Looking back is a relative thing because the context of the current moment skews the truth. Why am I making artwork based on “hidden truths” found in western esoteric philosophy? This is a question I’ve been asking myself for a while now. The short answer is that my definition of “being an artist” between high school and undergrad now means something much different to me than it used to. In this journal, I want to stress the important catalysts in my work and where this places me now. Looking back there have been a total of 6 shifts in my artistic career since 2004.
Between my senior year in high school and community college years, I wanted to do what artists like Ryan Church and Dylan Cole did for a living (concept digital matte painting for big Hollywood studios) and believed getting my BFA in traditional painting was a good step forward. I wasn’t thinking of higher concepts at all but focused purely on technique and fantasy. Up until this point, my definition of art was more akin to illustration than self-expression. Below are drawings I completed during these years, before heading to get my BFA in painting.
The 1st shift – Drawing to digital painting
I really want to thank my high school teachers Bruce Loeschen and Lisa Beschnett for getting me further in drawing and introducing me to photography, respectfully. These skills are to this day extremely valuable to me and without their knowledge, I would have most likely given up on the arts. It was an honor being one of the four “artist of the year” nominees for the school and walking up on that stage in front of the entire school and presenting my video (now lost) about myself and my work motivated me as nothing else had in the past to take this passion for expression to the next level, which turned out to be an interest in digital painting. At this time I was still just dabbling in photography and didn’t really consider it very useful except for creating my drawing/painting reference points.
The 2nd shift – Digital painting to photography
After graduating high school and attending community college I attended the Christian college Spring Arbor University between late 2007 and late early 2009. It was during these years my photography really took off… while at the same time my inner battle with religion seemed to be getting the better of me. See my history – part 1 to get an idea of the content I was producing during this time. For me, this was a time of exploration and rebellion. My experience here, away from my parents, provided me with some amazing friends who were probably the most open on campus to hearing my religious arguments and going along with my “edgy” ideas, even if I did become a little annoying along the way.
I really don’t know how it first happened, but photography became a tool for expressing ideas I had during these years of self-discovery. Instead of viewing photography as just a reference device, I saw it as a time-saving device and one I could get really good at with the aid of Photoshop. My interest in psychology grew more and more and I ended up spending much of my free time reading books. Human interaction became my primary center of attention.
Eventually, I just couldn’t handle all of the rules at Spring Arbor and even with the perk of being a pastor’s son and getting the discount, it offered from the steep tuition I had to call it quits. I was sick of being the black sheep at this university and over time began feeling like more of an outsider trying to force a smile and fit in. My 2nd shift was one of anger, rebellion, and frustration, which coincidentally coincided with photography.
The 3rd shift – Photography and illustration to fine-art
After enrolling in the University of Wisconsin-Stout in late 2008 one of the first art classes I took was sculpture with Lars Jerlach, a teacher who didn’t sugar coat anything or make you feel warm and fuzzy about your naive view of art. During class (and after) part of me wanted to strangle the bastard for not sympathizing with me and calling me out as being “simply an illustrator.” Pretty much the entire semester I struggled to find the words to express myself and speak his “art speak” language (which at the time I thought to be like something of a cult) that I watched others in class follow. Maybe I just didn’t “get” it… I have to admit, at the time I thought I knew better.
It took a couple of years after graduating with my BFA in painting in December of 2010, but now I see why he had such a following. He may have not been the most sympathetic person, but he did have a way of forcing you to think differently by getting you out of your comfort zone. In essence, Jerlach was a major catalyst for my paradigm shift from concept art and illustration into the fine arts. When students would present work that was easy to understand he would reply with “Don’t make it too literal” and “Give your audience something to think about.” This kind of thinking was brand new for me and completely opposite to what I was used to.
“The Risk” – This sculpture for the class was met with the most success because of its symbolic circular meanings.
