PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A CADAVER IN 2020 (HIS LAST WORDS WERE, “THAT’S ENOUGH.”)
I would like as much as possible for this painting to be more than a painting.
Yes, beyond this, I would like anyone viewing it to feel how I feel.
I know this is impossible. In this day and age, when attention spans are at a premium, I must acknowledge that the presentation of a painting doesn’t mean its impact will last. Thus, this experiment is a way for me to explore how to make my expressions of frustration, sadness, and rage might go beyond the medium of mere paint, given a series of events that have rendered my life as a black person who simply wants to make the best artwork he can permanently in fear for his life.
There is no way to describe this fear to a white person, or any person who has experienced a life of privilege that would allow them to escape immediate suspicion, due the color of their skin or otherwise. As an artist, I have the privilege to be able to ignore certain issues to explore form and hone my technique. As a black artist, it is a tragedy that I must identify myself as such. As a painter trained to paint en plain air, I have very little personal reason to identify myself as anything – quite simply, I just want to paint.
That said, there is a stressor, this issue that every time I go outside, I run the risk of being targeted by over-aggressive, over-funded law enforcement, even though I’m not doing anything wrong at all. This is simply because of the color of my skin. It’s not a theory – it’s happened to me many times. I care not to talk about it. Each time I’ve been lucky to escape unharmed, but the last time it happened, my car was swarmed by over 5 police officers with assault rifles. To experience that and escape alive, to be so lucky that they happened to be looking for someone white, terrified me, but also made me horribly sad about the events that transpired in Breonna Taylor’s apartment on March 13. To consider my own talents valuable, yet so expendable, was to also understand a person like Breonna as invaluable to the world. She only wanted to help people, and she was taken from us in her sleep.
This project is as much an ode the people who have lost their lives needlessly at the hands of law enforcement as it is a social media experiment. Social media platforms have completely disconnected us as humans with the capability to really connect to personally tragic events. People are sad that bad things happen to people, but on the whole I believe people are losing the ability to imagine those terrible things happening to them. The simple fact is that it could happen, at any moment, to a person who is not white.
This painting is being sold for 40 Acres and Mule. Plain and simple, I could do a lot with that. In lieu of that price, $10,000 to a white buyer will also work, with these modifiers: $5000 for a non-white person, and $100,000 for a white supremacist buyer. The reasons should be obvious, but I would like highlight not only the wage gap between white consumers and non-white consumers, but also how far someone who identifies as a white supremacist might go to purchase a painting of a dead black person.
There are many ways this could have been said. At the end of the day, this is just the way it came out.
In this composition, I am deceased, lying on a white examination table. The white surface seems to encroach on my still body, and has sapped my skin of warmth – even the shadow beneath me is consumed by a lack of pigment. On my chest are two ‘black-eyed susans”, or “nigger daises”, as they were colloquially called in the 1960’s, according to the Merriam Webster Dictionary. They represent two people who were close to me, who are now gone. My body came in with them, the petals are starting to fall off. My cause of death has been determined as BIA (Black In America). After years of fighting for my position in a world skewed against me because of my skin-color, being forced to assimilate, then and having to address race issues instead of simply paint as desired, I was killed by the police state. My eyes are closed, I am at peace, my final words were, “that’s enough”.
In a strict technical sense, the painting is a “good” one. I made sure of that. It’s not a style I’m used to, so I suppose that contributes to me wanting to do it properly, but for much more simple reasons, I better be able to make a painting like this, after all my training. In fact, I believe this concept cannot be executed properly with a poorly painted artwork.
This painting was made to highlight the fact that I worked hard on something, and that, based on years of learning, training, and contiguous motivation I have the accrued the potential and desire to continue using that talent in multiple styles that are unique to me – quite simply, this is “what I do”, and everyone should get a chance to show that off in their lifetimes, and even make a decent and honest living from all that effort. If we are to believe our talents are our gifts, it should be seen as a complete waste for those gifts to be lost violently and prematurely, at the hands of the police state, no less.
Further, this painting is to me, a sort of “Death Mask”, wherein I am doing my best to capture the image of my ‘person’ at my current age in 2020, 33. I wanted to infuse the image with my main focus and most personal accomplishment – the control of paint. I don’t like to do self portraits, and I really didn’t enjoy staring at this painting, it just felt like something I had to do. It was inspired by a phenomenon that has gained popularity in South Korea over the last few years, young and old, have taken it upon themselves to stage their own funerals. They do this to ‘live better lives’, and to understand more about themselves, such as ways they might have been mistaken or quick to judge about the people who love and care about them. They also learn more about the people who touched their lives, or whose lives they touched. The following is an excerpt from a brief Reuter’s article from 2019:
“More than 25,000 people have participated in mass “living funeral” services at Hyowon Healing Center since it opened in 2012, hoping to improve their lives by simulating their deaths.
“Once you become conscious of death, and experience it, you undertake a new approach to life,” said 75-year-old Cho Jae-hee, who participated in a recent living funeral as part of a “dying well” program offered by her senior welfare center.
Dozens took part in the event, from teenagers to retirees, donning shrouds, taking funeral portraits, penning their last testaments, and lying in a closed coffin for around 10 minutes.
University student Choi Jin-kyu said his time in the coffin helped him realize that too often, he viewed others as competitors.
“When I was in the coffin, I wondered what use that is,” said the 28-year-old, adding that he plans to start his own business after graduation rather than attempting to enter a highly-competitive job market….
