My journey to Scotland and
A Year of no Color
This article has been re-written several times.
2014 was a rough year for me.
I was knee-deep in a physics degree, my dad was really sick, and I had this inescapable desire to finish school and start it all over again (but in the U.K.). Graduate school applications are just, absolutely ridiculous. Essentially one is required/supposed to craft a "story" around their life and academic career and then blend it all into some miraculous anecdotal example of why they want to study at a certain institution then craft that story into a short personal statement. Don't even get me started on the visa application, which took months of careful deadlines and saving up around $20k in cash. It was an absolute ton of extra work and this was us going to a country that speaks (mostly) English!
In retrospect, I am very happy we did it. There is a lot to be learned about yourself when moving to another country where you have no friends, family, or community. Artistically, before we left I was at a major standstill, and paintings took me forever to complete; getting out all of my stuff was always a chore and I lacked inspiration. But by the time we were headed back across the Atlantic to Texas I felt reinvented. With none of my familiar art supplies or settings, I inevitably went through a sort of artistic fast. This, combined with several other significant factors, created this amazing creativity catalyst:
For one, 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, you suddenly become aware of everything you took advantage of back home.
We were poor, so we bought only the 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 was on the horizon. The University announced in a month or so after we arrived, it was perfect timing. The possibility of being chosen and showing my work to other people was exciting to me. 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 furiously. Any podcast or book I've read on factors of success has always brought up one essential principle: practice and work incessantly. An hour a day goes just as far.
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, not something discrete like a ledge or wall. For me, they always take a long time to get out of. Also there is a lot to be learned about yourself when you're at your worst. 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, with a high-quality wooden frame that was very nicely crafted, having a large stretched photograph of a badly drawn neon play of the Stones' lips. The lips were bright red had green goo dripping down off the bottom lip, it would have been wrong if we'd not covered it up.
Hollow Earth, 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 (hehe).
When the exhibition finally came it was a very exciting time (we did forget about the empty flat we'd have for 3 months). Despite the grumpy cab operator's opinion on having to drive all my paintings to the city centre, my pieces arrived and were hung without a scratch. I was told I'd be separate from the entire group and hanging up in the Uni coffee shop on campus, and the opening night was very intimate since it was only a small group of people who walked over with me to see my work (the organizer had to unlock the doors to let us in).
As time went on, despite my pieces being separate from the group exhibition, my work became noticed by the University and 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 a huge source of encouragement.
The reason I called this story A Year With no Color is because I want to emphasize the power of significantly changing your style by altering your circumstances. For me, it was avoiding all primary colors and using recycled canvases. But I think it could be very easy for anyone to do something similar - though it doesn't have to be as dramatic as moving to another country. I encourage you to try it!
Below are some photos from my exhibition. When I arrived back in the U.S., I was 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, made the front page of reddit! Please don't hesitate to contact me if you have any questions about my experience.
Thank you for reading!
Images from the exhibition: