Nothing is a Cure
(2009-2021) Quickly after creating the paintings for a previous series (see project: The Same New Conclusion), I noticed a narrative emerging about identity, attachment, and a pursuit for a lasting happiness. This narrative was told allegorically through an underwear clad protagonist—Charlie—and his relationship with both positive and negative objects of attachment. Initially I sought to further develop this self-help autobiographical allegory as an illustrated children’s book for adults entitled, The Same New Conclusion Could be the Cure. I wanted to create a darker, more poignant, contemporary version of Dr. Seuss’s (1990) Oh, The Places You’ll Go—whose book I felt combined beautiful and honest pieces of wisdom with whimsical Seussian landscapes. However, I wanted my version to be more directed at populations struggling with depression, anxiety, or other emotional ailments. I wanted to provide the kind of comfort I needed at the height of my own distress. I wrote several short poems based on previous watercolor paintings I had created while drafting black and white ink drawings that expanded the visual narrative*. The process of writing poems** was something I had never done before and was very therapeutic to put into words the complex feelings I had usually only drawn. The exercise of writing poems for each drawing helped me to develop more complex subject matter and expand the visual language I was using—thus realizing the important relationship between writing and conceptualizing new visual imagery.
While working on this project, I discovered David Beröna’s (2008) Wordless Books: The Original Graphic Novels, a compilation of excerpts of early 20th century wordless wood block books that introduced me to the work of Frans Masereal (2007,2006) and Lynd Ward (2009, 2004). The way these artists created complex narratives using only their own respective visual languages resonated with greatly. I began to seek out other wordless graphic novels like Max Ernst’s (1976) Une Semaine de Bonté, Shaun Tan’s (2007) The Arrival, Eric Drooker’s (2007) Flood, and Nick Bousfield’s (2010) Walking Shadows: A Novel without Words, and later by Marnie Galloway’s (2016) In the Seas and Sounds. Discovering the wordless book genre opened new possibilities for my self-help allegory project and helped me to situate the kind of project I wanted to create—a wordless surreal autobiographical allegory.
This narrative transformed into is final iteration when I began working on a PhD in art education and studied the psychoanalytic theories of Jacques Lacan which I would use as the theoretical framework for my dissertation (2016). One of Lacan’s key concepts, the objet a, intrigued me. The objet a is the search that which we lost but never had, the search for something we don’t know personally but innately feel we need (Lacan, 2006; Homer, 2005). I began to think about the objects Charlie sought in previous artworks—the pin cushion and broken tea cup—as Charlie’s desire made manifest as actual objects. I wanted to better understand the objet a and Lacan’s conceptualization of identity, desire, and lack by exploring these ideas by using the visual language I developed in previous graphic works. By drawing through these difficult theories, I (re)constructed those ideas into a form of knowledge I could understand. This process helped me in writing my dissertation, but also provided me a level of expertise that let me question if I could teach others, via parable, about the insights I discovered.
Writing my dissertation, reflecting on my previous years of studying Buddhism, and sketching through Lacanian concepts, led to the development of a narrative about finding lasting happiness despite an innate sense of desire to fill an existential lack—inherent in all beings—that leaves us feeling empty and incomplete. Confronted by his lack of completeness, Charlie embarks upon a lonely journey through a surreal checker-board floored labyrinth where he finds different objects (the pin cushion and a broken tea cup) he grasps to fill his sense of perceived hole. Along his journey, the protagonist is also intimidated by the relentless aggression of a pack of angry geese, misled by an insidious owl, and coached by a seemingly benevolent crane. He also encounters the mysterious workings of the surreal world where he gains a greater understanding of his own mortality. These different challenges and obstacles he faces only seem to strengthen his conviction to understand the very nature of his existential dilemma. The allegory climaxes when the protagonist comes to the profound realization that to be happy—to feel whole—he must simply must accept his incompleteness as a gift that connects him with all things in the universe. Thus Nothing is a Cure is a visual exploration of a dialogue between my own lived experiences, Lacanian psychoanalysis’s conception of endless desire, and Buddhist philosophy’s teaching on acceptance and happiness.
Nothing is a Cure is being published by Wolfson Press and will be released mid 2021.
The following link is video recording of an early lecture about the project I delivered at Indiana University South Bend in October of 2015***. Enjoy: https://vimeo.com/143989086.
* See The Same New Conclusion and look at The Fortress, Fallen, Easter Sunday, and Black Friday for some examples of these drawings—the paintings).
**The poems I wrote were objectively terrible and will likely never see the light of day.
***Nothing is a Cure is known by its former title, There is No (W)hole, in all scholarship and written documentation of the project prior to Fall 2020 as production of the book began with Wolfson Press.
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Galloway, M. (2016). In the seas and sounds. Long Island City, NY: One Peace Books,
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Horwat, J. (2017). Original Comic Creators. [Pen & Ink] Exhibited at Studio 659, Whiting, IN, June 10-August 6.
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K-12 art teachers' artist identities (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/2142/90496
Horwat. (2014). A little touched by otherwise alright. [Pen & Ink] Exhibited at the Figure One Gallery, Champaign, IL, September 5-October 4.
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