I have just submitted my application to the PNCA MFA program in Visual Studies. The process of summarizing my career and pursuits in two pages was quite a kick in the pants, but I'm glad I had the opportunity to dig in, regardless of PNCA's decision. I called in some incredible editors and they helped me hone in on some of the overarching themes in my work that I hadn't called out in such a way before, and that makes me feel like I'm already one step closer to the art career I'm seeking.
So, since I have this thing, why not publish it here as well, just in case anyone else wants to know where I stand in my creative inquiries at the moment? Indeed, so here 'tis:
I am applying to PNCA’s MFA in Visual Studies to strengthen my contemporary art literacy, tighten the integration of my drawing, sculpture, and installation practices, and make an intersectional examination of my identities through my artistic practice. The last twoyears have been intensely generative for me, a counterpoint to several preceding years debilitated by injury and illness. I am hungry and ready for the rigor and energy of an academic environment. I have built an approximation of one around myself through starting a critique group and joining local museums, but I know graduate school is the ideal way to maximize my current momentum and invest in my creative potential.
My work is strongly rooted in the body and my queerness and gender experience. My visual language is an extension of my nature: rich, lively palettes and unexpected figural choices imbue whimsy in my work, creating space to explore heavy territory in an optimistic light. Commonplace objects and disembodied parts often stand in for the figure- some works create a context where these characters exist actualized on their own terms, others de-contextualize them altogether, offering the viewer a new experience of something familiar. I am continually inspired by Kara Walker’s ability to integrate materials, references to the body and identity, and site-specificity, as exemplified by her 2014 work, A Subtlety. Where the humor in her work is biting, mine carries an innocent silliness, but we share a tactic ofemploying familiar materials and cultural references that lure viewers into confronting subjects they might otherwise avoid.
A recurring character in my work’s visual language is the penis. Carrying myriad socio-cultural and personal meanings, it is a powerful story-teller. Accessories, made during my tenure at Skidmore College, are soft, life-sized phalluses in a variety of fabrics. Separated from the male body, these wearable penises refer to an understanding of gender as performative; their flaccidity and styled aesthetic gives them de-sexualized charisma that affords viewers a sense of ownership over them that is potentially healing or empowering. An undergraduate thesis work, Untitled Cocks (The Viewer is Welcome to Play With This Work), scales the sculptures up to a proportion that can be cradled in viewers’ arms rather than worn. Activated through viewers’ play these sculptures gained personality implied through postures- one sagging glumly, another proudly erected, even a pair positioned in embrace. By generating jovial contact with the work and amongst viewers, the installation demonstrates an optimistic deconstruction of traditional connotations of gender, power, and taboo.
This gleeful subversion, adapted from personal coping mechanisms, is reiterated in my post-collegiate installation and sculpture series, Yellowbikeride. Here an idealized state of self actualization is represented by bicycles in various states of metamorphosis, all rendered in exuberant, un-gendered yellow. In the iterations of this series bicycle figures cast off working parts, seem to fly through gallery windows, or even develop animalian elements. These figures in transformation reject practicality and occupy the installation spaces as creatures rather than tools, demonstrating to the viewer a world where identity is liberated from cultural expectations placed on bodies and performance.
The color, form language, and iconography developed in those earlier works is evident in my current practice, but the role of my own body in my work has deepened significantly. My Animal Body drawing series takes cues from Danica Phelps’ line work, depicting myself in a layering of symbols and figural elements mined from dreams, memories, and events surrounding my 2013 hysterectomy and an early childhood sexual trauma. My experiences of illness and recovery have translated to a more body aware studio practice- I identify where my ideas are anchored in my physical self, and let that inform the materials, colors, and gestures of the work.
I believe that context is integral to artwork. Artists like Fred Wilson have been pivotal to this understanding. My installation, Ferguson Water, which I previewed in 2014 and plan to fully execute later this year, grapples with context as a way to talk about race. For this piece I relocate water from Ferguson, MO and invite the viewer to drink it (the preview introduced the concept but used local water as a stand-in). I am thinking about our keen ability to notice the flavor of tap water from an unfamiliar place (as opposed to the water one drinks daily and quickly becomes accustomed to), and employing that as a metaphor for racism. Ferguson, MO is now an icon of the new civil rights movement; it is only a few miles from where I was born and raised. For Ferguson Water I am interested in thinking about how people in a city like Portland, Oregon can feel connected to a site like Ferguson. I am thinking about how water might act as both substance and subject that the viewer can consume not only intellectually, but also literally. I am exploring how our individual awareness of something does not necessarily define its truth.
I want to make new work that examines intersectional identities through aligning material, figurative, and conceptual elements to express how those identities manifest in the body and lived experiences. Through researching contemporary artists, I will familiarize myself with more artists like Nayland Blake, who channels complex personal identity into work that touches larger societal concerns around racism and other bigotries. Ultimately I would like to have a practice that is integrated formally and conceptually, and create thesis work that brings my exploration of queer, gender, and racial identity into one lens. I find the immediacy of drawing incites moments of discomfort and surprise that are productive to my studio practice and personal growth, and I’d like to interpret that dynamic into my object-making practice. I will be searching particularly for artists using the body and creating immersive installations, and look at how those artists utilize material, symbology, and context to achieve that work. I will utilize the support of my mentors and peers as I establish ways of integrating two-dimensional elements into installation and experiential works, following the example of artists like Kathryn Andrews, who’s installations often utilize mural-scale photographs and prints to create context for sculptural elements. Additionally, I will consider in my studies if/when/how the art world receives and supports that work, and the interplay with contemporary social justice movements.
Portland is my home after living eight of my most arduous and rewarding years here, and I am not looking for an education apart from this community. Nor am I looking for an education that is separate from the current cultural and political time. The confluence of personal momentum and activation with the burgeoning of a new era in civil rights and queer/trans liberation, as well as a moment of reckoning in Portland’s cultural identity, calls me to take the next step in my development as an artist. I want to make work that offers challenging and nuanced contributions to dialogues in my community and in the larger art world. I believe that I can make such contributions as a student in the PNCA Visual Studies program.