My painting above is one of four currently on display at the 2022 Creative Pinellas Emerging Artist Exhibition. It had a circuitous development, as most of my pieces do. You may recall that some of my recent blogs have been about lost artifacts and their agency, so I decided to start this piece with a title rather than titling it after it was completed – 404 File Not Found. This posed the question of how to show something that is no longer there.
I began by diving into a box of ephemera from my childhood that had been dropped off for me about 10 years ago but that I hadn’t looked through yet. I started working with a letter that I found written to me on my first communion. I have always liked working with old handwritten letters because they are imbued with a history that demands reverence. It was a lovely letter, but written by someone who I had no memory or knowledge of. In this case, it posed a missing person – even though the physical object remained, who was this person? Now likely deceased, she is a “file not found.”
My mentor, Denis Gaston, has been continually pushing me to dive deeper personally with my work. Sifting through the old cache of personal ephemera was a start, but because the collection related to me as a very young child, I really didn’t have a personal connection to many of the elements…again, a 404 situation.
I tackled the piece almost like therapy and dug into some serious life issues. Like trying to understand someone else’s dream, the elements create an abstract narrative of disparate juxtaposed elements that included the complicated loss of a life with my father, my grandparents and my wife – none of whom are still living. I also wanted to bring in a layer that expressed my lifelong connections to Florida in general and the Florida of my early life – a Florida that no longer exists. The piece contains and is painted on top of several layers of tissue paper. This provides both a tactility and evolvable collage elements used to balance out the composition.
My take away from this piece? Working with my personal relics is far more difficult in practice than is an abstract idea. With elements that have only a tangential/associative relation, I don’t get caught up with the personal connections, although the end product is less intimate. Moving forward I would like to work with a person or family to use their ephemera to create unique pieces for them. There are certainly enough people around with garages full of tombs of obligation.