Self Portrait
Age 12
James Hampton
Throne of the Third Heaven of the
Nations Millennium General Assembly

(above and right)
Adolf Wölfli
Poli-Chinelle, Plum Queen
Adolf Wölfli
Sandora Snake

I’ve always felt a bit uncomfortable with calling myself an artist. I only go to art galleries when some social situation demands it (about 5 times in the past 22 years). I don’t feel qualified (or interested) enough to talk much about art. I also feel that I don’t have the requisite skills in any of the classic art media. I’m not that great at painting, drawing, making 3D objects or graphic design. I’m pretty good at all of them, but could never focus on any one enough to master it. However, a lack of superior technique and avoidance of community participation aren’t the primary reasons I feel unqualified as an artist. It’s also a matter of motivation.

The only artists I’m aware of with whom I feel a genuine connection are two of the “naïve artists:” James Hampton, the janitor who built a massive throne and altar with gum wrappers, and Adolf Wölfli, a schizophrenic who created volumes of diagrams, balance sheets, and musical scores – blueprints for an alternate universe he envisioned. These guys I understand. They’re not setting out to make art. They’re desperately seeking tangible realization of a world that makes sense to them, more sense than the world in which they actually live. That’s a motivation I can relate to.

My creations serve two purposes. First and foremost, they’re an attempt to organize the noisy clutter in my brain (see The Wack). What I’m doing is more like cleaning out the garage than exploring form, color or the human condition. This compulsive organization process helps me to clarify my attraction to an item of note and examine its connections to other items, images and sounds. I include a lot of text in my work. Phrases are generally instructive, like captions on a diagram. Individual words are essentially a soundtrack; the spoken sound of that word is the audio score for the particular image with which they appear. The literal definition of the word is of no consequence. Some of my older paintings, however, are simply visions of places and situations that I find soothing. I suppose that’s more classically “artistic.”

The compulsion that drives my object organization carries over into more ephemeral subjects in my drawing. I use text and crudely drawn figures to analyze a situation or feeling. To better understand my quandry, I break it into components, label the parts and write a summation. It may not look like that to the observer, but it works for me and that’s all I care about. It’s a therapeutic process rather than an attempt to entertain, amuse or wow an audience. Perhaps that’s how all artists work. I don’t know. Since it doesn’t fit the classic stereotype of the angst-ridden, impoverished aesthete, I’ve always figured it put me in some other category.