Body 3: The Disembodied Artist
Editor’s Note: By Chris Matallana
Art is a demanding master. It demands from the artist their time, their energy, their money, their passion. To create art is as important as eating food or breathing air; it is something that the artist cannot live without.
For a lot of artists, their love, their passion, their energy does not translate into monetary compensation that provides food, shelter, clothing for themselves and for their families. They have to spend a good chunk of their waking life working something else to pay the bills.
How do they, no, how do we, balance these two important factors in our lives? The artist must disembody themselves when in the studio and when in the cubicle — which aspects of these two parts of the artist’s life correlate with or agitate the other? There is a belief that all things are interconnected, that the seemingly disparate elements of our lives and the lives of other all share a common thread. The contributors to this issue, despite the differences in their day/night jobs and in their artistic pursuits, are all connected by the human desire to explicate the human experience, in both the mundane and the extraordinary.
In This Issue:
Artwork by Kyle Confehr; Music from Dei Aemeth; Essay and accompanying art by Matt Rox; Artwork by Corey Mukes; Photography and poetry by Kyle Vaughn; Artwork by Clara K. Johnson; Poetry by Christopher Dawood George; Interviews with the artists, edited by Chris Matallana.
WE’RE GOING TO BE OK
Kyle Confehr is a Dallas-based visual artist who has worked with Zoo York, Warner Bros., The Dallas Observer, Piermont Records & Management, Attic Records, Either/Or Records and ShadowWorks ltd. His work is frantic, layered, colorful, and easy to stare at and admire for hours on end. Be sure to check out the rest of his stuff!
TIDE OF DEVOURMENT
Dei Aemeth is, in their own words: “technical-melodic-progressive-blackened-death metal, thundering 7 string guitars, crossing genres from classical influenced overtures to straight on chromatic driven progressive metal brutality.” Comprised of members Sam Paquette, Carl Ferre-Lang, Vale Ethereal, and Simple Nomad, Dei Aemeth has been taking the metal scene by force for a few years now. In early 2013, they released their first full length, Apotheosis, on Swimming With Sharks Records.
“NO, YOU’RE DEFENSIVE!”
“Defensiveness”. A noun made up of four syllables. Pretty innocuous, in that it uses the most common vowel (“e”) and the most familiar consonant (“s”) repeatedly, and only has one truly exotic letter (that sexy “v”[… oh man I’d like to just throw that thing down on a bed and…well…I digress]). A simple word. Certainly not a dangerous or threatening word. The kind of word you expect to see wallflowering it up with other easy going words at any Merriam Webster party, right? Off in the corner, trading Magic the Gathering cards with the unassuming “march” and quietly timid “seeming”.
And while all this is true of our friendly “defensiveness”, buddy man-oh-man can he cause a disturbance!
Defensiveness can turn a normal conversation into an endurance test. It can turn a simple disagreement or miscommunication in to a full-blown, knock-down, drag-out, getting-a-divorce battle-argument that will end your ass up on the “Best Of” episode of “COPS”. Hopefully sans bath salts.
You know how it goes. You say something to your girl/boyfriend about the small mess in the bathroom they left for you (which you were honestly totally fine with picking up), just to give them a heads up. They first refute that it was them. You mention that it probably was them because the cat has never worn that shirt and rarely-if-ever uses the toothpaste. They then say it was probably you that left the mess. In a confused state, you shake your head and say it wasn’t. They retort by bringing up something you did “wrong” in the recent/distant past, and shift the blame floating around the living room like a jagged-toothed zeppelin towards you. You are then put into the position of defending yourself against the random accusation and things just spiral out of control from there
What is it about the human brain (or is it a sociological mechanism?) that wants to avoid the ownership of a wrong? A defense mechanism perhaps? Makes sense; “defense” and “defensiveness” share the same root word (that word being “def” which is short for “deaf” and instantly brings up the image of a child holding his hands over his ears while refusing to hear a parent blame him for something… I may not be right about this, but let’s not dwell on that).
