Thursday, June 1, 2017

"So....How Did You Come Up With This Idea?": The (Slightly) Abridged Answer and the Many Streams of Inspiration

"So...How did you come up with this idea?"

     This is a question that people ask me A LOT.
Most people don't have several hours to listen to an artist ramble on about his work and his influences. Something about beginning to answer a question with the phrase, "I suppose it all began when I was born on cold winter's night..." makes the asker feel like they've made eye contact with one of the kiosk people at the mall.  I used to teach U.S. History to high school kids so I recognize the look people get when they stop listening and just nod with unfocused eyes. Early on in my career I was  interviewed by a newspaper, and not really knowing how press worked, I gave this long explanation about the symbolism behind my work and the paths I took to gather the inspiration for the pieces I make. The writer, preferring a brief concise answer, condensed my epic tale into a half a paragraph. If he had interviewed Thomas Edison about the lightbulb, the quote would read something like: "Well, I just started fooling around with these wires and stuff and I come up with this neat idea for an invention".   After that I try to keep my answer brief, neat and tidy.  That seems to be enough for most people.
The truth is, there is much more to my artwork than I can easily sum up in a few words. It's a bit like being asked, "who are you as a person?" or "how did you end up here?" or "what the heck is wrong with you?!".  Explaining it so briefly makes the work appear shallow, kitschy, and betrays the original reason I chose to begin working with spent shell casings in the first place.
When I am asked the closely related question "How long does it take make each piece?" I respond with, "My whole life". It's slightly sarcastic, but it is mostly true. Each piece I produce is the result of what I have learned from previous work and that has taken me a lifetime to accrue. A river is probably the best metaphor. The Mississippi isn't a mile wide its whole length. It begins as myriad of tiny, seemingly insignificant, creeks, springs, and run-off. It journeys down, picking up pieces of each place it passes, curving and meandering around whatever is in front of it. The beginnings are small but crucial, the middle provides depth and the water never stops moving. I wouldn't be able to do what I do if I hadn't started scribbling with crayons, doodling on book covers, and been genetically inclined to look at the world slightly off kilter.  I don't think I would be doing what I am doing had one of a million little things not happened in my life.

With that in mind, here's the slightly abridged answer to the question about how the idea for Brass Canvas came about:

I suppose the roots of Brass Canvases started in another question I got asked a lot, "So you're from Texas?...Where do you stand on the gun control debate?"
On paper, I was an easy stereotype of the type of person who you would expect to have a lot of experience with firearms. I grew up in town of less than 3,000 people, less than 30 miles from the geographical center of Texas, and the opening of deer season most closely approximated a national holiday. Multiple colleges in the area offer scholarships for Rodeo. I knew several people whose favorite color was "camo".  Despite being surround by this culture, the only gun in my house growing up was a Red Ryder. I had shot a few guns, and sat in a few deer blinds, but I always had to borrow a friends camouflage and had to feign understanding and excitement when they talked about a drop tine 12 point they saw. I could convincingly nod when someone was discussing .243 vs. 30-06 but I knew next to nothing about firearms. Which is to say, I didnt really understand the whole culture that helped shape me.
 It wasn't until I left the place that I had known my whole life, did I really begin to find who I was. I started traveling...alot, and sometimes not all that far from the places I thought I knew. I gained perspective, and the world opened up. Ideas and debates, that I had previously seen in only stark black and white, melted into intriguing, confusing, and exciting shades of gray.   I tried to be as open-minded as possible and to listen more than I spoke. Somehow though, I was still seen as a redneck from Texas. (this might be due, in part, to the fact that I wear cowboy boots almost everywhere I go, and my "i's" become more twangy when I get excited).  By Roger Miller's definition, I was decidedly average. Sitting directly in the center of the matrix, I was a hippie to some and a redneck to others. I was poor by some definitions and yet I could be considered wealthy by others. In some circles I tend to lean a little right and in others a tad bit to the left. I think the idea of my Brass Canvas artwork was incubated in this sentiment.

In the summer of 2011, I took a job at a gun range and store on the south side of San Antonio. It was a bit like hiring a vegetarian to work at a meat locker, but I enjoyed the job and learned a great deal. I actually lived above the store for a little while and set up my art supplies beside cases of ammunition. Art being one of the few constants in my life at the time, I would work all day at the store, and spend the evenings drawing or painting. It was a typical kind of juxtaposition that I found myself in. I would spend my days with gunpowder and manual labor, and my nights with color theory and proportions.  At some point, the idea crossed my mind to illustrate my situation. Some combination of the Texas summer heat and my duties sweeping up the spent brass casings let to the idea to use those casings as art supplies. That summer on the front lines of the gun control debate, I found my opinions and understanding about firearms changing. Swirling deeper into the confusing mix of gray. Using an actual piece of a polarizing debate would be a perfect medium. I turned to my usual catharsis: art.

 Where words fail, there is the power of the visual. The image is able to capture all of these different viewpoints because it requires the viewer to contribute his own background to the piece. What I found in firearms is the same thing you find in art. The same thing you find in tools and trash and power. Its definition is dependent on the perception of the viewer.
 If you hold up the small cylinder of brass that is ejected from a gun, on its own and without context, it is such a seemingly benign piece of metal. But it embodies so much. It is a perfect metaphor for how our experiences shape our perception.  The perception of an image can be changed once it is reframed in the context of being painted on spent shell casings. I get wildly opposing interpretations of my Brass Canvas art, and in truth, it's exactly where I want my art to be. When I first began experimenting with casings, I wanted to find that common ground amidst the false assumption that our world is rendered in black and white. Whenever I sit down to create my newest piece I try and picture friends I have on both sides of the firearms debate standing in front of my work and sharing their perspective. Two rivers flowing from different basins, through different places. Dissimilar in size and speed and color and direction and composition. Yet, both ultimately aiming towards a common end point.  I try to make my art fit in that tiny overlap between two opposing sides, which we call understanding. Where some see a weapon, others see a tool. I see art.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Rankin Texas Mural

Early last week I found myself 15 foot up a ladder, in a 40 mph wind with spray paint can in hand, catching the smell of fresh beignets and po' boys waft from my 15x70ft canvas. I quickly realized why you dont see a lot of spray paint artwork in West Texas. A strange series of events led me there to Rankin Texas, where, I was recently given the opportunity to check off one of the items on my artistic bucket list, by diving into my first ever wall-sized, outdoor mural.

Special Thanks to the awesome folks at Sweet Nola's Eatery, Aubrey
and Christian. Sweet Nola's is quite possibly the best restaurant in 500
square miles, probably the best Southern Comfort food I've had 
west of Port Arthur, and definitely the best place to eat in Rankin, USA. 

Monday, February 2, 2015

What Painting Has Taught Me About Life

There are several things I have learned from painting that have transferred over to my philosophy for life:

1. Just Go For It-
Just start.  
"But I've never painted before! But, What if it doesn't look very good?! What if the Met doesn't call me right away?!"  
We are all artists. Im willing to bet at some point our work was proudly hanging on a refrigerator somewhere. Today, I love watching kids create their masterpiece before they even know what it is suppose to be. When you're little you are unencumbered by the opinions of others, and you had a blast creating "football playing dinosaurs with lasers for eyes" or a "boat made out of candy that is also a spaceship". Somewhere along the way we lose that fearlessness, we overthink EVERTHING, and it becomes paralyzing to try new things. In a first world sense, a blank canvas can be terriflying. The best way to fight that fear is to put something down... Anything. Mistakes are how we measure improvement.  Consider that first step the ground floor, short of burning the canvas to ashes, you can literally only get better (unless you burned the canvas on purpose. in which case it is considered art.)

2. Push past the rough parts.
Whenever I paint I remind myself that every painting is going to have, what I call, "the awkward junior high period". The Awkward Junior High Period is a transitional phase that can be applied to a lot of things during life's journey. Braces, People we dated, terrible first jobs, Embarassing trends we got really into; they were all a necessary steps that helped us reach our final goal. Resist the urge punch a hole through the canvas. It is important to lower your head, keep pressing onward and slowly smooth out the rough edges.  This is the middle. It is only the end if you're finished. 

