Paintings are a record of decisions by artists. Each mark on a surface is a decision that the creator made and good paintings are made to be visually compelling over long periods of time. One obvious way to make something interesting is the above mentioned obtuseness of the subject, however, if content has simply become a secondary vehicle to make people that may not have art backgrounds ask “Why was this created?” or just provoke controversy, is that the only use left to it? Is art a 40 sided Rubik’s cube or a stick to poke with? I’d argue that other paths to complexity and interaction other than obtuse content and there are other uses for content that aren’t being utilized.
I make commissioned paintings where anyone can give me two pieces of pop culture and I work with them to combine them into original paintings. Since content has been de-emphasized, I give up control of it in order for it to serve the purpose of drawing people into interaction with my paintings. This is crowdsourced art that not only adapts to the commissioning party but shows who they are in a way that portraiture hasn’t. It distills their identity down to a series of choices; what are they interested in, where have they been in life, what do they want to be reminded of, and how do they see the purpose of art. Some are fun, some are serious, some are symbolic, some are memories but all talk in depth about the people who commissioned them. I don’t choose the content and I only inject myself into what’s created if that’s how the commissioning party sees a painting. Some people know what they want down to the last detail and others have only a general idea. This instruction or lack of instruction is how they view art in many regards. I give them all leeway to tell me or not tell me what to do and comply accordingly. I only offer general guidelines to steer it away from portraiture and offer input on the visual elements of the painting. It’s not just the things they choose, but why they choose them and how they communicate that that sets the subject and tone.
Classical Pop Art prided itself on the taking of popular mass culture visuals and presenting them in a fine art language but it has historically leaned its content heavily toward the mundane in an effort to distinguish itself from the pop culture it was using as inspiration. Two Thangs instead asks why can’t painting be composed of images that draw any person into an interaction and still be significant. This is pop art that doesn’t take the style of pop culture and elevate it, but uses pop culture as a vehicle for accessibility. I’d argue that if you show a random assortment of people a painting, a majority of them will focus on the subject of the painting and not the process. Appreciation of process is something that’s learned through immersement and if you’re immediately put off by art, you might never have a chance to grow into it.
I keep the costs of the original paintings low by re-selling the images afterwards. This allows the cost of the painting to be attainable by most people, but still enough that people spend significant time thinking about their choices. It also moves painting away from being an investment and back toward being attainable. The re-selling of the images also forms a web of interest between people mapping out intersecting lines of identity. In a world of sub-sub-genres of culture, every combination of two ideas has someone out there that responds to it in the same way as the person who thought of it. Sometimes it’s many people. Due to the presentation and reproduction, this art exists not only in galleries but in streets and assemblies, so it seeks out the different people that connect with the collection of images.
Once content has been taken care of, I get to enjoy the act of crafting images out of the visual elements I find interesting. I use paint in some of the same ways that drawing traditionally covers. I work in layers upon layers of graphic marks and I make use of techniques like cross hatching, stippling, patterning and line work but with brush and color instead of black and white which forces the marks to adapt in different ways. In drawing, there is only the binary of off and on. The surface is either marked or clear and I treat the paint in the same manner trying to differentiate areas less by tone and value and more by planes of bright color which are crisply defined from each other. I look at the brush marks in themselves as flat layers that sit on top of the canvas and then build upon them layer after layer to create these images. The closer you inspect them, the more they deteriorate into a purely visual experience and the content fades away. What was a painting of Bushwick Bill and hot dogs vanishes as you focus in and transforms into Franz Kline like strokes, flat planes of color and rhythms of design chaos and tranquility. This is the staying power that gives my paintings the ability to be looked at for long periods of time and still find new elements to appreciate.
The paintings are not the art that I create; they are the craft that I enjoy. However, the collection of paintings created under Two Thangs is the art that I make. It is a singular body of work that as a whole talks about everyone that has interacted with it. As it grows and people take the idea of “two pieces of pop culture” and shift it to what it means to them, so does the scope. From people, to places, to music, to songs, to philosophies, to symbols and metaphors, it’s an ever evolving cultural language of personal significance.