Big Bug IV (The Static Fly Paradox)

AS THE IMPENDING HEAT DRAGGED IN the closure of June, I found myself attaining the completion of not only a significant painting, but conclusively a series of paintings which I conceptually began in summer of 2012. Immersed in the rising temperature of summer amplified within the confines of my studio-garage, my activated sweat attracted a buzzing fly as I finalized the last of the Big Bugs series. I was appropriately accompanied by this fly perched delicately on my leg as I applied the last stroke of paint to Big Bug IV at 2:30 PM, June 29th, 2016:

582 Big Bug IV
Big Bug IV / 2016 / oil, acrylic, and India ink on canvas / 44″ x 44″

Simply put, The Static Fly Paradox is a representation of (what I describe as) the quantum (meta)physical idea that something can be both flying in the way of continuous motion, and also fixed–static. Static takes on its own paradoxical double meaning in that it describes something fixed and also something which is in constant, undifferentiated motion (as with T.V. static). The latter form of static literally flies through the air, invisible until it is properly received (much like ideas which are invisible until are ‘received’ into an art-form), and appearing as an substrate of wriggling dots until it is organized into recognizable form. The fly is static in both senses of the term: it is in constant, repetitive yet aimless motion while simultaneously appearing as a fixed, unchanging yet functioning form.

Here are some pictorial anecdotes as to how I channeled the invisible static of pure ideas into a paradoxical static fly:

celeste-m-evans-fly-1celeste-m-evans-fly-7 celeste-m-evans-fly-6celeste-m-evans-fly-2 celeste-m-evans-fly-3 celeste-m-evans-fly-4celeste-m-evans-fly-8582 Big Bug IV

And more fly inspiration:

“Wait a minute, wait a minute! I’m having a fly experience here! Look at this!“:

See the other three Big Bugs here

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Cockroaches, Coca Cola, and Human Evolution

HOW IS THE COURSE of humanity’s evolution enhanced by the cockroach? Could such a universally loathed and commonplace vermin present itself to be a stepping stone towards greater human development and knowledge? Of course! Most people detest the inevitable fact that where there is human activity, there are cockroaches. And it seems the more human activity in one place, the greater the potential for there to be even more cockroaches. And since life is overall a symbiotic process, we, often in unrecognized or unexpected ways, benefit from cockroaches as well. Take this article from New Scientist I just discovered, written in 2014, into account:

https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn25376-dna-nanobots-deliver-drugs-in-living-cockroaches/#.U03CBcYfHwI

To quote the article, “Nano-sized entities made of DNA that are able to perform the same kind of logic operations as a silicon-based computer have been introduced into a living animal” (the cockroach). This experiment is a type of “biological therapy” in which the robot-DNA can travel around the body and do productive things like release drugs. According to the research, this type of procedure has potential to create new treatment for cellular illnesses such as cancer. So they try it first on cockroaches, inserting fluorescently marked robotic DNA into their insect bodies to track the nanobots’ progress.

Cockroaches filled with Nano-DNA that glows florescent! Brings to mind a (not so little) painting of mine I completed in December of 2014:

Big Bug III / 2014 / acrylic on canvas / 48" x 42"
Big Bug III / 2014 / acrylic on canvas / 48″ x 42″

This painting, the third in my Big Bugs series of four paintings, was inspired by the not-so-little roaches that, without contributing to rent, took residence in the nooks and crannies of the Highland Park, Los(t) Angeles apartment I lived in from 2011-2013. I have never been one to be particularly moved by bugs in a negative way; as one can immediately tell from my art, I have a soft spot for them. Or at least find them immensely fascinating. Still, when reaching to fix up a late-night bowl of Raisin Bran and finding a long, twittering antennae and stick legs peering around the inner lip of the cupboard,  an instinctive chill shivered up my spine. Yet again when, coming home from a weekend away to find a baby one just sitting in the sink, unable to climb out. And before you can complain to the landlord, your craziest neighbor comes staggering to your back door rambling about the dozens of cockroaches that hunker behind the pictures on her walls, and to which no amount of self-administered pest control can seem to manage. Such are crazy neighbors, and such are cockroaches.

Though I never witnessed more than a few in my apartment, the few I did experience made a lasting impression on me. With their precise, intricate anatomy, their craftiness and cunning, and their unavoidable reputation within human history, I could not help but study them with fascination. They possessed the power to simultaneously intrigue and repel me; they were both controversial and a part of my local ecosystem.  I could see the workings of a creature whose computational speed surpassed my own, in ways I cannot logically describe, only to be experienced one-on-one. In short, like all other living things, they have an intelligence of their own. Not only can we learn about other ways of being in the world from our uninvited guests, but we can use their intelligence to enhance our own. The fluorescent-Nano-DNA-infused cockroach being a case in point.

