been dead already
Six years ago I hung a painting entitled “been dead already”. At least that’s what I call it now. This painting’s had many different names over the years. In the beginning, I believed in Permanence. While I could not articulate the reason at the time, I thought that an object was the thing that I was looking at in that particular moment, that it would always be that same object. I figured that things and objects and statements needed to be saved and recorded and preserved and objects are what we name them. I believed in a linear history in which the present moment is all that exists and a work of art is only it's end product.
In 1998, when I began working on “been dead already”, I knew living quickly and I believed in punk rock. Aside from that there was not much else I consciously knew or trusted. I created the painting’s original body in two 30 minute work sessions. In the studio I poured down orange and red encaustic to collage drawings of a young woman. In the second session I set the painting on fire with gasoline. The flash fire of gasoline was hot enough and fast enough that the wax surface floated and began to flow just enough to create a sense of movement without pouring off the edge of the wooden surface. I gave the painting a title and called the work finished.
“been dead already” remained like that for a few years until my finances wore out enough that I struggled to keep up with bills, let alone keep up with the cost of fresh art supplies. Initially I was stuck and did not paint, but soon discovered dada. With a loosening of my sense of Art, I began to rework my art with found objects using anything I had on hand. For “been dead already” I adhered translucent red and yellow plastic to the surface with small nails. Later, I removed the plastic and set the surface on fire again. A slower fire now. The drawings gradually burned and I began letting go of the idea that art is a finished object. Time passed and a new drawing replaced the girl; a self portrait. A year later I covered the surface with red cadmium. I cut an image, a grinning skeleton skull out of an acrylic painting and screwed it into the painting. I was having a conversation with my art, about this life, as I went on living and painting.
A move to California made my art fresh again. I started college and had the resources to acquire fresh art supplies. I made new art. For my old art, like “been dead already”, this meant a new process that would evolve into something integral to my art today- weathering. Initially, I buried the painting. Later, I dug it up and moved it to the roof. For the next few years, weather did all of the work. First in California’s kind weather, then in Florida’s complex weather. Here, the painting met with the wet, stormy weather of hurricane season. Eventually, I was able to bring the work indoors. As the painting began to dry out I watched the surface decompose. The self portrait's paper shrunk inward, cracked, peeled apart, flaked off. The red surface grew darker and darker until it all turned to black.
Painting by lantern late one night, I laid red and white paint into the heart of the work. I wasn’t sure if it was done, but I knew that I did not want to work on it anymore. “been dead already” was my own “Picture of Dorian Gray”, yet I was unaware I had been watching myself age. Time passed without my realizing it, without a recognition of my own self portrait in “been dead already”. In contrast, the art I create now is meant to capture the passing of time, particularly the b-theory of time. The b-theory of time stipulates that “been dead already” is all of the moments in time in which it exists. The work is not the object I named it once I finished painting it. “been dead already” is simultaneously existing through all of the time that it has been and is.
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