My journey to Scotland and
A Year of no Color
I am pretty sure I've re-written this piece 30 times by now.
2014 was a rough year for me.
It was my last year of college, my dad had been diagnosed with cancer and was very sick, and it had been a goal of mine to study in the UK after graduating for a grad degree. Graduate school applications are absolutely ridiculous: you craft a "story" around your life and academic career then blend it all into some miraculous anecdotal example of how it aligns with why you should study at that particular institution. Cut that down to a page-long personal statement, and re-write for every institution you're applying to. The visa application was another added source of strain: months of careful deadlines, saving up around $20k in cash, and a very stressful last-minute arrival of required immigration paperwork. BUT - I did it, and I am not going to waste any more text talking about how difficult the actual program itself was (because I did it to myself).
In retrospect, moving to Scotland changed my life and my personality. There's a lot to be learned about yourself when moving to a place where you have no friends or family, more importantly: no community. My artistic identity in early 2015 was also at a major standstill. Paintings took me forever to complete and really it felt more like an obligated chore than a conduit to invent and create. However, a year later, when we were headed back across the Atlantic to Texas: I was reinvented. With none of my familiar art supplies or settings, I inevitably went through a sort of artistic fast. The combination of four significant factors catalyzed the creation of a new creative:
I changed my environment and lost a lot of distractions. No Netflix, no friends, no familiar haunts. It was like jumping into a pool of icy water, I suddenly became aware of everything I took advantage of back home. If anything, the most important thing was a break in comfort.
We were on a tight budget, down to essentials. A tube of black paint, a bucket of gouache, and a dozen canvases obtained on the cheap from the thrift store down the road.
A exhibition possibility: The university announced a month or so after we arrived a student exhibition, it was perfect timing. This new possibility of showing my work to other people gave me much-needed motivation. Being passionate can only carry you so far, it will really help you to get feedback on your work (you learn a lot seeing how other people view your stuff).
Practice consistently and often. I had very little else to do (besides study, which you can only do so much of) so I painted and drew all the time. I filled up a 100 page sketch pad and painted over ten paintings (I had only finished one painting in 2 years before this).
Me with most of my pieces before we moved out of our flat. Some were sold, some where given away, and the rest were stripped from their frames and rolled up into tubes for us to take back home.
I've always imagined an artistic slump as a sort of sinkhole, and not an on/off switch. They can sometimes take a long time to get out of. I learned a lot about myself making this move, my dad had died only 8 months prior. I was definitely at one of my lowest worst point. But, during that time, I learned so much about myself. Humans are highly-adaptive, when your environment and circumstances change, so does your mindset and creative outputs.
One of my favorite things about that Scotland exhibition was we only used canvases from thrift stores that had been covered up with white paint. I remember one canvas in particular, a high-quality wooden frame that was very nicely crafted, which had a canvas stretched photograph of a badly drawn neon photoshopped pair of Rolling Stones' lips. The lips were bright red had green goo dripping down off the bottom lip, it would have been wrong if I'd not covered it up; I did the citizens of Edinburgh a favor!
Hollow Earth (partial pic), my first piece I started in my empty flat. I later learned it was damaged beyond repair during a move, rest in pieces my little friend.
When the exhibition finally came it was so much fun (we did forget how empty our flat walls would be for 3+ months). Despite the rude cab operator's opinion on me transporting 8 paintings in his car to the city centre, they arrived undamaged. Unbeknownst to me I was selected to be separate from the showing group hall and instead my work was to be displayed in the uni's coffee shop on campus. At first, I was disappointed. All my work was off in the coffee shop, away from all the other artists' work. Despite the 200+ people that attended the opening, only about 6 made it over to where my work was displayed in the shop.
As fate would have it, despite my pieces being separate from the group exhibition, my work became noticed by the University. When the show was coming to a close, they decided to extend the time in which my pieces exclusively were displayed. This kept them up an extra 4 months (after the exhibition closed) to be shown during the internationally-known Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2016. Because of this, I was able to sell several of my pieces and it was excellent closure to our time being there.
So, what I'm really trying to get to and why I call this page "A Year with no Color" is because life threw me a curveball and my well dried up. But you know what? Despite the difficulties life brings us, there is always a way to work it into something that grows you. Originally in the sentence before I wrote the phrase: "there can always be a way to flip it into something that grows you;" but I no longer want to use the word "flip" because becoming something else requires growth and cultivation. Not a quick "flip." There is power in discomfort and loss of familiarity, and always a silver lining. I have heard of artists that when they're on a downbeat they change up their environment, studio space, or medium. Doing this doesn't mean moving to a different country, but could be a simply moving of the easel to a different wall. Thank you for reading.
Below are some photos from my exhibition. When I arrived back in the U.S., I hit the ground running with work. I was also a little excited to start working with something other than black (It should be evident by what's in my gallery). My work "Cosmic Waves," which was the first to sell during the exhibition, made the front page of reddit! Please don't hesitate to contact me if you have any questions about my experience.
My small crowd at the exhibition: