Better Outta Me than in Me
This past week, I brought a lot of my finished sculptures into my studio. Most of the time that’s the last place I bring finished work – it’s dusty and everything sticks to the tar gel shellac that I use to finish my sculptures. Most of the time they live at home. Since I’m at the wrap-up stage with a lot of newer work, however, I thought it’d be helpful to have old, finished work around. My working memory is pretty bad and often I find that I feel like I’m reinventing the wheel when I make a new sculpture. With older work and pictures of influences around, I can remember what kind of surfaces and color palettes I’ve used before, and what I want to continue doing or throw out.
My work takes a long time to make. Technically, clay is pretty persnickety, especially with the scale and forms I make. I add a few inches, and then usually have to wait a few hours if not a whole day before I can add more. Also, I work full-time, so I don’t have the luxury of spending more than 2 or 3 hours in my studio most days. Because of this, I live with my work for a long time. However frustrating this is most of the time, I’ve come to realize that this level of pacing really fits my nature. I’m a slow at digesting ideas, how I feel, what I think about things. As proactive and Type A I can be, my most original, substantial thinking comes from a more relaxed, receptive pacing. Taking walks, listening to music, washing dishes, sleeping – things tend to resolve themselves without me efforting because ideas have the space to marinate naturally in my head. Solutions bubble up to the surface without me even trying. Since working in clay the way I have been yields a lot of “down time,” I have a lot of mental space to think in that slower way. I’m inpatient and it’s definitely frustrating sometimes, but it’s a marathon and not a sprint. And I’m not built for sprints anyway.
With the older work around, it’s clearer what I want to throw away for newer work ahead. I wanna keep the humor (I don’t think I could get rid of it even if I tried), but I wanna lean back a little on the camp. Frankly, I don’t want my work to be too hip or Instagram sarcastic. I want them to stay funny and ugly and kinda monstrous, but not be representations of monsters. The more I’ve been drawing and making newer work, the less I think of them as weird organisms like works or parasites. I think of them more as thought bubbles come to life; anxieties and desires manifest in some kind of flesh. We tend to our thoughts like pets, and they tend to stick around and grow the more we feed them and stroke them. That’s what this work feels like to me.: the feeling in your gut when someone embarrasses you at a party in front of your friends, or you see the thing that turns you own that you might not be that proud of, or the way you talk to yourself when you catch yourself in a mirror or how you feel right before you take a group picture, or the genuine love you feel for someone close to you. These thoughts and impulses are sensed through your body and embedded with all kinds of tertiary feelings, beyond just happy or sad, good or bad. I’m not sure you can feel pure lust without a little bit of anxiety or embarrassment. I’m not sure that you can be angry without being a little disappointed or heartbroken. And I’m definitely not sure you can really love someone without being vulnerable enough to be devastated by them from time to time. Or conversely, I’m might be impossible to really love someone without having the potential to be incredible cruel to them too. Part of loving something, or someone, is wanting to see them destroyed in some way. I want my work to hold all these realities simultaneously: the unsightly, but empathetic and endearing facts of being conscious and alive. I don’t want it to be all gore and gross, I don’t want it to be all humor and fun, I don’t want it to be all scholarly and high-minded. I want it to be all of me, but still not add up to everything I am or am capable of feeling. I want it to be my unique vision but experienced viscerally and uniquely by people completely different than I am.
More and more, I really do think of my work in these therapeutic, kinda esoteric, kinda batshit terms. My sculptures feel like knots in my back that need to be rubbed out. It’s stiff and and uncomfortable to get it done, but it’s a good pain, a good discomfort. Like having a tumor removed, leaving a relationship that doesn’t work anymore, or hitting the gym, or cumming, or confessing, or popping a zit. It’s cathartic. Sometimes a bit traumatic, but it’s tension that needs to move, needs to be out. Or it stays inside and gestates and bounces around like a free radical, causing all kinds of other problems. I think that’s part of why my work has a lot of holes and bubbles: they’re like exhausts from something underneath bursting out. I guess they can be peeled and penetrated to, or penetrate other things themselves. A lot of them have appendages and tentacles that reach out, hook, poke into, dig roots, or “see” and “feel” around their environment.