3. Step back. Get some perspective every so often.
I've noticed the longer Im painting the closer I get to canvas, The more my eyes cross and the more frustrated I get at a very minute section of the canvas. I take a break, strum a little guitar, take out the trash, pet the dog or write a blog post explaining the Painter's guide to life. Whenever I return to my canvas I have forgotten what little detail I was worried about. Perspective is KEY.  Have you ever seen a Monet painting close up? It looks like when they let elephants paint. Now, step back. Amazing, right?  So every now and then: take a trip. Drive around without a destination. Talk to strangers. Get perspective. You'll find it's not as bad as you thought.

4. There is no right way to do it.
This drives "Left Brain people" crazy. There are no instructions, no blue book, and no way to grade art. Art cannot be explained. Is it good? Is it bad? It is entirely dependent on who is viewing it. If you are happy, then you are doing it right.

5. Details ARE Important...but save them for last.
The key to painting life-like, glossy eyes is a minuscule amount of pure white paint usually applied just below the midline of the eye.  It extremely slight detail but it makes a different. It should also be one of the last things you add to a piece. If watching HGTV with my wife has taught me anything, it is that you can't begin comparing paint swatches for the breakfast nook until you rewire the entire house because the wiring is from the turn of the century that is a fire hazard which would never pass code today, and adding the granite counter tops are going to go over budget but they would greatly increase the resale value of the house and look great with the cabinets along with the new open floor plan but now they found mold which they will have to remove before the construction can continue .....sorry, I digress. Don't get hung up on little things until the big things are taken care of. Believe me, people won't notice how life-like the eyes are if you leave out an eyebrow.


This project has been mostly completed for about a month, but I have neglected to upload it because it is still lacking the company logo which will be added later. Cardinal Midstream Energy approached me about a painting that they could display in there Pittsburgh office. The large empty wall in the reception area provide the perfect space for another one of my canvas compilations projects that I have yet to come up with a name for. Much like the Austin skyline, I used several canvas' to give this painting a three-dimensional look to the Pittsburgh skyline and bridges spanning the Allegheny river. The entire project incorporated almost thirty different painting surfaces and I also had to consider shipping the 8-foot wide mural. The actual painting became the easy part, as I had to tap into my inner engineer to figure out a way the painting could be easily broken down, shipped, and reassembled.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

THAT THERE'S AN RV: THE Largest Canvas Yet

Picasso, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Da Vinci, Monet...what do all these artist have in common? They never saw their artwork on a food truck. I recently saw my largest art piece in Austin on the side of a 1979 Winnebago....So I got that goin' for me....which is nice.

This is a little bit of a throwback, as the truck has been driving around for almost two years now, but seeing it reminded me of how far my Adobe Illustrator skills have come. Thanks to Randy Rogers for allowing me to design this behemoth!
....and I should add, the food is awesome. Probably the best food Ive ever eaten out of a Winnebago.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Ft. Stockton Murals

I recently traveled to Ft. Stockton, Texas to work on a few murals in the Ft. Stockton Nursing Home. By the end of the week I finished 3 murals, encompassing 250 square feet, in a little under 47 hours.  Like most artists I could have spent many more hours polishing each of the murals, but a looming (re)grand opening had me working on one painting while the others dried. While I was there I discovered that the Ft. Stockton Nursing Home is an active Nursing Home which was merely remodeling while I was there. In case you are curious, one is able to paint in an active nursing home like one might perform eye exams in an active Kindergarten classroom. I found out very early that, in order to avoid being shown pictures of great grandkids or being asked to change soiled bed sheets, it would be best to begin working after the residents have gone to bed. Despite the sleep deprivation, it was a rewarding and very valuable learning experience.... and there was the Miss Margie.  It's always nice to see others enjoy your work and Miss Margie in room 303, suffering from Alzhiemer's, would roll her wheelchair out of her room every few hours and pile on the praise and compliments. I would tell her my name again and she would tell me how much she liked butterflies. Every few hours I would be met with the same enthusiasm and praise on this "new" painting. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Chief Hollow Horn Bear

Below is quick picture of my latest bullet casing piece. Each piece continues to be a learning experience and a welcome challenge trying to get the most out of this unique medium. 

Chief Hollow Horn Bear