Our partner/relative just can’t accept an uncomfortable truth about themselves so they go skipping through the candy tree forests of denial land (not Egypt in this particular metaphor). Seems reasonable, but why do they use this kneejerk defense mechanism for the smallest things? Denying that they left that black sock in the middle of the bedroom gets them what exactly? Why do they do it?
Is it perhaps defending their accused actions by going on the attack? Brandishing the slathering sword of sarcasm and the shiny shield of shamefreeness to bring us (their detractor) to our knees. How dare we impugn their good name and fine, upstanding character with our baseless accusations! We should, nay, must be punished! “Blame free; that’s me!”
Whatever the reason, it’s frustrating as hell when it rubs its booty up against you on the conversational dance floor. You were just trying to get your groove on, and this piece of shit has to disrupt your flow and knock you to the ground. Next thing you know, the disco fuzz is dragging you off to rave jail to serve time for verbal molestation.
If the defensive person would just stop for a second before reacting. Realize there’s not always a reason to immediately respond to someone talking to you. They could take a second or two and analyze what is being said to them. Ask themselves, “Is this a personal attack on me? Do I care enough about what is being said to bark back with a witty rejoinder? Is it possible I actually am responsible for what I am being blamed for? Wouldn’t it enhance my character to be an adult and take responsibility?” Holy crap-a-doodle, just imagine how much more relaxed conversations would be if that thought crept into everyone’s head space!
I don’t claim to have any answers. I don’t know why people have this mechanism. I don’t know if my ideas on thinking things through would stop, or even curb, this reaction. All I know is that it annoys the hell out of me. I’m just trying to start a conversation and see if the rest of you can figure it out. So go to town, my friends. Fix society one hobgoblin at a time. In the end, we all win.
And I know while reading this, some of you were immediately taking the stance of, “Oh yeah. My friend/significant other/parent/child/relative is totally like that.” Well cast not the first stone, lest ye… cast…uh… (well, you know what I’m getting at; I’m straight up calling you defensive. Yes, YOU. And if your first response was to deny to yourself that this is true, then you just proved my point. Thanks! Have a great day!!
THE ARTIST’S MIND
I CAN’T FIND MY KEYS
Corey Mukes is a Houston-based visual artist. He specializes in acrylic expressionist art. As you gaze at his artwork, it evokes the sense of being in a cramped, sweaty jazz club at 3am, listening to the strains of a saxophone hover over a piano and an upright bass guitar. It makes you embrace the simultaneous joy and pain of the human experience. In his own words: “I am a firm believer that art is when you hear a knocking from your soul – and you answer.”
BIG TEX CATCHING FIRE
BIG STAR Kyle Vaughn
From far away, a bullhorn practices my name.
I can hear it at night, humming like a star.
It tells me what my name means.
And I practice what my life should look like—
I have everything ready—every conversation is laid out,
every punch line timed perfectly,
the names of my children,
how I will die (shot while riding in a Ford Bronco).
And when I punish myself, it is without mercy.
I have spent years in every possible position,
drawing a realistic mustache on my best photo.
I go about the house in a green robe, in a red robe,
in a hat and glasses.
I want to be disguised enough to fool that other me I see.
I neglect my other work to build elaborate and obscure symbols:
hairdo as cultural critique,
wrinkled pants as political humor,
isolation as a cry for help.
I poke my head out the front door—if no one is out,
I run and grab the paper—the dog!—run back in!
As I bend down to pile it up with the other unread papers,
flowers bloom inside the lens of my eye—
roses, the daisies, and the dogwood blossom,
Their downward autumnal drift reminds me
of a dance I did in childhood—one that
ended with me flailing on the ground.
Though I meant it seriously,
this grand finale brings the greatest laughter of all.
