Tell us a little bit about your background.
I have been drawing and writing stories for as long as I can remember. I think it’s safe to state that learning how to tell a story is an important part of growing up in the South, and as such, narrative, however deconstructed, has never quite escaped my work. Sometimes I wonder if I ever tell anything but ghost stories. I learned a lot from my grandfather, an avid antique collector and religious man, about the life of things and the presence of places, ideas I have always drawn inspiration from. I attended an inner city public art magnet school in Charlotte, North Carolina for high school- although the school’s main focus was theatre, and over half the students attending were simply zoned for the school and couldn’t care less about art. So the photo, drawing, and painting teachers there (Northwest School of the Arts) were really supportive of their small pool of visual art students. By 17, I had stubbornly decided that I wouldn’t be happy anywhere but at a private art college, and applied to only one- the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, Maryland. I had a lot of pride I guess, and thought it was the only way to prove I had something to show- same reason I chose to major in painting, which I largely consider a huge mistake. Whenever people ask me what I studied I have to say, “painting, but I mostly made sculptures” and hope I don’t sound like a total jerk. I graduated in May 2013, and am excited about living and working in Baltimore- a city teeming with bizarro creative energy in its art and music scene.
You work in a huge variety of material - do you have a process and a pattern for developing different series, or do they all sort of cross-inform one another and develop simultaneously?
I become disinterested after doing one thing for too long. Sometimes “too long” can be a single day. I have to switch up my mediums and processes to stay active and productive. But I certainly believe that medium and content equally inform concept in a work, and try to address my ideas through appropriate means. When I have an idea for a series, medium is definitely the first thing I consider- although with my recent assemblage work, the medium preceded concept entirely. There are still so many mediums I haven’t worked in, or am not well-versed in- I am trying to always learn something new, or challenge myself- again, not necessarily to improve my skills, but to keep myself interested! It’s kind of a problem, focusing and holding my attention on one piece, or one craft. But my inability to focus in one medium is how I’ve learned to work in such a wide breadth of materials, and creates a consistency within my body of work- most of the work I am satisfied with was created in no more than a day or two.
Your Law Under Will series is stark and haunting - how did you become introduced to the work of Mr. Crowley?
I was 19, working at my college’s library, where my job was to shelve, organize, and check out books to students. So if I wasn’t sifting through dusty shelves and flipping through books, I was behind a computer getting sucked into hypertextual wormholes- I played the Wikipedia link game a lot. So I was online, following up on an interest in alchemy. My freshman painting professor Paul Jeanes was at the time teaching a course called “The Alchemy of Image-Making,” and had encouraged me to read James Elkins’ “What Painting Is,” an eye-opening book relating the spiritual-scientific practice of alchemy to oil painting. So maybe this link game started with reading a review of that book. A series of synchronicities, reappearing books, words, names, and links, encouraged me to research different interpretations of the alchemical “Great Work,” leading me to Crowley’s fantastically poetic magickal writings. It really got a hold of me, though, when a Borders going-out-of-business sale enabled me to purchase several of his books for devastatingly slashed prices. I can’t help but pay attention to signs like that when I see them. I was kind of shocked Borders carried Crowley! I created that series of monotypes (“Law Under Will”) in my first printmaking class the next semester, based on Crowley’s “Liber Trigrammaton sub Figura XXVII.” It was a sort of mediation- a dual exploration of Crowley’s writing and the monotype process. I wanted to create “scrolls,” in a sense, and was inspired by the idea of creating a translation of his work using the visual language of the monotype medium- in conversation with his own incorporation of I Ching symbology into his lyrical scripture.
What similarities do you find between rite and ritual and the daily practice of art making?
I’ve found that Crowley’s definition of magick as the science of causing change in conformity with one’s will easily translates to the practices of art-making and writing. In that way, art-making and writing are inherently ritualistic- what else is making a picture or sculpture but creating a change, a change of structure, of meaning, of texture, substance- creating something where before there was nothing- in accordance with my will? Without will- without determination and foresight, practicing “magickal excercises” like visualization, how can “work” be made? It’s a bit romantic, sure- and art-making is certainly not necessarily a spiritual practice for me- but thinking of it in these terms makes it exciting. Thinking of the creative process in esoteric, ritualistic terms makes creating art feel less frivolous, less pointless, less useless. It makes me feel like I’m making progress.
