Art for art’s sake is a slogan translated from the French l’art pour l’art, which was coined in the early 19th century by the French philosopher Victor Cousin. The phrase expresses the belief held by many writers and artists, especially those associated with Aestheticism-that art needs no justification, that it need serve no political, didactic, or other end.
They say that only a small portion of artists who graduate college with an art degree will ever have a gallery show after their thesis show. I don’t see painting as a career choice or as something that I could quit doing. I dropped out of college a few times and I tried other majors, like civil engineering, but I never stopped painting during my hiatuses. I’d go crazy if I wasn’t in the middle of painting something. I’m always working on a study or preparing something for a show. I think I’d be painting regardless of who or what for.
I bought my first camera as a way to take pictures of my paintings to sell on eBay during high-school. Photography eventually became a coping mechanism, a way for me to fight my social anxiety. I used to ‘hide’ behind my camera. After I purchased my first professional grade camera, my camera went everywhere that I did. This way I would have a purpose for being somewhere because I was doing something productive. If anyone asked what my rates were I would politely tell them that I would gladly work for beer. My Saturday night bar hopping adventures usually involved me taking photos of beer glasses and pool tables, candid shots of locals. Nearly every social situation involved me taking pictures of the oddest things and people. People used to ask me what I ‘do’ with all my photographs; to an outsider, the concept of taking photos non-stop seemed sort of ‘weird’ and looking back it definitely was. Sometimes I would tell the truth — I mostly just delete them. I do not have the disk space to save hundreds of photos. At the start of my photographic experience, I would only take a decent photograph by accident, so deleting them became second nature. Other times I would sarcastically tell people that “I build a shrine out of them”. Questions from strangers about why I took hundreds of photos of useless things were redundant. I didn’t take photos for some purpose, like shrine building or an art project. I took photos as a way to provide me with a purpose when I went outside, like a pseudo-volunteer-job. My therapist said that this was called a “safety behavior”. Simultaneously, I was never truly ‘included’ in these social interactions. My photographic process became a way to ‘study’ the real world. I never saw myself as a photographer, but as a scientist taking notes. I couldn’t even go to a concert without my camera. Eventually, people noticed my photography and started paying me with real money. After a few years of event photography, I became an adept photographer.
At one point, I formally renounced and dropped out of college, and then I renounced (and quit) my day job. I was quite the elitist. I believed that art should be created without the use of modern technology. I tried very hard not to work from photographs. That was until I met Tom. Tom was a 70-year-old figurative oil painter who lived in the studio across the street from mine. He was in the exact same school of thought. Our favorite subject was figure painting. The thing is, Tom had been studying art his whole life, and he was only ‘kinda’ good to put it modestly. I remember one conversation, Tom had told me that many of the successful figurative oil painters living today worked from photographs in combination with live models, and that many of them use giant computer screens so that they can zoom into any photo and see the details, or change the contrast, or mess with the colors — and Tom made it clear that he was against this method.
Out of the fear that I would one day end up like Tom — studying an art form my whole life and never mastering it — I decided that it was time to start working with innovation instead of against it. This put me in a good position because I had trained for years as an atelier method painter, keeping my photography and painting separate. So when I started experimenting with painting from my photography, this was the first major breakthrough in my process. The second breakthrough was Tom’s advice on the various uses of different whites and complimentary colors. I remember one time I collected a bunch of deer carcasses, roadkill, from under a bridge to use as reference material. Sometimes I staged scenes or created dioramas to work from. Little models of ships and animals make excellent reference resources. I remember something that my dad told me when we went to a museum and I made fun of a painting for using tape to paint perfect lines. He said to me “using tape or not using tape doesn’t really matter, what matters is the final painting”.
What I love about reality is that you don’t have to imagine the ridiculous, often it already exists. Often I use a photo as a starting point. I do live sketches of the subject, experiment with color schemes and compositions. I think that it’s important to study the subject in order to understand the subject. Many of my paintings are not staged at all, in a ‘definitive moment’ kind of fashion. For example, a few of my portraits are of people that I’d only met while photographing an event, like the painting titled “Zombie Crawl”. While others, like the painting titled “Maya G.”, involved a makeup artist, a rented wardrobe, and a location. I believe that art should be a subjective experience and that the motifs that I place within my artwork should only start the conversation.