I live in the rural American south, where it is perfectly acceptable to regard kitsch and painting with the same sort of reverence. I first came to this realization while immersed in a series that sought to raise questions about commodity objects themselves. I specifically looked to garden gnomes, which I believed at one time to be perfect symbols for the useless, vacuous nature of kitsch and the absurdity of commodity culture. Instead I discovered that the lines between sentimentality and art experiences were often swirling together in some kind of murky swamp water. There is not always an obviously clear divide that separates the two, despite the obvious academic theoretical arguments against such an audacious statement. No, these two things are often tangled like the vines of the kudzu and ivy that surround me in my rural home.
My personal issues with commodity culture remain at the forefront of my work. This current series serves as an investigation via personal narrative. Why does our culture propagate a necessity to gather more and more mass-produced objects in the quest for happiness? Are these objects actually worth our time or affection? Can kitsch be viewed genuinely as another category of art in a post-post-modern era? These are the issues inherent in my work. These paintings and drawings are made both sincerely and ironically, and with these questions in mind.
THE GNOME PROJECT
For two years my studio overlooked the Savannah River, and consequently the cargo ships that flowed past en route to ravenous consumers. Commodity culture has invented a product for every possible desire. Some commodities are essential for survival, while others provide only temporary happiness. We are a consumer society enamored with objects.
Since meaning has historically been the crux of painting, I am interested in the kinds of objects that appear to lack meaning or purpose. This body of work began as an investigation of meaning via garden gnomes. A gnome is a peculiar commodity – a kitsch icon with the capacity to reference the whimsy of childhood and the drudgery of working adulthood. Contemporary culture has embraced a tradition of garden gnomes that began in medieval times, though their meaning has largely dissolved into one of contrived sentimentality. Today gnomes are ornamental. They are humanlike, yet not human. Are they merely another plastic thing that aims to fill the insatiable void invoked by contemporary life – or is there something more? Is there meaning in this lowly commodity? The Gnome Project seeks answers.
There is a complicated relationship between consumers and things. Likewise, there is a complicated relationship between the painter and the painting. In this series I investigate gnome portraits, carefully recording their candy colors, pointed hats, and animated expressions. In transitioning a meaningless plastic object to that of an oil painting or drawing, I create a new autonomous object; thus, I contribute to the cycle of consumption in the search to understand.