The 4th shift – Fine art blended into commercial photography
During my final year at UW-Stout I took a multimedia class with Kevin Pontuti, a teacher who had a very positive influence on me and someone I still look up to to this day. Before he became a professor he was managing his own studio in Los Angeles and assisting David LaChapelle, who at one point was the world’s most in-demand celebrity photographer. Pontuti gave me excellent direction in terms of the professional creative photography business (like working with art directors and art buyers) and was THE bridge that led me to pursue a career in photography professionally.
My work during this point was still heavily influenced by fine-art series and digital painting—a direction I’m still on. Below are two composite images from my senior show at UW-Stout with the same title as my series, Even Nostalgia Isn’t as Good as it Used to Be (the images with people).
This series was my final show for my painting degree. This was based on the argument that digital painting (and masking in Photoshop) counted as painting. Looking back, I have to thank my painting professor Tamara Brantmeier for allowing this to happen. My heart wasn’t into painting in the traditional sense and she knew it.
Shortly after graduation, I discovered the magazine Lürzer’s Archive, which provided me with commercially successful artists in the field of commercial and editorial photography. Moreso than many of the “fine-art” photographers I enjoyed (besides the prolific Jerry Uelsmann) these artists made work with high production value and attention to detail like I had never seen before.
The 5th shift – Fine-Art blended commercial photography back to the fine arts
In the Fall of 2013, I decided to pursue a Master’s degree in photography, which is obviously more accurate than my current BFA in painting. I knew during this time I wanted to teach photography as well for my career of choice. I’ve always loved explaining things and teaching technical things to people. My current day job is that of a computer technician and I’m constantly training staff into all things technical.
In my first year of this program, I was fresh into the creative world again with lots of inspiration from films in particular like Samsara, Baraka, and Enter the Void for their dramatic and refreshing camera work.
I created a film called Distribution that was inspired by the camerawork in the three films.
By this time I was adapting myself more and more into film and moving pictures like timelapse photography. I did this for two reasons. A) The world was and is moving more towards video, and from a business standpoint, I wanted to be adaptable. B) I wanted to try something new.
Throughout 2014 and early 2015 I experimented with a few other ideas (like the documentary about Delray that was never finished) but found myself treading water without a shoreline in sight. After barely passing mid-program review I had to find myself again and took a semester off making any creative work during the Winter 2015 semester so I could mentally reset. I’m thankful for the classes I was taking during this time Chris Reilly (time-based media) and Chris Hyndman (Critique and Professional Preparation Seminar).
An experimental film shot in an extremely clean bathroom using haunting music. I used much of the techniques with video rails and smooth panning motion I used in Distribution.
A timelapse video I shot that documents a sculpture I made for my Time-Based Media class.
The 6th shift – Commercial, Editorial, Fine-Art, and Philosophy
This brings us to the present moment of this writing, where I’m back on track with creating work again grounded in photography, digital illustration, and video. After spending a great deal of time talking to Chris Hyndman in particular about this journey, I’m now on a path towards personal discovery that brings me back to where I was in my 2nd shift in terms of religious resolution. This time, however, my focus is on historical details and less on my own frustration with religion.
I got married on January 17th, 2015 to my beautiful wife Jennifer, and couldn’t be happier. She is a Christian and has strong faith… Our values match and we even go to church together when we have time. I’m thankful for the great parents I have and the way I was raised. They love me and accept me for my own beliefs, despite the fact I don’t necessarily agree. Some people just don’t follow their parent’s beliefs though and I’m one of them. Jen and I agree on most things but I still have skepticism towards any specific form of religion representing the “absolute truth.” Undoubtedly this is why I’m attempting to resolve my issues regarding faith… Undoubtedly this is why I’ve become so obsessed with figuring something out that I probably never will.
I’m not the first to do this, and it’s actually pretty exhilarating to hear of philosophers and scholars in the Middle Ages and Renaissance trying to blend Christianity with esoteric mysticism. After learning about Hermeticism, Theosophy, and Gnosticism in particular I’m finding that my struggle is not unique, but timeless and ongoing.