Big Bug III, (nicknamed “Bach”, for irrational reasons) though earthly fluorescent, is infused with a commonplace, non-nano-bot drug: Coca Cola.  The appearance of Coca Cola in this image is only partly a commentary on the beverage and the company, Coca Cola being a giant-among-giants of modern-day consumer culture, and a socially accepted, widely used liquid drug.  Its abstracted but instantly recognizable logo dominated by the giant-among-giants paint-by-numbers cockroach eludes the reading of a singular meaning or message. Viewers are swayed by their subjective experiences of cockroaches and Coca Cola, their vision swimming with the unusual psychedelia of the image. Unanswerable questions such as “What does Coca Cola have to do with cockroaches?”, and “Is the can half empty or half full?” float to the surface of thought. Being third in the Big Bugs series, it represents a scene in the progression of modern-day agriculture where the initial food substance (sugar, corn syrup etc.) has reached full aesthetic commodification. The edible has now been branded, no longer a trademark of nature but of humanity.  This aesthetic commodification represents the process of making an organic substance into an inorganic, non-symbiotic commodity for consumption. It is an end with no return. It is self-fulfilling and self-satisfied with its reverse alchemical maneuver of converting living matter into sterile advertising. Only the cockroach it seems can benefit from what is left after the item has been consumed to its end. And it turns out our beloved cockroach, the universal poster-child of the unwanted pest, loves this drug as much as we do.

As a stand-alone image, this painting has many connotations, references, meanings and suggestions interwoven into its visual fabric. I do not want to go into everything this painting speaks of, for it is primarily the job of the viewer to gather from it what they will, and to complete the work within their experience of it. I am just the artist, I create the image. Still, it is of interest to me to share some of my thoughts on the paintings I create. As for Bach, I could write a book on him! Nine months after the physical manifestation of this painting began, it was finished. Over time, more thoughts and feelings about him will undoubted surface. I plan to expound more upon him and the other three Big Bugs in the future. For now, we can rest assured that cockroaches are an integral part of our evolution, both scientifically and artistically.

Big Bug III detail

Big Bug III is on display through June at the Atrium Lobby Gallery, Ventura County Government Center, 800 Victoria Ave. Ventura, California.

After Death: Into the Great Beyond Through Painting

2014 / acrylic on canvas / 54" x 54"
After Death / 2014 / acrylic on canvas / 54″ x 54″

THE DEATH OF A PET often strikes one as intense as the death of a fellow human. There are distinct differences and consequences, but the feeling of loss remains the same. In my experience, a pet is an extension of oneself, a living spirit animal that one takes care of and integrates into daily life. It is both a part of oneself and an independent entity; it is separate and utterly dependent. The relationship a pet owner develops with his or her pet is often as transformational as a relationship with another human, if not more so. After all, animals are people too.

Last week I was faced with the task of helping my family’s dog of 16+ years pass into the great beyond. He had been ailing, blind and deaf for quite some time, and finally his strong little spirit began to lose precedence over his weathered Pomeranian dog body. Ceasing to eat and moaning in undeniable pain, the best action I could take as a pet owner was to have him put to sleep. I reminded myself that outside of human care, he would have been long gone long ago, and that it is a service of kindness to our animal companions that we relieve them of their pain in death. This was my first time being present for euthanasia, and the reality and finality of the scenario completely evaporated my clinical phobia of needles.

Holding him in a breathless embrace, his weakened lungs silently took their last breath. At his last moment, I had been repeating over and over in my head a prayer about rainbows, having had a dream awhile back where he flew up into the sky, his eyes flashing the colors of the rainbow as he fell back down to earth. I know took a breath of my own as he took none, bursting into tears out of combined sadness and relief, carrying in a blanket his dog body, limp as a soft watch, to the car. Heading for home where I would bury him with dozens of flowers from his backyard, I remembered another pet death I had experienced many years ago, which had prompted me to make the painting After Death.

After Death came after the death of my rabbit of 5 years. In May of 2008, I rescued Rabs from a parking lot at my alma mater, CalArts. It was the final day to move out of the dorms, and I had just completed my first undergraduate year of study there. My blue Volvo was completely jammed with my stuff. I already had taken my tortoise back to my parent’s house in Ojai. But it was over 100 degrees that day, and being a white rabbit with brown spots, I knew she was not a native bunny, and would not survive long in Valenica, California’s wilderness. So, upon leaving CalArts that day, not to return until the Fall, I scooped up the white rabbit, and put her in the front seat of my car. Thus began the weaving of the strongest bond with an animal I have yet experienced.

