Index of Personal Visual Effects: 0003 - Ghosts
Covering emptiness since the beginning of time
Dead. Undead. Stuck between worlds. True. Not true. Residuals of 1890s seances and 1990s tabloid television. My favorite ghost was always Charlie Brown having “a little trouble with the scissors” with his costume at Halloween. It was sad because he was the embodiment of sincerity and failure at the same time. He was on brand though. He stood out.
Like a lot of elements within my art practice, this image came slowly. Starting as a few separate elements they merged and forked into two distinctly different figural types. Waaaay back in 2008 I made a handful of drawings with architectural objects and human forms covered by cloth. Many variations ensued, but I settled on a partially hidden human form under a drape.
While I was making work for 2011 solo show “Modified Structures” I started to add tweaks to these flowing fabric ideas to my paintings. A blown curtain, the edges of a cape, or the faint silhouette of a shrouded human form all appeared in different pieces in that show.
After this show I kind of ignored this idea for a while, at least in finished paintings. I became preoccupied with the relationships between architectural shapes and letter forms. Overtime the figure reappeared in my sketchbooks looking like a chunkier version of the Pacman ghost. Then it’s eyes were missing, then it just had one eyehole. Then it was what it was. Now it’s in everything all the time.
To me, this distilled form reduced to a single outline feels like something Ben Shahn or Philip Guston would have added to a drawing. An intentionally dumb shape drawn by someone who has actually been drawing for a long time and knows when to strip things away and let them be.
Yeah I just name dropped those guys as a compliment to myself.
The basic ghost image is a pop culture cliche. An appropriation of a pixelized childhood memory. The way I tend to draw it now with the single eye hole feels like a wound. I’ve thought about it as a stigmata at times. There is nothing underneath, however. No flesh within to prove victory over death. Charlie Brown was actually there under the cover of his costume. No empty mystery. As visual language goes, his miscalculated ghost was the perfect symbol to represent a character’s imperfections.
I have shifting questions about this object. Like most of the repeating elements that find their way onto my work surfaces, they are in dialogue with each other. They are in dialogue with myself. I often think about drawings as non-textual sentences. Each object within the image supports a grammatical structure. Creating a larger language system feels comfortable. Repeating yourself feels safe. Which actually starts to feel uncomfortable. Then the doubt stops. Sincerity fades. Pretty soon you are dead inside and you want to hide.
Answers are boring.