TAKING TRASH OUT BY MOONLIGHT Kyle Vaughn
Bearing this shape
to the garbage, trailing
ambient blood from meat
through a tear at the bottom—
the trash and I tunnel through
night-shafts: the dark’s sack
of moons. When I hear
grinding glass under
sneakers, the clang of
a chain-linked perimeter, I am
of violence or even being
mistaken for a thief (though
I obsess over wounds I don’t have).
I’m afraid of
not being human, not being able
to sit in the dining room chairs or to be
a part of interiors. I tread on
oblique shadows as if I won’t
splinter them. I withdraw my belly
into my chest cavity, bloat the chambers
of my heart—but praise be this fat,
this blood, these lips drawn wordless
by experience: a silent toss of
waste into a hulking bin.
POEM Kyle Vaughn
Because these words are the light
and unlight—something between
snow-folded and shadowed—I long to
unremember all those
tiny collapses of my heart.
Clara K. Johnson
Clara K. Johnson is a Raleigh, North Carolina based visual artist who focuses on oil and acrylic paint creations. Clara’s paintings find a way to reverberate the world back to those who look at them with their vivid colors, their familiar yet dreamlike shapes, and haunting landscapes.
THE PROBLEM WITH MONEY Christopher Dawood George
it pays the bills
but barely a
stones or roots
and prod it to
THE DISEMBODIED ARTIST: INTERVIEWS
As mentioned in the Editor’s Note, each one of our contributors for this week’s Body is an artist who has to work outside the realm of art to put food on the table and a roof over their heads (and often, the heads of their family). Each person who contributed this week was asked a series of questions related to being a Disembodied Artist. It is my great pleasure to share their answers with you.
1. WHAT KIND OF ART DO YOU CREATE?
KYLE CONFEHR: Primarily ink on paper. Lately, I’ve been using reclaimed materials and acrylics.
SAM PAQUETTE (guitarist for Dei Aemeth): I am a musician and play all sorts of instruments and dabble in a multitude of genres but I primarily play guitar in my band Dei Aemeth, which is what I describe as a progressive death metal band, with dark and mysterious overtones that compliment our occult themed lyrics/art/ overall vibe.
MATT ROX: I work both digitally and with real-world instruments. Digitally, I mostly use Photoshop and a bit of Illustrator. I create portraits and fine art pieces in a style I created called Digital Black Velvet (DBV) and I also draw cartoon-style characters. With pencil and ink on paper, I draw even more cartoon-style characters. If I’m bored somewhere and I don’t have my drawing instruments, I’ll grab the closest pen and any paper surface (sticky-note, tissue box, envelope, etc.) and doodle. My mother says I’ve been drawing since I could pick up a crayon and my dad has been telling me for years that art is how I will make my primary source of income. Fingers crossed!
COREY MUKES: I am an acrylic expressionist artist. I create contemporary, figurative, abstract art. I am big on color and expression through contrasting colors and shadows.
KYLE VAUGHN: I started as a writer, primarily a poet, about 20 years ago. A few years ago, somewhat out of frustration with my writing and somewhat out of my fascination with the pure image, I turned to photography. That somewhat saved me as an artist. Photography taught me something about the image that I hadn’t realized before, that the image is, while complex, also singular. And photography taught me so much about art and its interaction with others. It got me out of myself as an artist, got me out into people’s lives. And poetry spoke so much to my photography. Though I have had too little time to spend on what I create, it helped so much to have these two arts that could converse with each other.
CLARA K. JOHNSON: I create abstract and biomorphic paintings and mixed media.
CHRISTOPHER DAWOOD GEORGE: Ethereal representations of words and works. The soil tilled for blooming, the sky tilt spilled into the overflowing rims of words. The old world wiped away and the new built upon the dust. A poem is as a poem does.
2. WHAT DO YOU DO TO PAY THE BILLS?
KYLE CONFEHR: I’m a barista at Starbucks.
