Yesterday in my ceramics class I started work on a new sculpture. My studio-mates know I’m weird and creepy, this has been well established. (If you follow my IG stories, you know all about the skull head and the spine woman.) Yesterday someone asked me why I create dark art. It threw me off because I thought it was a joke to them. I answered in my awkward, socially-anxious way, by mumbling something about thinking darkness is interesting. But then she asked me to speak up because she really was curious. I explained that to me, life is more beautiful when it is balanced with light and dark. That struggle, sacrifice, grief, death, decay…I find it mysterious, in some ways untouchable, and that itself is beautiful.
I am a person that can be awed by everything very easily, but darkness…It captures not only my joy such as a vibrant sunset would, but my equally primal and more acute sense of what is earthly and wondrous about our world. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to say why I find images such as this one – suffocating, suffering, being reborn – so beautiful. But I do, and it is something deep within me that is clear as day.
And that might be weird, and creepy, and far too easy to make fun of. My friend Katrin recently warned me against trivializing what I do by categorizing it as simply “weird”, and the more I think about it, the more I agree – it is too easy to laugh off some of what I do because it is awkward to have open conversations about why I find death beautiful. But here we are, having that conversation, because creating is important to me, and dare I say, to some others as well.
There is a certain allure for me to the dark. It stems from being afraid of everything from the time I was little. It is rooted in my fear, which has been debilitating in certain ways. When I was really little I was afraid of every thing you can think of – the dark, certainly, but more than that. I really, really believed in unbelievable things. I thought that to not believe would offend the creatures of the dark. I’ve never let that type of fear go. In some weird way, I’ve held on to it beyond reason as I thought my creativity and imagination was tied up with that fear. That if I let the fear go, my imagination would go with it. I consider my imagination, and my ability to believe in everything, a point of pride.
Part of my work comes from exploring what that darkness has to offer. Sort of this way of thinking: if I am not willing to let go of my childhood fears, then I might as well get to know them really well.
And what a journey that has been. It has taken me deep into the weird and macabre, into the strange and untouchable. It has led me to create grotesque art and surreal art, dark fairy tales and just darkness.
It is one of the great challenges of our lives to explain, with certainty, why we are who we are. I don’t think I ever will. I can’t point to one event that made me this way, or one influence or inspiration. Key moments stand out to me. My first recurring dream, for example, where I was shot in the head and killed when I was only 4. I don’t know why that dream began or why it visited me over and over again in my childhood, but it did. Whether it was the death of my cat or of my grandmother, a vivid memory (or was it a dream?) of my cousin playing a trick on me and shutting me in a room full of coffins at my great-uncle’s funeral…
Memories. Dreams. Ideas that stick. It doesn’t matter if our influences really happened or if our mind made them up. They are who we are. And there are too many to count. We are too big to define. We are too many pieces put together to understand how the whole became what it is.
But through art, we try. I try. I create what I want, when I want to create it, because that is my way of working out who I am. And I love it. I genuinely love dark art and creating something with darkness.
Yesterday in my ceramics class I started a new sculpture. I drew it out first and showed those who asked to see. It is a girl wrapped in cloth with a blindfold over her eyes, blood dripping down her cheeks. Someone asked me if it had to be blood. “Couldn’t you make it green or purple or some nice color instead?” she asked.
I smiled at her. She doesn’t know me yet. She doesn’t know that once I have an idea, I’d move mountains before changing it. She doesn’t know about my obsession with blood…yet. She doesn’t know about how much I love symbolism, and purple blood just doesn’t do it for me. But she will.
As I smiled at her, I said “no” and we let it be. Though later I conceded black might be a nice blood color, and that made her happy.
So much of White Wall Wednesday is about exploring who we are in the comfort of our home without any expectation. It is about experimenting and trying and failing and being willing to acknowledge where we are right now.
This week I challenge you to see old things in new ways. Walk around your home and pick something up that you would normally walk past. Ask yourself what it could be instead of what is.
And I’d really like to hear from you: What is the thing in your art that you have a hard time explaining?
If you use the hashtag #WhiteWallWednesday …I’m following the tag on Instagram and can’t wait to see what you’re making. I’m thinking about featuring some of the images I find that way in each week’s blog!