The Bone Yard
Let me just start by saying that I am by no means a blogger, much less a writer. However, because many have asked about my recent skeleton pieces & the inspiration behind them I’ve decided to write it all down. If you were expecting a short explanation, I sincerely apologize.
Rewind about 3 years ago to my junior year of college. I was in Drawing II & our first assignment was to skillfully & accurately draw the human skeletal system. Naturally, I put off the assignment until the night before. My poor roommates at the time had to witness a lot of verbal frustration, tears & charcoal being smudged into our carpet. I truly got headaches drawing the ribs & vertebrates and seriously considered taking a 0 for the assignment. Even still, to this day those drawings are some of my favorite things that I’ve ever made. The late Tony Csavas was my professor at that point and unknown to me at the time, but he was to play a key role in my artistic life.
Funny enough, I only took two actual painting classes in college. I concentrated mostly in old school film photography, but in order to get all my credits for a Studio Art degree I had to take some painting classes. The spring semester of my junior year, Tony Csavas was now my painting professor. I already knew at this point that I had a pretty distinct style of my own & was finally not terrified of it or ashamed. Tony was a big reason for that. “There’s a lot of art that I hate, but I’m really glad that people are making it”. I’ve thought about those words of Tony’s a lot. Tony encouraged me and gave me confidence in my art for which I am so grateful. Our final assignment in his class was to paint a subject matter of personal significance. At the time, a sweet & longtime friend of mine had recently become sober after years of addiction and began walking with Jesus. The reversal was so miraculous to me that I couldn’t think of anything else to paint but him.
Everyone loved the painting, I loved it- it was great. Days later, Tony, like too many creative & beautiful minds, chose to leave this world. I was shocked, confused & obviously really sad. When I brought the painting home, a friend of mine said “ I love how you painted ‘God’ into his hair”. I thought she was seeing things or just confused. But low & behold, plain as day, “GOD” was spelled out in block letters in his hair. I had nothing to do with that. It was super bizarre & undeniably the work of the Lord. Long story short, I took that as a sign that God was most definitely in art & I felt that I was being called to keep creating. I also kept being reminded of life and death. It is my own belief that until with Jesus we’re all kind of like those skeletons I drew, in need of His breath & life.
I didn’t take anymore painting classes my senior year- going back to the classroom was haunting & honestly I just didn’t really want to take a class unless Tony was teaching it. So for about a year I painted out of my tiny bedroom, mostly doing commissions.
A few months before I graduated I got a studio & had my first solo show. On June 17, I finished a commission of a stained glass window from Trinity Church. Minutes later, 9 people were killed a few blocks away at Mother Emmanuel. Yet again, a much too real depiction of life & death. We were all changed by what happened that day & my love for Charleston grew even more as I saw a city unite in peace.
I had my first painting ‘release’ online at the end of that summer. I struggle a lot with anxiety & let me assure you that on that day I was a nervous wreck. I was seriously so shocked & thankful at the sales. I truly couldn’t believe it. My next body of work was for a show in my hometown Columbus, Ga. I had 28 pieces & sold around 20. While I should have been leaping for joy & incredibly grateful- all I could think about was the fact that 9 or 10 didn’t sell which then caused a lot of comparison & anxiety. There were some other personal issues going on, like figuring out if I was supposed to leave Charleston & move somewhere new that lead to my anxiety. But in short, I felt constricted and very trapped.
Towards the end of the fall of 2015, I decided to move to Austin, Texas to live with one of my best friends from college. I was stoked. I think I was also relieved to be moving somewhere that I wouldn’t feel trapped creatively in my own mind. Charleston is home to a very talented number of artists & in my own sin, I constantly compared myself to their successes forgetting that I was only 22 & had only been doing this whole painting thing for about 7 months.
In mid-January, a sweet cousin of mine & friend passed away suddenly. He was only 25 & one of the greatest people that I had the short pleasure of knowing. It was after this, that I think I allowed myself to become numb to a lot of things.
February through June was not pretty. I felt dry in nearly every capacity. I felt guilty and crazy for not enjoying painting as much as I once had. I felt crazy for not being able to appreciate and be proud of the successes I had as a young artist. I was also going through a pretty dry season spiritually, which didn’t help anything. So I decided to paint something that I really loved, which were scenes from Charleston. They were to be my swansong as a Charleston artist before my big move. I received much praise for the body of work & thought that surely this would be the turning point. With all those Instagram likes and comments surely they’d sell out like hot cakes. I sold 9 at my show and then when put on my website- just crickets. Nothing. I felt like a total failure. Those paintings were super personal and at that point, the best things I had painted in my opinion. So, needless to say, I was not a happy camper. I very much considered putting away my paints & brushes. And I know I sold 9, don’t ask me why I couldn’t be happy about that.
Towards the end of April, a little wrench was thrown in my plan to move to Austin. My best friend had fallen in love & was moving to Houston to be with her man. I was not angry at all I was really excited for her. However, from then on I experienced excruciating anxiety about my future, my art and myself. Naturally, I had decided to go off of my anxiety medication around January, so coping with all that fear and those anxious thoughts was not going too well.
Because I said I was moving, I felt like I had to move in order to not look like a complete fool. That’s never a good reason to do something. Nonetheless, I decided that I would move home to my parents’ guesthouse back in GA for a few months to figure out where I should move next. Because of the anxiety, I tried to take control of my situation. I wasn’t trusting in the Lord that He’d provide somewhere better. Looking back on it, I think I actually tried ignoring Him. Also, selfishly, I was okay with living at home for a while because I had grown quite fond of a guy that lived nearby. Clearly, I was not in a very healthy place mentally or spiritually. When I realized I was acting a fool, I sprinted back to Charleston.
Sometimes God’s timing is super slow & sometimes He makes things clear in about 24 hours. I was encouraged to come to a meeting at Redux (where my studio is). I didn’t really know why they invited me since I was to move in like a month. But I went. Turns out, Redux is moving to a sweet new building with spacious and dreamy studios. Another friend & artist from Columbus called me and encouraged me to stay in Charleston, which meant a ton. So at that point, I felt like I really wanted to stay.
It all happened super fast, me deciding to stay here in Charleston. & as soon as I decided to stay, I felt like a wave of sweet relief & freedom had been washed over me. I also learned to laugh a lot at the chain of events that lead me back here.
I think a lot of the anxiety I was experiencing relating to my art was that I feared it being meaningless. I could paint a flower or a piece of fruit all day, but it didn’t mean anything to me. And because art is personal, despite what new media art critics would say, I guess personally, I desired it to mean something bigger than myself.
Now to the purpose of this novella: how did I come to paint skeletons? 1. I wanted a challenge & as I mentioned earlier, those are the hardest things I’ve ever drawn. 2. A majority of my immediate family has Lyme disease. An illness that is both ignored & not treated by most doctors. Its effects over decades on my family was to me another picture of life & death. 3. It’s a reminder to me that I have been given Life, that I’m no longer doomed to a grave but welcomed into His own body. 4. Another wonderful friend pointed me to Ezekiel 37 “The Valley of Dry Bones”. For a while I felt like a pile of dry bones. I know I felt that way because I was trying to satisfy my soul 1. by myself and 2. with things I already knew only offered temporary satisfaction. I know I’m only 23, but I also know that the only time in my life that I feel full or complete is when I look for life in Jesus. It is only through Him that He takes my bones, my brokenness & makes me an instrument of His own creative genius.
So. Why am I painting skeletons? Because in a world where death is around every corner & the world tells me that life is found in success, beauty, or anything else- I see a God breathing life & color into a land full of dry, broken bones.