Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Book of Sand album artwork

I know you've already seen this, kind of, but still... I'm excited!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Open Door 6 @ Rosalux Gallery

I'm in Rosalux's Open Door exhibiton which opened tonight. It's a pretty nice little space they've got over there. I got a couple of sentences in the City Pages review. Thanks Chris for putting my paintings in the show and then saying such nice things about them.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Unfinished Paintings

I've been painting as much as I can since I got a full time job, but I've had a really hard time convincing these pictures that they are finished. These are some of the pictures I have made since August which remain unfinished.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Friday, July 16, 2010


I'm back. These are some pictures form my thesis show... like 3 months old now. Sorry about that! Anyway, here are some photos. Also, like the new site? Want to pay someone money to make your website look like this? Click here.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

An Archive, An Essay

This is a short essay that I wrote for the An Archive, A Forest catalog:
"It is the animal with the big tail, a tail many yards long and like a fox’s brush. How I should like to get my hand on this tail some time, but it is impossible, the animal is constantly moving about, the tail is constantly being flung this way and that... Sometimes I have the feeling that the animal is trying to tame me. What other purpose could it have in withdrawing its tail when I snatch at it, and then again, waiting calmly until I am tempted again, and then leaping away once more?"
- Franz Kafka
The natural history museum is a place to go to put the right name onto an animal; to visualize not only an animal in body but also what it does, how it goes about its business and what its life means. Even taking the most deviant instances into account, a naturalist illustration, whether it is on a page or displayed in a case, is intended to function as a map, a fully-realized picture of what that creature is for the viewer, something which is often otherwise only remotely possible. But this amazing access comes with a price. The creature is necessarily neutered and placed under arrest, not maliciously, but because that specimen must be tacked up, literally or metaphorically, for the sake of observation and measurement.

I think of myself as a figurative artist who strives to depict animals as verbs rather than as nouns. Freed from the rules and limitations of the empirical, as an artist I can avail myself of the luxury of dismissing the named subject, the noun-subject, as a classification with limitations. The real exciting part for me is not in discovering what something is but in discovering that it is and can do so many different things. I want my pictures to operate in the realm of potential—in imagining and bringing to life the heterogeneous and near-limitless variety of form that life can take on to particularize itself and still survive.

This is a type of visual and conceptual navel-gazing in the sense that this process is not terribly efficient. If you put equal weight on every derivation and potential difference from the norm, then you can never generalize and use that norm in a larger and more complicated context. We need periods on the ends of our sentences. But all in moderation! Variation and creative elaboration is a necessary aspect of the scientific process. I want my artwork to serve as a small reminder that life is not rational—life constantly reinvents itself; life bubbles over any container that we put around it.

I have a real website!


Butterfly dance

Some gorgeous illustrations via BibliOdyssey.

snow owl

Friday, May 7, 2010

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Friday, April 2, 2010

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

An Archive, A Forest

We made a postcard for our show at the Bell Museum in June.

nite run.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


larger--- a 45" square

Monday, March 8, 2010

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Bell Museum of Natural History

I am so excited! My pals Ginny, Branden, Alissa and I will be having a show at The Bell Museum of Natural History on the U of M campus. The terrifying thing is that it is going to be in MID JUNE.

photo source

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Monday, February 22, 2010

The third part of my thesis.

I realized that I forgot to post this. The other two sections can be seen in previous posts.


There is violence in naming.

It seems to me that every case of naming involves announcing a death to come in the surviving of a ghost, the longevity of a name that survives whoever carries that name. (Derrida, The Animal, 20)

I would like for us to once again consider Franz Kafka’s short story “Investigation of a Dog,” although this time we will look at the same story from a different vantage point. Maybe what Kafka’s dog really goes through is a sort of crisis of definition. Where he used to take for granted aspects of his life as defined and mastered, his crisis of faith causes him to see the world as shifty and uncertain. The dog tells us, “I find on closer examination that from the very beginning I sensed some discrepancy, some little maladjustment, causing a slight feeling of discomfort which not even the most decorous public functions could eliminate” (Kafka 278). The dog longs for peace, for a return to the comfortable rouine of something normal. He says, later, “We are the dogs who are crushed by the silence, who long to break through it, literally to get a breath of fresh air” (Kafka 297). The dog is pestered by an itch which cannot be scratched-- a discomfort with the status quo. It is, in fact, a discomfort with any status quo; a fear that stems from our inability to account for the constant shifting around us. French deconstructionist and philosopher Jacques Derrida has argued extensively that the way that the structures which ground our lives are constructed, not a priori given (Writing 17). One of the most pervasive means of structuring our lives is through language, through a system of naming things. Derrida has argued that the concept of “the animal” is a means of summarily containing and dismissing a vast “heterogeneous multiplicity of the living” (The Animal 31). Derrida writes, “The animal is a word, it is an appellation that men have instituted, a name they have given themselves the right and the authority to give to the living other” (The Animal 23). Naming could be considered an act of violence when perpetrated against another person or living thing. It is a means of caging that individual to a limited set of actions and possibilities.

Oliver Goldsmith, Illustration for An History of the Earth,
Animated Nature, 3rd ed.,1790, engraving and etching.

These ideas seem abstract, but they have very real consequences. One startling example of the reality of these theories can be found in the development and function of the natural history illustration. Depiction has been a part of the study of the natural world since the very beginning. These pictures are rooted in the European discovery of “New World” flora and fauna. Diana Donald writes that, “Growing interest in the minutiae of animal structure and behavior contributed to a Europe-wide project to define, name and group species in a comprehensive taxonomic system” (8).
Even taking the most deviant instances into account, the natural history illustration is always first and foremost meant to serve as a complete map of the animal. It was intended to be an all-encomassing picture of what that creature should look like for the viewer so that an in person encounter was almost implied to be redundant. They frequently display the animal in profile, fully pictured and surrounded by a more or less perfectly defined and containing border. The animals are often paired together so that both the top and bottom can be viewed simultaneously. The eyes are deadened and behave as a period on the end of a summary sentence. The animal becomes neutered and detained to a very particular space.
Some of the best examples of the genre allow this dramatic act of violence to play out on the page itself. The watercolors of John James Audubon, French-American painter, naturalist, and all-around impresario, tend to do exactly this. I always marvel at the exactitude and wide variety of personality that Audubon achieves with such simple tools. He has this quiet, mesmerizing attention to detail. Frequently sitting on the very surface of his images there is a deadness or melancholy which stifles the thing living beneath in a really tragic fashion. I have found the closest description of this feeling in some of Derrida’s writings. He writes, “The sadness, melancholy, and mourning of nature are also born out of and by means of the wound without a name: that of having been given a name. Finding oneself deprived of language, one loses the power to name, to name oneself, indeed to answer for one’s name” (19). When I look at Audubon’s Gyr Falcon, for example, I see a thunderclap of form, color, and pattern a split-second before I place that form and color onto the bodies of two birds. It is that split second in between which gives the two falcons their life, and it is the naming and classification of them which kills these birds in mid-flight.

John James Audubon. Gyr Falcon, 1826, watercolor on paper.

While the degree to which each image follows this course varies, I like Audubon’s illustrations because they balance themselves so interestingly. Just when they seem to be enthusiastically alive they quickly deaden, and just when you want to treat them as a cold taxonomy they stir back to life. Audubon’s paintings seem locked in the same endless cycle of uncertainty and restlessness which we see in Kafka’s “Investigations of a Dog.”
Animal scientist and writer Temple Grandin has spent her career drawing parallels between the way that she, as an autistic woman, processes the world and the similar way an animal relates to its surroundings. One of the more overwhelming sympathies is what Grandin describes is a tendency to “see in pictures” rather than in words (76). This is a hypersensitivity to detail and a reduced ability to mentally manipulate abstract ideas divorced from their environment. An animal has a much more difficult time being selective of the stimuli it is conscious of as every single detail demands so much attention that abstraction becomes extremely difficult. In her book Animals in Translation, Grandin has said, “What’s it like being so vulnerable to tiny details?... I think it [the answer] has something to do with a fear of the unknown” (140). What is of most interest to us here, though, is the way that Grandin’s ideas coincide with Derrida’s description of the violence of naming. Both of them strive to prove that structuring and perceiving the world in terms of language excludes a great deal. Grandin helps us more clearly see the exciting potential which is too often overlooked in Derrida-- by understanding the fallibility of the structures we create, linguistic or otherwise, we also open ourselves to the nearly limitless ways of living. Grandin’s “seeing in pictures” is just one potential recharacterization among many.
One specific example of where we can see this transition in action is in the way that the eye, in naturalist illustration or otherwise, can either simplify or complicate a subject. Derrida’s set of lectures titled The Animal That Therefore I Am take the uncertainty of an eye as their starting point. He writes, “Nothing will have ever given me more food for thinking through the absolute alterity of the neighbor or of the next(-door) than the moments when I see myself seen naked under the gaze of a cat” (11). The cliché tells us that “the eye is the gateway to the soul.” In a certain sense this is true, but it is a cliché precisely because it is most frequently interpreted in a superficial sense and is easily dismissed. The eye is the gateway to the soul when it becomes active and tumultuous. Fathomless eyes are, at the heart of the matter, beyond the cliché to a point where the eye’s uncertainty is deeply troubling.

Wolf Rilla, dir. Still from The Village of the Damned, 1960, film.

Derrida’s experience with his cat suggests that the uncertain eye, the eye that is not just deep, but is of an unknown depth, is what can most appropriately be called “the point of view of the absolute other” (Derrida 11). In the unsettling eye we can catch a glimpse of different ways of living, different ways of being which exists outside of the standing taxonomy.
I frequently avoiding painting eyes, and I think it is because the specific, nominal eyes I would paint would fix the figure I am painting in place. I mean that the figure would be fixed in both the illusionary space of the picture and the way that a viewer could go about taking in and naming the figure as a specific subject. In other words, the eye would most likely fall into the cliché-- it would only serve as a short hand for what could be an experience of uncertainty.

John Bell, Foiling The Fox 2009, oil on wood.

The commingling of evident medium and illusory or descriptive detail is a means of keeping my figures fluid and-- to the extent that a painted image can be-- self-defining. I believe that the hesitant figure complicates and therefore critiques the structural wrong perpetrated by the naturalist illustration.


Tuesday, February 9, 2010