People always ask me, "Who are these people? Is that Lincoln? Are they famous?" I think the reason that most people think that they are famous is because they have never or rarely ever seen any photos that are that old. I guess it does seem kind of strange, when you walk into an art gallery full of these people, but all of this just fell into place for me. It makes sense.
Last year around this time (May 2006) I was out for a jog. It was my normal routine in the morning. But on this particular day I stopped a little early. I don't really remember why but I wasn't even half way through my route.
It was trash day. And as I walked, I looked down to see two very old photo albums. One of them was red velvet with metal clasps, very fancy. I stopped and picked one up and opened it. It was full of pictures. The first thought that came to my mind was that my mom would really love these.
So I grabbed both of them and started walking again. I didn't want anyone to see me taking stuff from their trash, so I was walking at an accelerated pace. By the time I was halfway home I was running. I can only imagine how crazy I must have looked running with these two huge antique photo albums under my arms.
When I got home I kept flipping back and forth through these albums and I couldn't believe it. I was touched, stunned that someone would just toss these out to become part of a landfill. Not only were they antiques, but all these people were also apart of someone's family.
I felt very connected to these people, almost like I had been there and seen their time. Their time on earth seemed like only a short instant to me, but I could almost feel and sense all the emotions they must have gone through, like they were still here. And physically, this was all that was left of them, these old photos. It moved me. Just think, someday we will all be thrown out to waste, just ink on a piece of paper. Will our image make the same impression?
I knew I wanted to use them for an art project, but I didn't know what I was going to do, and I didn't think that I would still be doing it over a year, and hundreds of pieces later.
I didn’t really know what I was doing when I started this. All I knew is that I liked it… a lot. So I kept doing it, and as I did, I came to realize the different aspects of myself that the work represented. First and foremost, using found objects really encompasses my “do it yourself” attitude and work ethic, most of which I learned from playing in punk rock bands, putting up flyers, putting out CD’s, and creating my own zines. I remember my friend Geoff telling me right after I started that the windows were a “punk rock canvas”, although when I think of punk rock I don’t think of something so fragile. Painting these people from the 1890’s on worn wood and tattered old windows also gives a hint of my rural upbringing, as I spent a good portion of my life on a farm in Illinois. Mixing these elements with aspects of my urban lifestyle only seems natural, using stencils, drips, and some elements of graffiti.
I’ve always felt that you shouldn’t idolize anyone, that if you ever want to make anything of yourself you can’t put anyone, or anything else up on a pedestal. This idea was fully realized while I was at a Tom Petty concert when I looked up at him and realized that he was just a man, a regular guy, who was relatively talented and worked really hard to become successful. This is not what I was trying to symbolize when I started painting these people, but later I realized that painting these anonymous people communicates that philosophy pretty well, if not very bluntly. I also like the fact that I take these no name people and turn them into icons. The way they are presented you would think they were famous (as most people do). Everyone is meant to shine, whatever it is that you decide to do with your life.
Scraping parts off of the glass represents the harsh way that some history is gone forever because it was never written down. The historian makes the decision, “ok we’ll take out this, and put in that…” reworking the story until it sounds better, or works more towards their agenda. The scrapes and swirls also represent the chaos that we all encounter as well as the prehistoric attempts at written communication. I try to let my hand go, so that it moves in the most natural way it knows how. After all, the most basic symbols started out as nothing more than swirls drawn in the sand. They don’t “mean” anything because we were never taught what they mean, the way we were taught what the letter “A” means. To me they represent a moment in time, that instant manifested into a symbol of energy which in turn represents life and existence. Some hang there alone by themselves, others are put together, almost the way words are formed and even more put together, the way sentences and paragraphs and stories are written.