I Once Was Lost is a self-portrait of my adolescence using toys as metaphors to represent me and other people and events in my life. The bright colors are meant to suggest a happy façade while an exploration of the content in the circular movement of the composition reveals a cycle beginning with turmoil and ending in discovery and freedom. I am represented consistently in yellow and blue, first as Bart Simpson, then as Willie Wee Wee, next as a paint roller and sphere, and finally as Bart once again.
I was a good kid until about the age of nine, when I started getting into lots of trouble. I grew up in a tiny town on Cape Cod where there wasn’t much to do for about nine months a year that didn’t involve mischief. That mischief rapidly bloomed into full-blown criminal behavior, and at the age of thirteen, in an attempt to save me, my parents shipped me off to boarding school. That moment is represented in the painting by the doll – my mother, handing me off to the receptive hand of the institution – Milton Academy, represented by the glove. While the glove takes a human form, it cannot replace the personal touch of family. Rather than being cured, my misbehavior went underground and took a dangerous turn inward within the confines of this institution for which I was woefully unprepared. Forebodingly, a blackened glove extrudes from a waste pipe in the rear of the “institution” adjacent to me as I, now Willy Wee Wee, look terrified while confronted by a scary monster under a cloudy and turbulent sky. By now in real life I was abusing drugs and alcohol and practicing self-destructive activities. But I eventually got through this phase and maintained a straight appearance to the outside world, though I felt like an empty shell – now represented by the sullied yellow and blue paint roller with sphere perched atop – the product of institutional reform.
Together, the upstanding paint rollers represent the institution of marriage, a realm to which my wife and father-in-law accept me. It is through this union that I am eventually able to take flight, now a big, healthy winged Bart soaring over this scene of my past and reaching out to extricate myself, little Bart, just as a baby careens down toward the scene riding a glove. That is my new nuclear family coming in to obliterate my past. The spaceman just barely physically connected to the scene by a toe, is my father.
The amazing part of the story is that I did not interpret this myself. During my one stint in psychotherapy the therapist to whom I showed the painting narrated the story to me, projecting knowledge about my past onto the attributes of the painting. In reality, I had scraped together a bunch of junk that was lying around my studio and assembled it into this composition. I was consciously only concerned with aesthetics, and unaware of content. Being a skeptic, I would have dismissed the interpretation as mere rubbish had it not been spot on accurate.
It’s great when you can identify with an artist because then their work becomes so much more relevant in your mind and can have an affect on you. I really like this work and the story seems like one of fulfillment through the marriage. Almost like spiritual redemption through love.
An OM Friend’s reaction:
Musee des Beaux Arts
About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters: how well, they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
An OM Friend’s reaction:
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Brueghel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.
Saraceni, (not Beruehel) but looks more like Bart…
A great sense of dramatic and aesthetic tension in this painting. All of the smiling toys (except, perhaps little Bart) presage your later doll paintings and fruit wars where the conflicts, maliciousness and loss are more overt. Thank you for being so open about yourself. You’re extraordinary as is Open Museum in providing a forum for and encouraging your self-revelations. The date of the painting is not clear until it is enlarged (1996). It might be a good idea to make the date appear near the title. We can watch your style evolve as well…
It’s possibly a question of whether “intent” can be measured only in terms of one’s conscious decision to pursue an idea. If you believe, as I do (and I believe Scott does as well), that the unconscious can drive one’s actions, then there is no inconsistency. I believe that the need I felt to arrange and then paint personal objects demonstrates intent, whether or not I was aware of how the narrative would read.