Can you tell us about Narcissus Trap (You Are Positioned At The Edge)?
Like most of my work in assemblage, it started as one found object- a crate that had been used to internationally ship a guitar. My first thought upon receiving it was that it seemed to be the size of a child’s coffin. I turned it over in my mind- is it a cradle, or a feeding trough, or a coffin, or a ship? What can I metaphorically transform this object into? Ultimately, I was kind of obsessed with expressing the feeling of “southern identity,” and self-reflection on my upbringing, through animal traps and hunting culture, and it became a trap. When I work this way, it’s all with a very stream-of-consciousness approach, so when the phrase “you are positioned at the edge” kept flickering in my mind, I folded, and applied it via syringe to the night-sky blue surface of the crate. The underside is a hunter’s day-glo orange gradient that glows against the ground. As you read the letters on the back of the crate, your reflection warps with the reflection of the cage, an unintentional but welcome effect of coating the crate in a glossy polyurethane. It’s one of my favorite pieces, but I still haven’t quite figured it out.
And what about But I Came To Find You Out There?
I wanted to make hornets’ nests. I mounted them on poles to dry, where they became more like impaled heads. A professor at my school, Ellen Burchenal, said they reminded her of a Greek chorus, and of theatre. Their poles were mounted via a cinderblock, and very quickly, they became tombstones. At the time, I as trying to make “three dimensional paintings,” which I would then write about- taking inspiration from Richard Tuttle’s fall show at Pace, I was planning a book for my senior show that would showcase my writing alongside my artwork, to reveal the constant flux in my creative output between text, symbol, object, and image (I ended up reworking my thesis concept several times by the end of my senior year). So the title was the beginning of the last line of a short piece I wrote about it, which loosely positioned the piece as a view of the sky over my grandfather’s graveyard in a dream- about loss, waiting, and wanting something or someone that can’t be seen, whether because it is not of this world, or because it is just over the horizon, and the monuments we leave once we cannot wait any longer.
How did your games series develop? Will you be making more divinatory games in the future?
When I was a kid, I played by myself a lot, and made a couple board games similar in some ways to Pokemon. I got into making games again when I was enrolled in a ceramics class at MICA that centered around kitsch. I started off playing with the concept of religious kitsch, commentary on the relationship between capitalist-consumer culture and Christianity, before I realized that I don’t want to make social commentary with ceramics. I had just finished creating an “analog hypertext” for a creative writing class- it was a sort-of card game, unbound-book using images and text “lexias” with no particular hierarchy, and “rules” (as a the analog replacement for coding and link systems) for organization. I called it “Oracle: An Index of Associated American Mysteries,” and each card featured a mini-essay on what I considered to be an uncanny or esoteric legend or facet of American culture, from Ted Serios’s thoughtographs, to Polybius, to Walmart’s funeral accessories department. I think the confluence of these main areas of focus- religious commodity, American esoterica, and analog hypertext, helped me to link the “spiritual/supernatural” with the concept of game play. I had never really thought of tarot and Ouija as games, but that is really all they are and all they ever have been.
I want so badly to keep making games! But it is very difficult to wrap my brain around rule-making, parts and pieces, game-play… That is probably why I want to make more, the whole challenge of it. I think I want to make a real, playable card game next- whether that means designing my own tarot, or something more simple and original than that. I am exploring virual hypertext as a literary tool, but also as a way to create games… All of my ideas for game-related projects are simply sketches, notes, and loose ideas at the moment. I know I want to conceptualize another board game, or maybe refine and recreate my game, Oculator. Divination can be an every day practice, we totally use it in everyday life whether or not we realize it, and divinatory “games”- palm reading, Ouija, tarot, et cetera, are timeless and classically enchanting. I suppose I don’t use the word “divinatory” to exclusively reference the supernatural, because I think goofy, light-hearted, association-based games like Madlibs, word games like Scrabble, and party games like charades all operate in the same way. A “divinatory game” to me is a fluid game, where the challenge is opening yourself up to live-streaming the content of your subconscious in order to find out more about yourself, your wants, your needs. That’s what I want to push- why we play games, and how to create new divination games that emphasize and open people up to that.