5 years later, after Rabs being by my side the rest of my college years living in my studio, coming home with me during the summers, and living with me and my guinea pig Geep in post-graduate land, L.A., her health declined. Her age, I never knew, nor did I know the exact illness that lead her into delirium and pain. In early January of 2013, I was already in grief and depression from the passing of old Geep 2 weeks prior. Still, nothing could prepare me for the emotions and experience that commenced after setting free the spirit of Rabs from her ailing rabbit body.

During the course of several weeks after her departure, I was pushed through the obstacle course of the “seven stages of grief”: shock, anger, bargaining, guilt, depression, and much later, acceptance. I had lost pets before, but never had I experienced loss on such an intense roller coaster of emotions. In addition to this, I was blown open into an awareness of the other side to a degree which I had not been before. For weeks I had what felt like a non-stop involuntary psychedelic trip, in which my usual sense of body was disrupted, the atmosphere and ground of Earth no longer seeming solid. The veil separating physical existence from that which is beyond had lifted–and there was no putting it back down.

So I made a painting of what I saw when peering into the great beyond. After Death is my attempt at translating what I saw of the infinite space of formlessness which lies just beyond this side of paradise. Being a medium-large square canvas (54″ x 54″), After Death encompasses the viewer’s visual field while still being intimate and approachable. The image is a flat surface of formless texture which at first appears nearly colorless, but is actually composed of a rainbow of colors layered over one another. The painting is outside any genre, but does most appear like an Impressionist painting, particularly those of Monet. With the alchemical substance of acrylic paint, it captures the fluctuating light and dark of formless existence. It presents a paradox of simultaneous qualities: flatness (that which cannot be penetrated) with depth (that which is infinite); muted color (dull ambiguity) with rainbows (piercing vitality); formlessness (nothingness) with detail (specificity). The after death state, as are the truths of the Universe, is a realm of paradox: everything and nothing at once.

After Death is a meager attempt at depicting the immediate after death state: that which is nearest to the physical realm just beyond the veil. What I painted is hardly a shadow of the intricacies, vibrancy, detail and constant change I was presented with upon the physical loss of a significant part of myself, my dearest pet. It is a shallow penetration into the infinite abyss which is the wellspring of creation. It is the space out of which the physical world comes, but also out of where ideas come from–the life which human beings channel and bring into being through their creations. It is, essentially, the source and energy of artistic creation.

 

The Problem with Image Over Substance

568 The Problem With Image Over Substance

The Problem With Image Over Substance / 2016 / acrylic on wood / 5.5″ x 6″

THE MINIATURE BUT STRIKING painting, The Problem With Image Over Substance, minimally depicts in black and white an iceberg emerging from the depths. The flatness and bareness of the form makes recognition of its iceberg identity difficult, making the viewer initially uncertain about what they are seeing. The title also presents another conundrum: what is “image over substance”, and why is this a problem?

The idea of “image over substance” says that the way an image looks takes precedence over any content or meaning it might be able to convey. The aesthetics of an image trump that of the necessity of purpose. An image and its substance are inseparable–for one generates the other–but the problem arises when the image–the way something looks–is deemed more important that what it actually has to say.

Back to the iceberg. Everyone knows the idiom “tip of the iceberg”, and this applies to images as well. The iceberg, most of it’s body submerged in icy depths, screams, “things aren’t what they seem!”. By the nature of an iceberg, what you see above the surface–that which is within immediate grasp of conscious awareness–is only a minute part of the whole. The problem arises when you try to understand the iceberg by just looking at the tip.

So why is this relevant, besides the fact that the polar icecaps are melting, receding into the depths out of plain sight? We now live in an image-centric culture. Never before in human history have images played such an overwhelming role in the shaping of our society, how it operates, and how individuals navigate their existence. The media is built upon images. The internet is built upon images. Social interactions are built upon images. Political campaigns are built upon images. Democracy–the foundation of the United States of America–is built upon images.

America was built upon an image–a vision–of freedom, democracy, equality. New things must start with a vision, an image, a “Word”. Freedom, democracy, and equality are good things in concept, so how could this present a problem? It took many years to put some measure of these principles into place; many wars were waged to brutally conquer differences and solidify a consensus.  Slavery didn’t just magically disappear. Women didn’t always have the right to vote. Native Americans were forced out of their homelands in the image that was to be America. Just because a concept is declared, doesn’t mean it automatically practices what it preaches. With this in mind, the substance of the American image is up for question.

