“The unraveling”, oil on canvas, 40 x 40 cm., 2021.
The intention behind my paintings (notably my self-portraits) is to explore story-telling through visual imagery, accompanied by short essays. The paintings are essentially free-standing, but after having gotten so many questions about both what my inspiration behind my paintings is and about how I achieved various effects, I have chosen to supplement my paintings with texts which address these questions. In addition, I wish to underscore the various levels of decision-making in both Art and Literature, along with the technical effects used to achieve the intended results. It is — as always — up to the Viewer/Reader to judge the degree of success achieved in their own eyes. My Art and writing are always meant and designed to invite the Viewer and Reader to participate emotionally and to encourage his/her own creative responses to my creations and ideas. Throughout the ages, interpretations of artists’ and writers’ aims, goals, and approaches (as well as the meanings of our work) have been left to critics and Art Historians. Artists and writers have been generally encouraged to remain quiet about their own work. Times have changed, and I choose to give both visual and literary hints and signposts regarding my thoughts, techniques, styles, and processes. In this way, I am better able to show the core of Art, Literature, Poetry, Dance, and Music — which are interrelated in the cognitive and subjective creative processes. My novels and poetry have always been “cinematic”, and it is also that aspect that I reinforce in my present work. At the same time, each painting approaches the various ideas, themes, and questions from a different style of painting — ranging from abstract to semi-realism. I experiment constantly with degrees of realism — making certain to stop short of too much detail, which decreases both subjectivity and space for the Viewer to participate with her/her own thoughts and recognition of personal experience. The essays are essentially free-verse poems, where the cognitive and technical discussions meld together with the subjective and visual imagery in the texts. Here poetic meter is more internal meter, and conceptual groupings of ideas are equally important as the choice of descriptive poetic imagery in the form of words chosen. This is all a continuation of my aforementioned philosophy regarding “Extreme Art and Literature”, which is based on the idea that Extreme Art and Literature today are not blatantly shocking in intent or effect; but rather quite “normal” in the expression of collective and individual ideas and technique but which contain a slight twist which evokes an element of slight surprise. That can be in the form of an unusual idea, color, stylistic decision, or anything else that causes a ripple in the way we think we see things. That momentary minor provocation is enough to incite in the Viewer and Reader a pause and reassessment of his/her own set perceptions. It is there that Creativity has its Renaissance within us as individuals, and then eventually in a collective sense.
Self-portraits enable me to approach many questions through my own eyes, thus allowing my own world view to meet and butt against collective perspectives, mores, and values. In order to inspire a renaissance in my own ongoing creative processes, I must allow myself to “unravel” from time to time. Accordingly, if I wish my Art and Literature to inspire new creative perceptions and ideas in others then I must also incite unraveling of closely-guarded assumptions about oneself, me, and the World.
I have approached self-portraiture in numerous and various styles; and always in my own way, for sure. This time I have explored Post-Impressionism, but in an updated fashion which is a step away from the works from the early 1900s. The “extreme art” element here is actually not the unraveling head. It is a popular theme in Surrealistic Art. Surrealism had its beginning at the tail end of Post-Impressionism, so in that regard, it perhaps could be seen as “extreme” by the established Post-impressionists and Impressionists in their hey-day. Surrealism is a standard and non-extreme expression of art today. But here the “extreme” and unsettling elements are the turquoise blue eyes on a Black man, as well as the unsettling naked look on his face — as though he is neither surprised nor alarmed by his unraveling. In addition, when things fly apart it is usually a traumatic experience. Here, instead, trauma is nullified by the serene and fluid background, which is as gentle as a brook or a summer sky. And just as an artist must acknowledge and wrestle with the aesthetic problem of naturalism versus abstraction, thus — here — the Mind of the Viewer must reason with human experience and memory … and in the world of extreme Art two plus two do not always add up to four. The image is even more dramatic in that the unraveling process is at the beginning stage, rather than totally realized. The Viewer can thus recognize the quiet panic that ensues when he/she knows that all is about to spin out of control.
The painting is meant to be disconcerting, if not startling under the surface. In today’s society the “Beautiful People” are those who are strong on the inside, albeit possibly seemingly emotionally approachable externally. I have presented myself in various ways through my self-portraits. Here I am neither in control over my psychology, nor am I emotional (human?). That, together with the turquoise eye color, almond-shaped eyes, twisted and flattened features that are almost mask like, and elongated forms (à Dali, Picasso, Chirico etc., who succeeded the post-Impressionists), creates an « alien » (alienating) effect that is uncomfortable. It is not so weird that it is acceptable, but rather strange in a way that invades the consciousness. Alas, that Devil is also a part of me.
PERSONAL STATEMENT ABOUT EXTREME ART AND LITERATURE (and why I love semi-realism):
“Extreme literature” can be philosophical, political, religious, sexually-oriented, profane, or just downright ‘dangerous’ because it rocks others’ boat(s) personally. Not all literature is “pretty”, and even humor can be considered provocative. Many authors have works they (and others) consider to be “extreme”. All throughout the history of art and literature, artists and writers have pressed against and played with society’s tolerances – in both “liberal” epochs, “conservative” epochs, and (as now) in states of “moral confusion”, where Western concepts of freedom of speech sometimes butt against national and local cultural mores and social politics; and where danger lurks and thrives on non-specific and situational social codes and fears.
The concept of ‘EXTREME ART AND LITERATURE’ changes all the time. What is actually ‘extreme’ today – in a mixture of globalized, regionalized, nationalized, and localized perspectives? My own opinion is that ‘extreme art and literature’ today takes its starting point in the accepted banalities of everyday life, experiences, and consciousness on the respective and combined levels (social, philosophical, political, economic, sexual, and spiritual). Contemporary ‘extreme art/literature’ no longer attempts to shock in an obvious way, but rather entices the public to feel that he/she is a ‘member’ of the experiential understanding and consciousness, only to interject a “triggering” aspect that creates a sense of uncomfortableness caused by the realization that one has been busted by a banality. These “trigger mechanisms” are (in fact) integral parts of the art itself – often passing by in fleeting moments, sometimes blended in with an obsessive and “flat” (journalistic or photojournalistic) expression or a long tirade of banalities that do not even pretend to be surrealistic. These small “electrical shock” triggers will hopefully ignite an inner experience within the public so that the viewer/reader begins to investigate his / her own personal reality, his / her actual contributions to a collective reality, and hopefully to re-evaluate his / her own concept of what one prefers to create as an individual and collective reality. The illusion of spiritual and emotion separation (the illusion that we are all separate, individual and self-sustaining entities that can determine our roles on Terra or in the Interlife totally without contact or influence with/from others) is a vital element here, and that common illusion is, therefore “fertile ground” for artists. Here we artists and authors can play, provoke, prevaricate, entice, seduce and fool the audience to believe in us as a part of “themselves”, and then trigger the reader/viewer to consider the possibility that there might be (in fact) a miscommunication or misconception running loose … a sense of everyday reality that is inconsistent or which has consequences that one was never aware of.
Perhaps the most meaningful and interactive way to help another person to wake up from their perceptual drowsiness is to enter into their everyday dreams and illusions (their banalities) and suddenly say “BOO !!!” Artists and authors who attempt to shock through their art with the blatantly obvious, often thus fail to explore and exploit the deeper, symbolic depths of the subconscious and the more mystical elements that make up our everyday and banal thoughts, activities, attitudes, etc., and therefore are denied “personal access” by some viewers/readers who may consider the art to be too intellectual, too elitist, too directly confrontational, or too foreign. Sex and religion are often used today in art and literature as “shock elements”. It is not necessarily sex or religion which are provocative or interesting in themselves, but rather the unspoken and quietly accepted perceptions that we chain ourselves to unquestionably, and which can totally be set in chaos just by the artist and author changing or adding one simple element or context that we do not feel belongs in our reality-defining “picture”.
‘Extreme art and literature’ is thus not blatantly provocative in itself; it rather shows the audience the possible ramifications of acceptance, non-involvement, personal meanings, and behavior by confronting us with triggered or mixed in ‘extreme’ moments, and then lets the audience choose to begin its own personal creative life process of evolution and re-creation (if desired) … without commentary or guidance.
When I recently presented myself to Marina Abramovic as a “retired activist” she responded by asking me if an activist can ever be finished with activism. Of course, she is right. The process of rebellion is nothing more than one intermittent set of activities and actions in a constant redefining and assertion of the Self, both individually and collectively. Art is the ultimate expression of the process of rebellion. If an artist loses that quality, he/she “dies” in a certain way. My art and literature are not just extensions of me … they are my created persona: a sweet mixture of heaven and hell, with a pinch of mediocrity for flavoring.
Adam Donaldson Powell, Norway
(Reprinted from 2014, but my philosophy is still the same.)