The Marani Gallery
University of Northern Colorado
November 3- December 3, 2010
Standing knee deep in garbage in the alley behind the local grocery store I find what I am looking for. I am not sure what led me to climb in the dumpster, but what I see in front of me is amazing. It’s a Jackson Pollock. No, not literally a multi-million dollar painting, but something just as beautiful. I lift my camera and zoom in on the artwork in front of me. As I focus on the layers of color I imagine the scenario that may have lead to the creation of this masterpiece. Maybe some kid at the grocery store was throwing out the trash the night before. While cursing the store manager under his breath, he lifts a dripping sack of rotten fruit over his head and slams it against the back of the dumpster. The bag explodes and the juicy garbage drips down the wall. The mark left by this moment is monumental, but it probably didn’t even catch his eye. He closed the lid, lit a cigarette, and killed a few minutes before returning inside to finish his shift. I press the button on my camera and snap a photo. Maybe some day this image will find its way into a corporate brochure as the texture behind the photo of some company’s president.
I try not to make a habit of climbing in dumpsters but I regularly find myself doing things that seem equally absurd for reasons I can’t quite explain. I buy expired film. I process it with coffee grounds and vitamin C. I take photos with cameras that are older than me. I build cameras out of Legos. I setup my camera to take a photo every ten seconds for 9 months at a time. I replace the film in my camera with photo paper. I leave the shutter of my camera open for minutes, hours, days, or weeks. I disassemble, hack, damage, and modify my cameras so that the images produced are anything but predictable. I poke holes in tin foil and let muddy light paint the film inside old tin cans. I don’t advance the film and let the images sandwich on top of each other. When I take a picture I want to smash the subject against the film and squeeze it through the body of my camera leaving an impression on the film so deep that you hold the print by its edges for fear of getting your hands dirty.
And somehow these experiments are related to my profession as a designer. Maybe I use my art to compensate for the rigid controls and robotic routine that comes with sitting behind a computer all day. Maybe the hours retouching blemishes out of stock images has left me thirsty for the filthy reality that my pinhole cameras provide. Perhaps creating art within the constraints of a business environment has redefined my ideas about authenticity. Maybe the tight control of design software has encouraged me to embrace situations where I have as little control as possible over the images I am creating. Maybe the hours spent coding websites has triggered a need to feel real objects in my hands.
Maybe, but I think the real reason is much less profound. I don’t feel there is much of a conflict between my job as designer at the computer and the artist in my basement studio. I am just as likely to think of a design solution for a commercial project when I am dissecting cameras as I am to think of an idea for a camera when I am designing a logo. The inspiration for both comes from the same persistent and uncontrollable need to be creating something. It doesn’t matter if the tools are the latest technology or a century old photographic technique.
I create things and try not to get caught up in questioning what is or isn’t the “right” way of doing it. The second you try to formalize your creative process you begin to copy yourself and before you know it you have slipped into a predictable style. I am always looking for different ways of doing things because this is the only way to create truly original work.