SAM PAQUETTE: I currently work ‘full time’ at Half Price Books, a used bookstore, which, of course, doesn’t pay much. However, I also work part time as a music teacher at Rockwall School of Music here in the DFW area. I also own and operate a recording studio [S.A.M. Recording Studios] where I engineer, produce, mix, and master music artists of all kinds. I also play live shows with the band when we can, some nights we make more money than others, but every little helps. I am very busy.
MATT ROX: I work retail at a bookstore (Half Price Books) which provides me with a paycheck and insurance for my family and me. My bride-to-be (whom I live with) has a teaching position that provides the lion’s share of our household income. And of course, I try to sell my art to increase the cash flow (through digital portraiture and attending comic book/sci-fi conventions). That doesn’t mean that all my bills are up to date (lord knows Sallie Mae is after my Lucky Charms), but I have my basic needs met and am able to save a bit here and there.
COREY MUKES: I work at a laboratory in Houston, Texas as an I.T.Client Interface Analyst. This means that I build and test electronic health records systems. It allows the doctor’s office to complete an order for blood work / drug test and submit it to our lab electronically. We then test it based on test code methodology and send the result back to the electronic interface, therefore, eliminating paper waste and security breach of patient information.
KYLE VAUGHN: I am a teacher. Or was? I just quit my current post (effective at the end of this school year) after 11 years. Why–see the answers to #3 and #4! I will likely land in another teaching position, but I have dreams of moving my career in a new direction. I have loved teaching in many ways, though the form and forum in which I teach is not my ideal. I have been lucky to have worked with some amazing students. Young people are inspiring. But the forum that I refer to is the conservative, stiff, and unimaginative structure of academia. This is not necessarily specific to one institution. I would love to think within a more free-form structure, one that does not see an end-goal in education such as grades or college admittance, but sees education as the goal itself. I would love to teach something that I call the “Cool Stuff” class, that is, some sort of combination of literature, creative writing, philosophy, photography, history, book making, music, film. And I would look at each of these things expansively–literature, for instance, should include visual texts (graphic novels, etc.). I dream of other careers, too. Counseling is interesting to me. Any type of volunteer-type work, work with orphans, refugees. Yes, nothing I want to do pays money. I really dream of being able to travel the world, meet others, and collect their portraits and life stories and present that to others. I was recently able to complete my first version of such a project, a book called A New Light in Kalighat, which I will talk about more in just a moment.
CLARA K. JOHNSON: I am skilled in the pharmaceutical marketing field. I am currently in between jobs.
CHRISTOPHER DAWOOD GEORGE: Load mouths full of dirtied money in a fashion which splits the face into several distinct selves, which then occupy the spaces set between the ever growing continents revolving in some way around survival.
3. DOES YOUR CURRENT JOB IN ANY WAY PLAY INTO YOUR ARTIST ENDEAVORS?
KYLE CONFEHR: Not really. The people that I interact with on a daily basis do fuel my cynicism and at times I can put that into a piece, though.
SAM PAQUETTE: I would say yes and no. Although it does take precious time away that could be spent on being musically productive, I do feel that having access to the books I’ve acquired (I have quite the library now) has influenced the direction I’m trying to go, not just musically, but in life as well. Books = Knowledge, Knowledge = Power; and knowing is half the battle.
MATT ROX: The position I have at the bookstore allows me a certain amount of alone time where I can do my job and think. I often spend that time thinking about a pieces I’m working on, marketing strategies, outlets for art sales, and funny and/or weird and/or creepy ways to combine concepts to get new art. I did once do a cartoon piece for the Half Price Books blog, but other than that, no direct art for the company has been commissioned.
COREY MUKES: My current job is totally opposite from my art work. I’ve always considered it left brain vs. right brain work. I even painted a piece called, “The Artist’s Mind”[featured in this Body above]. In it I pose the question is the left side of the brain (analytical objective day job) more important that the right side (thoughtful, intuitive, subjective art career). If you look closely at the picture you’ll see the mathematical greater than sign behind the skulls head with the paint brush. Continuing to paint enables me to feel that I’m truly using the gifts and talents God has blessed me with.
