Project / Grey Matter (a self portrait)

Tagline/Mantra / One of a kind / Know thyself

Process / Single images are drawn with graphite on to 9" x 12" sheets of vellum, a translucent paper. The images are sourced either from live models, still life objects, personal photographs or popular photography/imagery. All images are chosen either for their sentimentality, utility and familiarity towards the artist. To avoid smudging and light damage, finished drawings are then sprayed with a fixativ and UV protector. Single drawings are then superimposed in various arrangements to create more complex and abstract imagery. The various layered arrangements are then photographed atop a lightbox creating a static, high quality digital image used to make various unique prints.

view of separate layers

view of separate layers

superimposed directly stacked

superimposed directly stacked

Intention/Concept / The original intent of the project was to create a “self portrait” not in the traditional, “picture-of-self” / “self-as-an-object” sense, but rather as viewed from the inner/subjective via other objects the subject perceives. Basically, I wanted to show people what my mind looks like were you somehow able to x-ray it. The challenge was not only to recreate the objects of subjective experience all in one artifact, but also to evoke a feeling of what it is like to be conscious—to perceive and to feel from a single unique vantage point. We can say this is what most artist do (show how they view the world) with their body of works, but how can one achieve this goal in a single, unified piece of work that at the same time accounts for all the faculties and qualities the mind possesses?

Meaning / On a personal level the Grey Matter project is a way for me to deal with the racial hostilities inherent in the makeup of my very own being. I grew up in a broken home with one black parent and one white parent who, to put it kindly, had their differences. While they were able to separate, I myself, being of mixed race, had to find a way to live with an inner black and white and make them somehow work together in harmony. The best way I could find for achieving this harmony is through a process of dialectic—that is, a thesis when opposed or negated by an antithesis combines to become a synthesis. This synthesis serves as a new thesis and the process continues on in the same manner. Grey Matter then is my way to reconcile and embody seemingly oppositional and conflicting qualities—to take something that is fractured and unify it as a whole.

From a more objective viewpoint I feel that the project’s dialectic mode of combining content can be used to resolve just about any worldly conflict. Black vs white, man vs woman, Islam vs Christian, Palestine vs Israel—take your pick of conflicts. The fact is we live in a global world and it benefits everyone to work together, not against one another. In art, usually when working with opposing imagery on a flat surface the best we can do is to put the images side-by-side to show a juxtaposition. With the Grey Matter project we instead place the images one-atop-the-other and let them merge together—often resulting in unpredictable and newly emergent images altogether. Can this be a model of how to resolve worldly conflicts? Are there creative ways of merging cultures and values?

In the Arts there are special sets of contradictory and conflicting qualities, e.g., photo real vs abstract, formalism vs conceptual art, historical vs contemporary, subjective vs objective, banal vs beautiful. Grey Matter attempts to embrace all of these qualities and do so within a single work of art. The Surrealist have addressed some of these juxtapositions in the past and the Grey Matter project continues along these same lines of exploration—it rises up from the subconscious, dreamlike, surreal state to also include the conscious, feeling, thinking and perceiving states of mind as well. In this manner Grey Matter can be said to be Neo-surreal.

Viewed theoretically Grey Matter is an attempt to accurately represent the root of all experience—Consciousness itself and all its workings, e.g., the mind, perception, objects, thoughts, feelings, emotions, the subconscious, imagination, dream, memory. There are many different theories of Mind and perception, e.g., Locke’s “Blank Slate”, Berkeley’s “Idealism”, Kant’s “Transcendental Idealism”, Husserl’s “Phenomenology” to name a few. Grey Matter seeks to elucidate the properties of Mind associated with a theory called “Enactivism”. Enactivism views cognition not as a passive process of pre-given objects being represented on a pre-given mind, but rather through movement or action we are mutual co-participants of our perceptions. The emphasis of this enactive quality in addition to the qualities of transparency, plasticity, mysteriousness, unity and plurality are very much at work in the design of the Grey Matter project.  

In this way each Grey Matter arrangement is like a thought, with the object of thought in focus in the foreground, while the associated objects out of focus and fading into abstraction in the background. There is no static fixed state of images, but rather a potential state of dynamic flux in which, on occasion, a fleeting image may be captured in the moment before returning back to a state of mere possibility. This dynamic flux coupled with the previously mentioned Enactivist model together describe the Neo-futurist aspect of the projectstraddling the boarder somewhere between static drawing and live animation. 

Favorite Aspects / My favorite part of the project is its quality of emergence, the little “surprises” that occur when I combine different images. I don’t plan in advance which objects I’ll combine or where I’ll place them on the page, it’s all random. Most images don’t really go well together but every once in a while everything just falls into place perfectly in a way I never could have predicted. I've had some exhilarating moments when a perfect synthesis emerges. I also think it's neat that this project serves as my sketch pad. For whatever reason I've never really been into the whole "sketch-pad note-book" thing—I think this is a much more creative way to approach the practice.