“It is important to learn and prepare for death even at a young age,” said Professor Yu Eun-sil, a doctor at Asan Medical Center’s pathology department, who has written a book about death.”
I came across this article almost exactly a year ago, shortly before my father passed, and just knowing that a large amount of people were doing this somewhere really helped me understand myself, how I feel in this life, how I felt about spending as much time caring for and appreciating my dad in his final days, and also how I wished I could have done that more with other people I have lost. I thought it uncanny that I was living my life in a way that was quite literally “trending” in South Korea, but on the whole felt like that disposition – the appreciation for life and each other – was missing here in the West. More than anything, I wish for the people involved in this project to understand that this is not just a stunt, but an exercise in interpersonal connectivity.
I want a viewer to spend some time with the work – beyond giving myself a sort of #’RembrandtChallenge’ (it has been a long time since I’ve made a self-portrait), this is why I chose to paint this way. Without knowing me personally, I’d like the viewer to admire the artist’s interaction with the paint in a way that might eventually realize what they’re staring at is a dead person, and that dead person is the artist. I want to convey, to complete strangers, that space in which you are mourning not only the loss someone, but also all those things that person could do. There is sadness, there is regret, there is a desire to go back. Quite honestly, and in my opinion, the head of the funeral company-and-now-healing center interviewed in the above article puts it very well:
“Funeral company Hyowon began offering the living funerals to help people appreciate their lives, and seek forgiveness and reconciliation with family and friends, said Jeong Yong-mun, who heads the healing center.
Jeong said he is heartened when people reconcile at a relative’s funeral, but is saddened they wait that long.
“We don’t have forever,” he said. “That’s why I think this experience is so important – we can apologize and reconcile sooner and live the rest of our lives happily.”
Occasionally he has dissuaded those contemplating suicide.
“I picked out those people who have asked themselves whether … they can actually commit suicide, and I reversed their decision,” Jeong said. …
“I want to let people know that they matter, and that someone else would be so sad if they were gone,” he said, wiping away tears. “Happiness is in the present.””
THE SOCIAL MEDIA EXPERIMENT
Death, as sure as anything in this world, is still so often avoided in our culture. Though it’s a difficult pill to swallow, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, Eric Garner and Freddie Gray – they are all only representatives. They represent the quite literally countless cases just like them, happening right now. That’s why we wake up to new ones, that’s why we end up saying more names – it is because these issues are not viewed as occurring at the speed of people’s daily, comfortable lives.
As I type this, my mother is in a court fighting for someone’s freedom. It doesn’t matter what they did, and she doesn’t judge them – she’s just glad they are still alive to see another day, to be able to at least fight for that freedom again, and on their own behalf. My mother is aware, perhaps more than most, of a flawed judicial system – she knows it is a wheel that never, ever stops grinding, and she also knows that it is racially corrupt, from top to bottom.
I don’t expect everyone to get it like she does. Not with this painting, not with this project. Quite simply, I made this painting for the people who don’t get it. This painting, and the concept behind it, is supposed to make the viewer uncomfortable, upset, even angry; its purpose, beyond being a personal meditation about my own mortality, is made to reveal a viewer’s hidden fragility.
People like to form and voice opinions about things in stylish ways, but on the whole, really don’t understand what it’s like to lose someone close to them suddenly, and without warning – as I mentioned, there are a lot of regrets. All the potential for reconciliation disappears. I believe there to be an extreme lack of personal connection to these issues, in the sense that we follow our friends on social media, yet ignore what they are trying to tell us most of the time. Why are we following people whose opinion’s we don’t actually respect? This is a rhetorical question – our grievances are on display, yet no one picks up the phone to call. These platforms are engineered to attract this kind of behavior.
With this painting, I’m simply bowing to what the developers wanted – using my skills, I’m taking advantage of an attention-seeking platform. This project was built specifically for Instagram, simply because I have learned their (busted-ass) user-interface to my liking, but it could be developed for any platform. I don’t use Twitter or Facebook, but I can imagine similar procedures and results. I’m certain the subtlety of this use of platform as a medium will be lost, but it is an important part of the project. Throughout the centuries, people have continuously suffered a long and somewhat demented loss of attention-span. This is well documented at this point, and changing so rapidly that it isn’t worth mentioning a number of seconds here. Last time I checked, it was 6; surely, at this point, it’s lower than that.
For a painter, this is always devastating news which only gets worse as social media spurs this trend. How can one make a living off of work that takes WAY more time to put together than it is consumed? By destroying the art economy, that’s how. If I spend two months making a painting that people, on the whole, only look at for less than 6 seconds, I HAVE to sell it for an exorbitant amount. Otherwise the endeavor isn’t worth it – my inquiry is to explore how I can make artwork like this, which is something into which I have poured all of my talent, training, and passion, more affordable, more easily consumable as a quality artwork, and not just a flashy image.
Furthermore, this is an open-ended ethnographic experiment. I don’t know how it will be received – perhaps it will be received poorly and make people upset, perhaps it will be glanced at and passed-over like so many well-made images that have lost value due to over-saturation. Ideally, I’d like to create a space for a positive community response, a space for conversations and reconciliation. I’m excited to see what happens, but at the end of the day, it’s just one painting. The first in the series, but I intend to move through it quickly, because I have a lot of other work to make.
any this pinback song is p much how i feel, fwiw
“We’re too late…
No one uses the phone anymore…
I’m AFK and I can’t get by…
Miles and miles of telephone poles
Fallen and tossed around
I can’t talk to you anymore…
And I miss you
Not in a Slint way, but I miss you.”
– Pinback, “AFK”