There is No (W)hole
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 adult children’s’ 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, like myself, 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 it was very therapeutic to put into words the complex feelings I had usually only drawn. After writing eight or nine poems, I realized it was not something I was not particularly good at nor was interested in pursuing further. However, by going through the exercise of writing poems for each drawing, I realized it 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.
Around the time I stopped writing poems, 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 usually 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. 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 There is No (W)hole 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.
Since finishing the current draft of There is No (W)hole, I have shared excerpts of the narrative in different art shows (2017, 2014) and presented my process and methodology at different conferences (2016, 2017). I am currently seeking the publisher to work with me in fine tuning the project and share it in physical book form with a broader audience. The following link is video recording of an early lecture about There is No (W)hole that I gave 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.
(section last updated May 10, 2017)
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Bousfield, N. (2010). Walking shadows: A novel without words. San Francisco: Manic D Press.
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The MIT Press.
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Drooker, E. (2007). Flood!: A novel in pictures. Milwaukie, OR: Dark Horse Books.
Dr. Seuss. (1990) Oh, the places you’ll go. New York, NY: Random House.
Homer, S. (2005). Jacques Lacan. New York, NY: Routledge.
Horwat, J. (2017). Original Comic Creators. [Pen & Ink] Exhibited at Studio 659, Whiting, IN, June 10-August 6.
Horwat, J. (2017). There is No (W)hole: Using Wordless novel as arts based research to Democratize Psychoanalytic Theory, International Conference of Qualitative Inquiry, May 17, Champaign-Urbana, IL.
Horwat, J. (2016). There is no (w)hole: A reading. Cultural Rhetoric Conference, September 24, East Lansing, MI.
Horwat, J. (2016). Beyond the artist-teacher fantasy: A Lacanian psychoanalytic investigation of
K-12 art teachers' artist identities (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from
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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Ward, L. (2009). Vertigo: A novel in woodcuts. New York, NY: Dover Publications.
Ward, L. (2004). Gods’ man: A novel in woodcuts. New York, NY: Dover Publications.