KYLE VAUGHN: Yes…and…no. Yes: I learned to write by writing and by accessing and understanding my imagination. But I learned to make my writing matter (hopefully it does) by learning about people. Teaching teaches you that (if you’re paying attention). Teaching teaches you about powerful communication. I will also note that I have had the great fortune of teaching at an excellent school for the past 11 years, one where the students generally wrote with great passion and skill. I regularly had students that inspired me and even made me jealous as a writer. Their excellence and intellectual curiosity absolutely played into my artistic endeavors.
No: There are also other pressures in the school environment that have nothing to do with art, creation, or even people. Many schools have somewhat become a business, unfortunately so. British professor and educational advisor Sir Ken Robinson says that too many schools today, most, kill creativity. As a writing teacher, I find the act of grading has zero to do with teaching writing. That is about quantifying something not quantifiable for the benefit of a system. There is nothing organic about that. I spend most of my time, or at least my energy, grading.
CLARA K. JOHNSON: I am currently seeking employment that plays into my artistic endeavors.
CHRISTOPHER DAWOOD GEORGE: Contemporary alchemy allows little room for the alienation of the self from the means of production. In this way Marx was not a disambiguationist. If I were a Marxist I might celebrate the lines drawn across the faces of others by alienation – for the sake of complete derangement of the senses (Rimbaud). Like Marx, I do not practice disambiguation.
4. HOW DO YOU BALANCE THE TIME BETWEEN YOUR ARTISTIC ENDEAVORS, YOUR CURRENT JOB, AND A FAMILY LIFE?
KYLE CONFEHR: I make sure that I set priorities. My main focus is always on my work and what I can do to develop it. But I try to make sure that I don’t allow it to overwhelm me and interfere with my secular work because a steady paycheck is also very important.
SAM PAQUETTE: Very precariously. I tend to stay up late; its when my musical juices seem to flow best. Consequently, I’m somewhat of an insomniac. Sleep is for the dead, as they say.
MATT ROX: It’s a struggle. Obviously it would be great to have that 40 hours a week to be able to dedicate to art, and I certainly am drained when I get home. Really, it’s mostly just making myself get on the horse everyday. At that point, the process of winding down and then gearing up gets easier as it becomes an engrained habit.But it’s not just balancing the day job with the art; there is also the third aspect of family time. I have my own office in the house with a door, and a pair of headphones that are really good at keeping outside noises at bay. But that sends a horrible signal to my family: “Art is more important than you.” Luckily, my family is very supportive of my artistic endeavors and I am open to interruptions and conscious of how much time I’ve been apart from them. I will make frequent excursions out of my office to talk, laugh, and relax with them. Of course, sometimes deadlines require that I sequester myself away (headphones and all) and they are very understanding.
COREY MUKES: It is a definite balancing act especially when you consider I have a 15 month old son. I work an 8 – 5 during the day, which is really a flex schedule because I can work from home. I drop my son off to school every morning, work, exercise, pick him up from school and make it home in time to cook for my son and wife. I’ll then stay up some nights until the next day painting to finish for a client or for a potential showing.
KYLE VAUGHN: Well, I’ve recently quit if that tells you anything about how well I’ve managed. Over the course of 11 years at this job, I did my best to manage a balance, but it was increasingly difficult as work load and pressures mounted year by year. Early on, I managed ok, aided by being young and energetic, no doubt! I usually reserved a couple of evenings or weekend days to write, plus one per week to attend a poetry reading. As time went on, that became more difficult. A few years ago, my work load increased by 25% at the beginning of one school year. After that, it was nearly impossible to write. This is where photography really helped, though. Photography was something I could do on the go versus having to sit and think for a couple of hours before I ever even put pen to paper, which would then require a few more hours. In time, I did learn to write differently, too, though. I essentially learned to write more quickly. This somewhat changed my writing, maybe for the better in a way. I think my writing is directed at people more so now than it was at an earlier time, when I think I was talking to myself more.