Can you tell us about your ongoing work with Grandkids? It seems like such a prolific union of art and music.
I met their cellist, Adam Gorcowski, at Interlochen, a summer arts program in Michigan, in 2005. After leaving camp, we stayed in touch via AIM- I haven’t seen him since! By the time we both started college, he was in this band in Illinois, and out of the blue asked if I could do a couple drawings for CD jackets. I was really flattered that he’d kept up with my work and would want to use it for something so personal to his own creative output. It was my first time working with a band, and something I’d always wanted to do. They liked the idea of keeping their album art consistent, so we’ve been working together ever since. I continue to be humbled that they trust me so much with handling their visual presentation- I’ve done t-shirt designs, download code cards, and recently, their first total vinyl package, which they’ll be touring with in the fall. They give me plenty of creative freedom, although it’s an easy marriage, considering their orchestral folk vibe and lyrics lend to vibrant illustrations of animals and nature, which I have a lot of ease and pleasure in drawing. Doing art for them is like a fun break from my usual work, where I tend to limit my colors and use a more serious tone. They’ll be playing a show in Baltimore during an upcoming fall tour, so I’ll finally get to meet Vivian (the band member I communicate the most with these days) and see Adam for the first time in eight years!
What sorts of projects and pieces are you working on now?
Right now I’m just trying to get my feet off the ground post-graduation. The most exciting development is moving into a new studio with a group of MICA ’13 Painting grads. A couple graduates from my class decided to go out on a limb and sign a lease for an empty auto body shop in the Woodberry section of Hampden, and are building it out from the ground up. We’re planning an open studio event for sometime in early September. They’ve done a brave thing here and helped a lot of us out. When I thought I wouldn’t have a studio anymore after graduating, due to lack of affordable studios in my immediate area and the knowledge that I just can’t make sculptures in my living space, I resigned myself to the idea of changing my mode of creation to writing and illustration for a while. This is no longer necessity, and I’m excited to have the freedom to create in whatever mode I choose, and to stay connected with a group of talented, self-motivated peers.
For the moment, though, I am focusing on writing, trying to marry drawing with text, and eventually down the line, experimenting with self-publishing through hypertext and hand-made chapbooks. That’s what I’m most excited about, exploring the balance between visual and textual information- it’s challenging. I tend to write in a magic realist, southern gothic kind of genre, but I’m really inspired by metafiction. I always have so many stories in my head. It’s difficult to find the best way to express a narrative.
I keep myself busy with illustration jobs for bands- I just finished the vinyl package art for Grandkids first full-length LP. The cover of half of a Dead Peasants/Ecco split LP. Various flyers- I did the Baltimore Ratscape 2013 poster, and sold them this weekend at the Hour Haus. I recently designed this “family crest” logo for the Bell Foundry to encompass everything this neighborhood warehouse space has to offer: a music venue, garden, skate park, print shop, recording studio… The design will be printed on patches and as a full-color poster as donation incentive rewards for the Bell Foundry’s fundraising-to-renovate campaign. David Krasner of the Bell Foundry’s Castle Print Shop taught me how to screenprint there, and if my schedule allows, he’ll be teaching me how to lay a four-color screenprint with this project.
And I’ve been learning how to tattoo. It’s been a long-time coming. I’m lucky to have friends who are excited to have me practice on them. It’s a lot of fun, and really rewarding.
Any upcoming events or shows we should be marking on our calendars?
At the end of summer, keep your eyes on Baltimore’s city street walls. As soon as my studio is built out, I’m rolling full-steam ahead into a collaborative project I’ve had in the works for the past couple months with Baltimore-based artist Rob Brulinski. I am beyond excited about this project- not only do I get the opportunity to work with and get to know this artist, who has a good eye and gift for photography, but it’s an exciting hybrid between new and familiar processes for me, and working with themes I have had an extended interest in. I’ll be re-interpreting images of the fallen Lucifer from Gustave Dore’s gestural and intricate etchings of Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” at a roughly human scale, to be wheat-pasted around the city. Rob knows how to wheatpaste, and I’m looking forward to learning. The project was his idea, he just needed someone who can draw. Hopefully this project leads to future collaborations!