're running." This deck has seemingly put itself together. One part of the sketch is made and piece by piece it flows together. The digital sketches allow me to weed out what's not working. I told James and Megan "Something is happening with this deck. I don't know what it is but it's working. It's all so clear and coming at me from all different directions. I'm on, it's clear, and I have so much energy I can't think of much else."
Megan Kingery, Sxip Shirey, & myself. Helen Arney on Skype. Photo by Rita J. King
I find I'm most inspired when one of two things happen. First I'm surrounded by smart interesting people. One of the reasons I am so fond of Science House and the Hybrid Reality Institute is because they bring together so many interesting people. Scientists, artists, writer, musicians, etc with one common tie, a base in technology and the future. And second immersing myself fully into art, literature, and music. Sxip and Feloche's music have played a huge part in the creation of this deck. My love for Frida Kahlo and the Beat Generation have allowed me to paint as well as share my stories. My friend Warren Ellis has played a major role in everything I do or make. It all plays in together, take two wires and make a spark.
Sometimes that spark ignites the engine and sometimes it just makes a spark. The point is to keep going and let your imagination take you to where it needs to go. Some of those place you'll want to stay and others will be places you never want to go to again. But the point of all this is to just let it go. Don't stifle yourself. And if you find yourself getting blocked. Cut up and rearrange it a la Gyson and Burroughs.
And well, if you find yourself knee deep in neurotic behavior, use it to your advantage and make something. I'm off to the picture files.