A BRAND NEW DAY
Work from the most recent series is meant to be received as optimistic and hopeful. It is about new beginnings before, during and after life on planet earth. The language for this body of work is still being developed, as it was started in the fall of 2022. The ceramic is warm, and the paint is wet.
At times, as an artist, I simply make what is fun, what is life-giving, and what I find aesthetically pleasing. The ideas are not as important as the ritual of losing myself in the materials and processes while making.
When all the dark clouds roll away
And the sun begins to shine
I see my freedom from across the way
And it comes right in on time
Well it shines so bright and it gives so much light
And it comes from the sky above
Make me feel so free, make me feel like me
And it lights my life with love
I was lost and double crossed
With my hands behind my back
I was long-time hurt and thrown in the dirt
Shoved out on the railroad track
I've been used, abused and so confused
And I didn't have nowhere to run
But I stood and looked
And my eyes got hooked
On that beautiful morning sun
And the sun shines down all on the ground
Yeah, and the grass is oh so green
And my heart is still and I've got the will
And I don't really feel so mean
Here it comes, here it comes
Here it comes right now
And it comes right in on time
Well it eases me and it pleases me
And it satisfies my mind
And it seems like
and it feels like
And it seems like
yes it feels like
A brand new day
A brand new day
Yeah, yeah, yeah
Van Morrison, Brand New Day
In my work, I play within a spectrum between trickery and frankness. I use the iconography of animals and the various connotations that we bring to each creature to display harmonious contradictions. Sheep, foxes and frogs are some of the animal stand-ins that I use to explore my past, tackle the present, and make propositions for the future. These creature-characters move between alienation and assimilation, balancing complex polarities of high versus low, fabricated versus found, precious versus quotidian, without versus within. Narratives of mythology, folk art, pop culture, faith, and childhood are embedded in these works, opening up endless discussions and difficult questions.
My initial use of animals as medium came from my practice of physically locating and photographing store-bought lawn ornaments found in their “natural” habitats in peoples’ yards. I interviewed homeowners to find out why they made their choices of ornaments, how these objects had been selected and where they came from. Generating a formal and conceptual typology led me to study the work of Bernd and Hilla Becher, Candida Hoffer, Andreas Gursky and others from the Dusseldorf School. This initial interest was in the objectivity of the documentary-style approach slowly developed into composing my own scenes with purchased lawn ornaments. This transition, which coincided with my move to Los Angeles from the Midwest, was pivotal in finding my own voice and augmented the former use of ready-mades.
The expansion beyond truth-telling into story-telling has now led me to painting, sculpture, performance, street art, and installation. In more recent work, the message or concept dictates the medium and technical approach. Each project feeds the next and the conversation continues into acrylic painting, spray painting, bronze, steel, ceramics, resin, t-shirts, and stickers. The evolution in my use of materials and process has a lot to say about high and low art and the importance of subject matter. More than just elevating kitsch, it brings value to the individual piece and elicits a rainbow of possible meanings.
My current works highlight the importance of an artwork coming from many angles, where equal importance is given to material, words, titles, personal branding and even this statement. For example, the Half-Ass Sheep mashes up two creatures that are commonly found in a nativity scene. Mythologies have often used sheep to represent innocence, sacrifice and even deity. They are simple, graceful followers who are easily distracted, prone to wander and get lost. Conversely, the donkey has symbolized obstinance, ignorance and sloth and yet many cultures have held the donkey in high esteem, and revered it as the mount for princes and kings. The dynamic symbolism of each animal varies from culture to culture and from time to time and likewise, the sculpture brings all these references into one place. The sculpture presents two persons within one body, the dualism of mind/body, spirit/flesh with a sprinkling of 21st century American perspective.
In its original installation, the Half-Ass Sheep were available for purchase and collectors carried them around the gallery after buying them. Visually and conceptually there is a resemblance to the work of Tara Donovan and Felix Gonzalez-Torres. The limited edition facsimiles of mass-produced items references Andy Warhol’s Brillo Boxes. The Half-Ass Sheep sculpture has been a jumping-off place for a series of related works, including wall mounted installations, a mobile white cube venue, screen prints, t-shirts, stickers, and stencils for the HP Series.
In my Gander series, the allover nature and repetition of forms stems from the idea of a world where lawn art is pervasive and inescapable. It's a place where we are overwhelmed with color and shiny objects, akin to Jeff Koons or Lynn Aldrich, and intrinsic value is bestowed upon what was previously overlooked. The title “Gander”, being a noun and a verb, is especially important because it introduces the multifaceted nature of the work. The HP Series comes in response to seeing the large spray paintings of Howardena Pindell, which in some ways function as color field paintings. Before seeing her work, I had been drawn to the idea of layering spray paint, but uncertain of direction and method. Pindell had used a standard hole punch to make her stencils, whereas I substituted animal grids.
Ultimately, the conversation that my work engages in comes from the realization that the world that we can see, taste, and touch is all artifice. And by extension, almost everything is fair game to be copied, borrowed or questioned. In an effort to connect with the audience in a comprehensive way, I intend to blur the line between high and low, fun and serious. My attempt to elevate lawn art into characters to be revered and followed, akin to a celebrity, flips cultural power dynamics. What if there were a maximalist world where lawn art creatures were central figures in our lives? By promoting them this way, I draw attention to the arbitrary nature of the things that we imbue with value. It is a ridiculous and hopeful proposition: to make this fun and engaging for the audience, while also giving them something to take away with them.
This project began the summer of 1981, when my family and I traveled to St. Simons Island, off the coast of Georgia. We enjoyed the sunshine, the warm water, and numerous historical sites. Other than the beach, we were especially drawn to sites related to southern plantations, burial grounds, and religious markers. Over time and with the help of my mother’s photographs, this trip became a cherished, idyllic memory for us. Being a child from the Midwest, I never met anyone else familiar with this island, which forwarded my perception of the uniqueness of the experience.
As an adult, in 2018, I visited the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and viewed the work by artist Carrie Mae Weems, Untitled (Ebo Landing), from the Sea Island Series. It included black-and-white photos of a creek on St. Simons Island where a mass suicide had taken place, along with this text:
One midnight at high tide a
ship bringing in a cargo of Ebo (Ibo)
men landed at Dunbar Creek on the
Island of St. Simons. But the men refus-
ed to be sold into slavery; joining hands
together they turned back toward the
water, chanting, “the water brought us,
the water will take us away.” They all
drowned, but to this day when the
breeze sighs over the marshes and
through the trees, you can hear the
clank of chains and the echo of
their chant at Ebo Landing.
My mother’s images filled my head, and I recognized the similarities between Weems’ photographs and the Riggleman archives from 1981. Not being from the South, this was the first outside reference to St. Simons Island I had come across. I was compelled to return to the island to explore how I, as a white male, had come to remember this land and sea, and how it may differ from the way others have seen, experienced, and known it. In 2021, forty years after the initial trip, I returned with my young family and two Taylor University art students, Katie Ito and Rinnah Shaw to look, listen, and feel.