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Right in the Feels

A year ago I was fortunate enough to be selected to participate as a visual artist in the first Something in the Water Festival along with a group of very talented creators. I was paired with artist Shaylen Broughton and we collaborated to create one of my favorite pieces to date of anything I’ve made. Little did I know we were going to create something that was going to almost mean more in the absence of everything the festival stood for than during.

Something in the Water is a celebration of not only Virginia, but also of ideas, collaboration, community, and positivity. Shaylen and I were buzzing on the energy that was surrounding the festival, so the work we came up with was not only something we were super proud of but also something that we felt was in total tandem with the talks, concerts, and pop-ups that were happening at the oceanfront. On a personal note, I was creating at a very pivotal time in my life—my wife and I were moving houses (literally that same weekend as the festival) AND she was around 38 weeks pregnant with our son. It was chaotic and fun and stressful and empowering all at the same time. I kind of felt invincible.

Fast forward to a year later and the city, state, country, and world are on lockdown trying to slow the spread of COVID-19. People are out of a job and businesses are trying to avoid closing their doors completely by being innovative and more strategic than ever. Healthcare workers are overwhelmed. For some reason, toilet paper doesn’t last on a store shelf for more than 30 minutes. In a way, it feels like the complete opposite of where I was a year ago. Don’t get me wrong, being a dad is still pretty chaotic but when you go from extreme connectedness to global isolation in a year you struggle to come to grips with the lasting impact of your own efforts.

I realized, however, that even though we were creating something that was reflective of positivity and the exchange of ideas we were actually making something that could evolve like people. Seeing some of the ways the mural has been shared recently as compared to a year ago has made me feel more connected to the community than before because people are using it to express love, unease, remembrance, fear, and escape. I’m so glad we made something that we put ourselves into because it makes me feel like I understand people and they understand me.

If you want to make something that outlives you start by making something that is you.

Even if you can’t see me, I’m still here

Free Shrugs. 2016, 10”x8” Acrylic on canvas

Elephant in the room; as I’m writing this the World is (hopefully) performing self-quarantining, handwashing, and social-distancing. I completely understand the irony of discussing what I am about to discuss while everyone (again, hopefully) is being reclusive and hermit-like. To anyone who doesn’t think they are creative or artistic, congratulations, you are now living like you are.

Sorry, not sorry. That is my apology-but-not-apology for who I am right now in my life. There are a lot of people that think I am at a point in my career where I can call my own shots with my art. I have a really supportive community of people who appreciate my work, buy my work, share my work, and champion me. As a result, I feel very humbled and proud, however, it is still something I do in my free time and, spoiler alert, my free time is about as thin as a sheet of loose-leaf college ruled paper. I have a full-time day job, I’m a husband and a father, and I have a home that we love, and that is just the tip of the climate-changing iceberg.

Sorry, not sorry. 2019, 40”x60” Chalk on canvas. Image courtesy of @thisisgrow

Without going into an ordered list of my priorities I think you get the picture that I, like you, have a lot of stuff going on in my life. And I am adult enough to admit that that will always be the case. This is something that artists/creatives struggle with all the time. When you look at one of our paintings, see our improv, hear one of our poems, or play one of our songs, you’re not just seeing the efforts of our creative mind, you’re also witnessing our survival. We love doing this. We love doing this so much that we’re willing to work 50+ hours a week just so we can do this whether we make money or not. We’re also trying to remember to eat food, feed the dog, watch Netflix, support a charity, and pay you back for lunch on Venmo. It’s a lot.

I’m telling you this because I want you to better understand why you don’t always see artists out. Why you don’t see us at concerts. Why we don’t make it to dinner all the time. Why we’re mostly only reachable through text or Facebook messages. We’re trying. Believe me, we’re trying. But we’re also trying to make our dreams come true. We’re working so hard on something that we are willing to forego the weekly drinks together. We’re willing to miss out on going to see that new movie because we’re in the studio. We are working hard to prioritize our life and what we absolutely can make time for. This does not mean you are not important to us. It just means we’re making sure that light doesn’t go out.

I’m still here, even if you can’t see me, and I haven’t forgotten about you.

Get Rejected From MOCA, You’ll Be Better For It

New Waves 2019 Installation view. Photo by Echard Wheeler

Submissions are due January 13th for the 25th juried exhibition of New Waves, an annual exhibition featuring Virginia artists. If you’re looking to grow as an artist you should apply, because there’s a good chance you won’t get in.

You read that last line correctly. Not getting into a show like New Waves is a great opportunity for you to evolve as an artist. It would be great to get in. I was lucky to have a piece selected in 2018 and was even given an Honorable Mention award. However, before that, I had been rejected at least five times. Getting rejected from shows, fellowships, grants, proposals, exhibitions, etc. is a part of being an artist. Rejection is a part of being any kind of creative. Putting yourself out there and then learning that there is someone out there that doesn’t like what you’re doing or doesn’t like you as much as someone else helps you realize that you are not going to please everyone. If you’re making your work because you’re focused on your narrative, voice, vision, etc., you can better emotionally separate yourself from the idea of someone not liking your work. 

This year’s juror is Susan Thompson, an Associate Curator at the Guggenheim Museum. Someone from the Guggenheim will be looking at your work. Whether she selects your work for the show or not, you have an opportunity to have someone’s undivided attention on your creation for a few seconds who sees some of the most well-known artists in the world. Take that opportunity and appreciate what’s happening there. Celebrate your vulnerability. 

Who knows, maybe someone will like what you’re making. Maybe even someone who works at the Guggenheim. Apply here by midnight, January 13, 2020

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