Friday, January 14, 2011
J and I are finally at the point of finishing up Winterland, which is exciting. We decided to apply to the Berlin Biennale (I don't know what it is about Berlin; I am so drawn to the city, but somehow the magnet works the other way too; that is a long missed-airplane flight segue, however).
Always with these things you have to do a "bio", which I did, but also an artist's statement, which can be excruciating. They wanted one stating your political beliefs as well. I modified some older exhibition stuff and conjured up one, and got there in the end. Biography is so weird! It's your past, it's your deceptive self-views, it's your implied dreamed future; it's weird!
I was born and raised in Alaska. As a novelist, actor and indie filmmaker, I see myself as being outside the mainstream. I like the underground. I like subculture. I am a self-taught writer, painter and filmmaker (though not a self-taught actor) and, due to my visual and literary style and the subject matters I choose to explore, I am usually classified by others as an "outsider artist". I however rarely see myself as belonging to one school, and my stuff always contains more exceptions to any given rule than the rule itself. I don't do commercial art. In terms of painting, I do highly textured mixed-media pieces. I use wet and dry ingredients, and I usually draw on a painting as well as using brushwork.
Quite early on as a painter, I began a series about mythic wicked females. I also undertook what I considered to be a series of "blasphemous" paintings. Soon after I became interested in the concept of hybrid vigour: the idea that by mixing, organisms become stronger. Alongside more visionary-and-dream-based paintings that didn't fit neatly into any sequence, I worked through a second series: boychicks, werewolves, cyborgs, "chumanpanzees" and other lovelies. It is no coincidence that a great deal of blurring occurs between the subjects of hybridism, spirit and the monstrous feminine. The themes remain the same: subversion, mixing, enchantment, complexity. These same themes are also present in my writing and very much so in the graphic novel Winterland.
Here are some more particular ideas about my stuff. Alaska, you see, is a wilderness full of magic. Spirits live in the trees; creepy insects crawl around the forest floor. Nothing is safe, but everything is exciting. My Alaskan heritage has contributed to my general interest in the magical, the numinous, the unsafe. My strong dislike of dichotomies and polarizations is one of the many reasons I am attracted to hybridism theory and to subversion itself. My writing and paintings too are always skewed, knocked off their sacred-cow pedestals.
Another thing the casual observer might clock on regarding my paintings is that I have constructed some unlikely pairings of environment and subject, just as Jessica has done (with no prodding from myself!) in Winterland. The main character of a given work often appears to be in the "wrong" environment. I will say that I'm not sure I believe in the "wrong" environments. If you are from a place where nature reigns, then you know well that there are no strict categories and that everything leaks into everything else; you find out that beauty lies not only in perfection but also in difference.
I absolutely think of myself as a political artist and writer – how could I not? My most recent novel Girl on a Stick is highly political and deals directly with post-September 11th global politics as well as the more microscopic experience of (self)misogyny by the main character, Clementine. I am a socialist. I am closer to 1970s-style Swedish social democracy than Soviet “socialism”, however. A lot of my recent writing is satirical; a lot of my painting, however, is more celebratory: love of wilderness, of greenness, of environment, those things that we use politics for in order to preserve them.
Recently I painted a series of ghosts, and things that were “halfway” there, such as Schroedinger's Cat (I painted it in glow-in-the-dark paint snarling at Stravinsky's bird up in a tree). I have enjoyed so much collaborating with Jessica Cheeseman on Winterland. At first I thought I would feel weird having another artist illustrate my words, but I haven't felt this way at all. Jessica always gets exactly what I was thinking and feeling and often takes the images in new expressive directions that I haven't thought of myself. I love her own control over the more ghostly characters, her suggestions of things being partially there and partially not (the blindfolded woman fading into the snow; the fact that the dogsled lacks half of its team and that only half of an riderless sled is seen). It has truly been an exciting experience to work with someone on the same wavelength who wants to explore certain images and concepts.
Currently I am painting wolves, and writing about chimpanzees and our animal boundaries as human apes ourselves, and it is no surprise that my experience working with Jessica is leaking into and nourishing other areas of my creative life as well; I think this is the best of true art and of multi-art practitioners like Jessica and myself – of course the themes will blend together regardless of the medium; our artist selves are not separate selves who write OR paint OR animate OR act OR compose music – we are whole!