*Debutants & Scamps: Investigating the Prowess of Decorated Objects

My Life, thoughts

It is the detection and projection of conceivably human traits onto the inanimate material world that relentlessly inspires my object-making and drawing practice. As the formation of my work is continually informed by the idiosyncrasies visible in everyday objects, I am a habitual observer of the narratives these things naturally invoke by virtue of being inadvertently personified. Over the past year, I have found myself infatuated by a specific breed of objects in light of their peculiarly heightened ability to appear as animated characters amidst a sea of otherwise idle paraphernalia. Here, I am referring specifically to those which possess highly embellished exteriors, verbosely constructed bodies, or a combination of the two. Essentially, those which are excessively decorated.

What draws me to these things is their capacity to be met with highly opposing sentiments. An ornate candelabra, for example, seems to possess equal chances of being perceived as sophisticated and beautiful as it does absurd or deplorably kitsch. This dual-propensity, I believe, is enabled most certainly by the distinctive presence of overtly superfluous design traits. (In this case, through an overabundance of auxiliary appendages).

That an item can be revered as formidably regal and playfully juvenile at the same time fascinates me greatly. It is the potential for an object’s identity to commingle between such divergent associations and the resulting contradictions that become tied up in it’s perceived role as utilitarian implement or play-thing, furniture object or veneration effigy, that motivates the creation of my own sculptures.

I want to create in-between objects that are capable of generating responses akin to those elicited by fondant encrusted multi-tiered wedding cakes and exotic dim sum buffets being as the presence of these things conjures reactions that could be described as delightful and repulsive with seemingly equal rigor. It is the humor implicit in this absurdist proposition which feeds my long-time preoccupation with characters of a beguiling unpredictable nature who frequently belie their presumed role. As such, my most recent work has aimed to indulge this fascination by examining the explicit role of decoration as it pertains to the activation of such a character trope.

Namely, I find myself persistently attracted to highly decorated objects because of their proneness to be imagined to possess innately controverting traits which result in contradictory classifications such as ‘noble and flamboyant’ — ‘trite and austere’ — or ‘demure yet outspoken’. Tassel-laden couch cushions and dressers obliterated with miniature drawers and floral patterns, vacant chandeliers spewing gilded limbs, and grandfather clocks standing atop multi-level pedestals all seem to invoke this sort of nonsensical persona. In light of my obsession with this quality, I tend to view any object imbued with a comparable aspect distinctly as an underdog; be it elephant or dancing puppet, debutant or scamp.

Whatever the case, excessively decorated things can scarcely be described without having human attributes projected onto them. Which provokes the question: Just what is it about being ‘decorated’ that so rigorously stimulates our inclination to perceive otherwise abstract forms as distinctly animated beings?

My conviction that decoration has as much to do with anthropomorphic narrative as it does the mere pleasure of experiencing something aesthetically compelling is largely rooted in my preoccupation with textiles and fashion. In the case of printed fabrics, it’s as though the role of pattern is to inoculate an object with some yet unspoken measure of vitality — energizing it with foreign moods and tendencies which at times undermine the very form of their garment. The kaleidoscopic prints depicted on the designs of Mary Kantranzou, Peter Pillotto, and Louis Vuitton, for example, frequently cause the clothing to appear strangely autonomous; suggesting the impression that the garments are wearing the model, and not the other way around. In such cases, the wearer becomes fleetingly understood as subservient to it’s donned garment. Yayoi Kusama, Valentino, and Moschino no doubt understand this phenomenon as they employ pattern and decadent textural surfaces to a similar end which often results in the printed frocks appearing to dominate the frames of the models on which they reside. In this way I am especially interested in densely complex, highly elaborate graphic surfaces as they become capable of denoting characters of a comparably manic nature.

When pondering this notion, one can imaginatively conceive of the would-be persona of an antique Victorian interior, or that of the a Vegas casino floor as the two are both virtually covered with decoration. The chintz on the wing-backed chairs mirroring the wallpaper as the crown moulding re-articulates the filigree relief carved on the legs of the dining table, the dizzying geometric configurations on the psychedelic casino rug — endlessly reflecting the oscillating shapes that flash about on each maniacal slot machine screen. In these scenarios, the forms become narcissistic and self obsessed, coming together to participate in the tireless collective effort that is self-veneration of form. An absurd narrative, in and of itself.

Nevertheless, here it becomes evident that obsessive layering and repetition in the form of meticulously duplicated pattern connotes both austere supremacy and playful mimicry, giving way to a host of possible dispositions who become united on account of their mutual voracity for embellishment. I’ve come to adopt the term ‘hyperbolic surface’ in reference to such explicitly ornamented items as I’ve been continually charmed by the audacious power of their designs to evoke characters who are at the same time ebullient and tyrannical all by virtue of their sheer excessiveness of form.

After all, a radiator is simply a radiator… Until it is engulfed from head to toe in embossed gold enamel floral motifs. Then what is it? This simple inquiry, strangely enough, perhaps best serves for the task of logically deconstructing the subconscious thesis question that has been pervading my explorations in the studio over the past year. And I even have an answer for it. But be warned, it’s inspired by my obsession with Dickensian and Tom Waitsian character descriptions whereby said authors make a frequent point of exploiting the traits of street urchins in so far as they contrast the refinery of bureaucrats and the extant to which peasant girls in turn assume the role of character foil to queens of state. So here you go: He is a geriatric radiator. Dressed up for a night of bingo which will invariably involve one or seven double-jamesons-and-gingerale followed by a pit stop at the seedy cabaret next door to take in the traveling burlesque show. Or, (in less poetic terms), what I’ve learned through my current studio research is that the adornment of our surroundings lends itself irrevocably to the fetishizing of objects, which in turn gives way to the habitual constructing of various theatrical roles. Roles for which imagined characters of all stripes are continually conscripted and devoured.

So enjoy these decorated objects, I hope they charm and enchant you as much as they do me!

I’m presently in the process of completing a body of work informed specifically by the above observations and ideas and I can not wait to share it ! The random image mash-ups below are just a few that I will be using in a small picture book which will be accompanying my upcoming exhibition.





*musings on the meaningfulness of form (confessions of an object maker inspired by craft and design) 

My Life, thoughts

As 2014-15 was my first year officially teaching at the college level (outside the context of my mfa) the past several months have involved a lot of reading and a lot of researching for my curriculum development. Like #I have no life levels of reading and researching which I’m sure any first-time teacher could no doubt relate to. This, needless to say, took away from my time producing in the studio which provided its fair share of challenges in the way of time management. On top of instructing two intro-level sculpture classes which I designed and absolutely loved I was also privileged to be given the opportunity to teach a lecture style survey of post modern art as well as a critical studies course that expounded on related theories. And to my surprise, in spite of robbing me of precious studio hours, all of the in depth research I conducted into the impetuses behind post-modern art actually were very clarifying for me in terms of my own studio practice — a welcome revelation after burying my head in books and watching my sketchbook and studio grow seriously jealous.

While this may seem of little gravity to some, for a disorientated post-mfa trying to find their footing amidst a sea of theoretical discourse, this was actually a pretty significant growth period for me.                                                  Let me explain.

Teaching post modern critical art theory was daunting as my work does not really corroborate any of the intellectual commentaries frequently applied to and projected onto art post-dating 1975. If anything, I’d say I’d more comfortably situate the ideas and processes which underpin my work amid those indulged by artists working in and around the 1960s. This affectionate association, one could argue, classifies my leanings as invariably modernist. And, up until teaching critical theory, I had no great qualms with that. I mean, I really hadn’t been one to care much about labels of that nature during my fledgling career as a twenty something student making art within the confines of the institution. It wasn’t until researching for my art history and critical theory lectures which demanded I familiarize myself with the qualities that underscore and differentiate modern art from post modern art (and a damn lot of the muddy ‘isms’ auxiliary to these two largely undefinable territories) that I became preoccupied with gaining a more flushed-out understanding of what constituted a work as ‘modernist’ or ‘post-modernist’ and subsequently, where I fit in in the mix.

Naturally enough, the qualifications my students inadvertently associated with the art we cross-examined as ‘modern’ or ‘post-modern’ was also in turn deemed ‘contemporary’ or ‘not contemporary’ pending what side of 1955ish the work landed. This, needless to say, implied great ramifications for the artist working in the year 2015 who happens to identify with modernist notions. Notwithstanding, my ongoing ‘mo.’ or ‘po.mo.’ inquiry transcended my curricular research and seeped into my own personal art-seeing endeavors. ‘Was the work subversive?’ ‘Was it universally accessible?’ ‘Was it’s accessibility pending the viewers literacy of some obscure cultural dialogue?’ ‘Was it contemporary?’ ‘Was it …. original?’ blah, blah, blah…  And so it followed that in routinely explaining to my critical theory students why an art work could be called modern or post-modern, I involuntarily began questioning these supposed standards within my own work.

It was this probing which provoked an unceremonious yet liberating discovery for me. This being the realization that I identify irrevocably with many modernist sentiments.

I was alarmed and delighted. But mostly, upon digesting this revelation, I began to sense within myself a pervasive insecurity directly correlative to my latent awareness that todays pluralistic art world seems evermore receptive and tolerant of art that functions in an intellectually subversive capacity that eschews the quintessentially modernist pretense that ‘form can mean’.

Being that my own work adheres unflinchingly to the latter assertion, I was finding myself in the midst of an internal crisis trying to validate for myself the impetuses behind the formation of my work for fear that they were not intellectually challenging enough to stand up in the post-modern market place of anything-goes-ness.

Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t, and am not out to make pretty things just for the sake of making pretty things. I never have been, and I’m not interested in making a case for art which bases itself singularly on this stance. I want to make people think, and I think art provides a unique and vital function in its ability to do so. However, I also think its ok to merely be charmed or intrigued by art and not really be able to nail down why. In essence — to be bewitched by it.

This is enough of a challenge in and of itself, no?

It seems to me that post-modernism or pluralism or whatever the hell you want to call it would elicit a decidedly cerebral critique diametrically opposed to this notion. Which is precisely why, as someone who happens to possess a proclivity towards deriving meaning from abstraction, I have often felt inferior and that my work lacks rigor in it’s lack of intellectual provocativeness and esoteric meta narrative.

In light of this I have long felt compelled to provide a defense for why I am not interested in pandering to po.po.po.- mo. avant gardes by admitting passively that abstract sculpture is in fact outmoded. Because I wholeheartedly think that abstract sculpture still has a lot to say — even 50 years after the heyday of modernist abstraction. Or atleast that it has the potential to do so. This conviction is based on my unrelenting belief in the forces of phenomenology and anthropomorphosization respectively in there unique tendencies to enliven three dimensional form.

Objects have continually subsisted as the most irresistibly juicy sources of inspiration for the production of my work in their vast range of surface treatments and utalitarian functions. Objects can implicate and reflect our own humanness. Objects can provoke an involuntary re-examining of our own physical presence as we uniquely exist in space. Objects, furthermore, are always the most willing of subjects for the task of being personified and bedeviled into Dickensian scripts about imaginary characters performing all sorts of activities for the fulfillment of our strangest desires and fantastical narrative preoccupations. For these reasons, even if it makes me a dated modernist, I still think that producing abstract objects is relevant. Although I should perhaps qualify here, that it is also because of these precise traits that I feel that my work (and the work of all others whose art resides in a similar sculptural vein) is invariably linked to design. Which, not unlike abstract sculpture, is too often met with dismissive scowls in the context of discussing contemporary art.

If you went to art school, you’ll understand the stigma that design tends to carry. Design methodologies and vocabulary in general are essentially taboo if you are a ‘fine artist’ who identifies with traditional media. And if your like me, you may have occasionally felt ashamed in affiliating with design-related fields, whether they be fashion, industrial-design, or any other non-fine art genres unapologetically linked to utility. However, what I would argue here is that design-related vocabulary plays an indispensable role for the abstract artist who seeks to engage in dialogues about an objects form and how the specific manipulation of this form can impact the viewers perception of the work. That ergonomic design and the phenomenological art object both seek to implicate the human body, and that in so far as the towering living room floor lamp is imperious to all its onlooking object fellows in the same way that a steel Richard Serra sculpture becomes immediately understood as an imaginary warlock surely is evidence enough for this.

At this point, I am quite happy to admit that, like the above mentioned examples, the thing that I feel enables my work to function in any successful capacity is its ability to appear autonomous. To this end, I believe there is no greater place for me to source my research than our highly designed, ornate world and the objects which are contained within it. That cakes, ice skates, tables, Persian rugs, tortoises, coffee makers, and mops are all marvelous pieces of formal inspiration for me is something I am officially ok with not feeling ashamed of even in light of there supposed lack of socio-political force or inherent subversiveness. And because of this, I’m going to start featuring a lot more random sources of inspiration on this blog of a similar nature (which may perhaps seem arbitrary) but that at any rate will  function to help me begin to understand in a more substantial way why I am so drawn to the formal world.

I will probably blab about why I think each featured item is so delightfully relevant to what I am trying to say through my own sculpture, and this may get boring for my reader. And I get that. Its pretty self indulgent. But honestly, I’m just really excited that for the first time in my artistic practice I feel no obligation to apologize for being inspired on a formal level. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’m ok with the notion that form can mean. I’d make socio-politically charged shit-disturbing work if that was genuinely how my mind worked, but it simply doesn’t. What makes this seemingly inconsequential realization profound for me is that it permits a complete realigning of where I get to seek inspiration for the collective formation of my work — granting a newfound liberty to look earnestly and rigorously to areas which are unabashedly associated with CRAFT and DESIGN. yes… craft. even. So, if you want to read mildly convoluted rants about the things which happen to captivate me as a simple, optimistic, visually minded object maker, then you will want to stay tuned.




<insert disclaimer: if you have been looking at my blog for any length of time, you’ll see that a great deal of my favorite art functions in a very ‘postmodern’ subversive/cheeky way, so I’m not biased! I love this sort of work! I’m just saying that the work that I make doesn’t function in that way and I’m officially liberating it as such. > woo hoo! soooooo excited to tell you about my recent textile obsessions, you have no idea.. shits gonna get real. 


ya, thats me. gettin my read on.