Fast forward to now. We are now in the midst of an election which, though they are routine every four years, is unprecedented in its scale of absurdity and extremity. It’s hard to say what the worst thing about it is: anything from it distracting people to the fact that the bulk of it comes off as entertainment. But there is one massive problem (which guises itself as a tiny iceberg tip): the candidates are utilizing the mechanism of image over substance.

That is, they are building their campaigns mostly on a created image, with the actual meaning behind said image being guarded and kept under the surface. This may seem obvious to some, but I believe it hasn’t always been this way. Effective and positive leaders say what they mean, take action and create change based on that. What appears on the surface is backed up by a strong foundation which they stand upon. Neither Trump nor Hillary present themselves as saying what they mean–their iceberg tips (how they present themselves) have no iceberg body (substance) underneath them. Hillary banks on the fact that she is a woman, and therefore different and somehow more worthy of being president in the eyes of the progressive-leaning. Trump props himself up on his financial and business credentials, however corrupt they may be. Both candidates toot their Democratic or Republican horns, certain of the fact that voters will look at that instead of paying attention to what they are actually communicating through their words, actions, and image. Thus the decline of the bipartisan system, the red, white and blue now rendered stark black and white.

Within our image-dependent culture, it has become unnecessary to have substance backing up your image. We can weave images of ourselves in the virtual realms of Facebook and Instagram, and have our followers believe instantly what they see. We can post in a matter of seconds for a matter of seconds on Snapchat or Twitter what we are doing at that moment, only in reality to only be doing just that: posting a fabricated image of ourselves on the internet for all to see. We take it for granted that what someone says about themselves–either as a political candidate or any random person–is the substance of the image they are presenting. Many registered democrats believe that if a candidate runs for election, they must by default embody Democratic principles. When a woman runs for president, progressive-minded people fall into the trap of believing she is inherently progressive.Fans believe that if Beyonce posts an Instagram of herself in an art museum, that automatically means she is interested in art and knowledgeable about it, and should be respected in that vein.  Within 20 minutes of posting an Instagram photo of herself next to art, Beyonce is declared to have artistic taste that is “exquisite” and “beyond reproach”  (to quote an article from an arts publication). This has cascaded  into a multitude of random and famous people declaring they are artists without actually making any art. Posting a photo of oneself at an art opening posing with other art-goers is enough to prove that you are the real deal–either that you are with the in-crowd, knowledgeable about art, intelligent, or that you are a diehard artist yourself. The image is subsumed into one’s self-identity, which is spammed to the world. A quickly snapped and posted image is now enough to prove oneself beyond questioning.

When people make these assumptions based on what is immediately before them, rather than thinking about the  image-creator’s intentions, we get people in power who have no substance backing their image–no actual message other than “look at me and believe what I present to you”. We get a blind faith in false-images, with the winning religion having the most followers. We get vapid icons and dishonest leaders. We get a society of people basing their actions on what is shoved in front of them rather than thinking for themselves about what they are consuming. We get a society worshiping the tip of an iceberg whose parts are unnaturally exclusive of each other, black and white, whose base is corrupt and melting. An insubstantial foundation, destined to collapse and leave us in the icy abyss.

How to avoid this ultimate demise? How to see the real substance behind the image? Don’t get on that iceberg tip! Don’t believe that the iceberg is substantial because there are already a million people on it. Don’t immediately believe what you immediately see. THINK about what you are looking at, rather than just accepting it as it wants to be seen. Do not consume things as they appear to be–do not believe everything you are told. Think and feel for yourself. See for yourself.

Perhaps there is an inevitable collapse of images. Perhaps it seems that images are no longer valid because their power has been sapped, abused, and manipulated by the media, by social media, pop culture, advertising, politics–everything that creates the matrix of our present society and culture. But the fact remains: history has accumulated in such a way that we are the most image-centric and image-dependent humans ever, and the images don’t appear to be disappearing anytime soon. The potency of images as a deep form of human communication is ironically more true than ever before–ironic because the substance of our images has whittled aware to a minimum, if not into complete vapidity. Now that our ignorance has lead to the icecaps melting into the abyss, it is our challenge to build images which have substance beneath them to support our cultural ecosystem.

Icebergs are like images. What you see initially is only a small part of the whole. When we focus too heavily on what an image presents itself to be–the tip–we lose sight of what it actually is. The whole is fragmented into black and white opposing parts which cannot be reconciled. At best the image is meaningless; at worst, manipulative and dishonest. When we are dishonest about what we see, we cannot experience ourselves or the world as it is. We must exercise our innate human capability to see what is below the surface, and to create images which go beyond the superficial and false.