These days, I’m actually more inclined to work on photography, which as I mentioned, gives me more art vs. time. But, of course, the more I get into photography, the more time it takes, too. I recently finished my first book project, A New Light in Kalighat. The book, done with my friend Breanna Reynolds, features the portraits, life stories, and art and writing of the children served by an organization in Kolkata, India, called New Light. New Light works with the children of sex workers, children who have been victims of trafficking, and Dalit children that live in the Kalighat district of Kolkata. I spent much more time on this project than any other before. I found it the most meaningful creative project I’ve done yet.
CLARA K. JOHNSON: I find it challenging to dedicate time to securing a job. I would rather paint; create. When I was working the creating would occur after work or on breaks; during meetings at work.
CHRISTOPHER DAWOOD GEORGE: The poems can never leave the mind – they either seize or slumber. Look for the lines etched in faces, compare to the lines etched in sand. Invent ways of transformation; celebrate with a deep drink from the mud of existence.
5. HOW DO YOU MENTALLY KEEP GOING IN PURSUING YOUR ART WHILE WORKING A JOB UNRELATED TO YOUR ART?
KYLE CONFEHR: Lots of coffee, TV, and video games. I’m always looking for an opportunity to branch out to a like minded person who I can get inspiration or possible work from. I also make up projects for myself so that I’m constantly looking for ways to improve or change my work.
SAM PAQUETTE: A strong conviction, perseverance, and maximization of time. Also, seeing people get into the band and our music is always a positive, playing live as well, and experiencing the energy that goes along with our live performances.
MATT ROX: Coffee and beer! Aside from that, having a supportive family and network of friends is a huge boost. I’ve recently been trying to cultivate a larger and larger nexus of artist friends. Being able to share stories and compare work with a group of people that speak the same “secret” language I do is wonderful and encouraging. Of course, the pure joy (peppered with those infuriating moments of frustration) that is the essence of the creative process is a huge source of fuel. Seeing it in my head, watching my hands make it, sitting back and enjoying it: the three basic steps of my creative process!
COREY MUKES: What helps me hold it all together is my faith and understanding that I am creating a body of work that I pray will live on. If I wanted to just paint I would have made one painting and stopped. My passion to get all these ideas out and share them with the world drives me to continue. I flood myself with music, usually jazz to inspire me. I look at YouTube documentaries of famous artists and try to absorb the energy and hustle they’ve used to make it.
KYLE VAUGHN: As much as possible, I try to cling to the parts of my job that do have something to do with my art. But for the parts that do not, it is mentally taxing. I honestly do not think I can say I’ve come up with a good solution. I find great irony in that, seeing as how I teach English. Teaching English should have everything to do with being a writer. In my dream school, I would be able to explore writing, art, stories, poetry, music, and film alongside my students, making the process of discovery vibrant for everyone. Why shouldn’t we all enjoy learning? For that matter, I think students ought to be allowed to read and write things enjoyable to them. The curriculum from most English classes hasn’t changed in 100 years! Professional writers didn’t try to write to an audience a century ago, so why should English classes be teaching students in that way? This makes it difficult for me to maintain my mental energy for my art and for my work. Still, something optimistic in me keeps me driving toward a better day for both teaching and writing. Both are ultimately acts of optimism. I think in their best forms, they find a strong kinship in that.
CLARA K. JOHNSON: This is why I left the job. It became tortuous to wear the 9-5 corporate hat. I just want to paint!
CHRISTOPHER DAWOOD GEORGE: I often wonder – did the ancient Greek oracles have a choice in whether they practiced or not? Poets do not have a choice in the matter. Once the conversion is made there can be no separation of the self between work and poetry – poetry is simply what one does.
Thanks again to all our contributors for taking the time to answer these questions!