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Thesis Paper

MFA Thesis Paper

My MFA Thesis Paper with $5 Binding at Kinkos

A Stack of Books about new media art and critical theory

Some resources

My thesis paper is finally complete!  It was not without challenges as I tried to synthesize a large amount of information and a wide range of topics into 35 pages.  While a lot of people scoff at the idea of a written portion of a thesis project for an art degree, writing has always been a way for me to organize my thoughts so this was helpful for me as an artist.  Most of the ideas in the paper I have been blogging about or will blog about anyway, but if you have trouble sleeping e-mail me and I will send you the entire document…

I am going to submit my paper and then to the final installment of Launch: MFA Thesis Exhibitions.  This will be my last official event as a graduate student.  Tonight, champagne!

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Common Threads

My MFA thesis will be continued work on this project that began last summer at Joshua Tree, which is tentatively (and somewhat arbitrarily) named Solgonda.  Above are a few images from a recent exhibition at 840 Gallery at DAAP.  I had intended to shift gears after this show, but I found that I could not stop working on this thing. Instead, I am hoping to present the ever-growing project in a larger format (projection or larger screen or screens) in the spring as a more varied investigation of the visual language of photography, digital art, and science. Everything begins with photography but I am using HTML, PHP, and javascript, to create interactive music and visuals, and exploring themes including:

  • art as information
  • information as art
  • information and code
  • images as code
  • systems of organization and categorization
  • language systems
  • networks
  • buildings
  • clues and puzzles
  • magic and mystery
  • artifacts
  • geology and landscape
  • history
  • wonder (vs. alienation)
  • Simulacra
  • Archive as art
  • Collecting as destruction or preservation
  • Image making as collecting
  • Visual Anthropology
  • ethnography

This list arose as I attempted to find some common threads or links between my last paintings of boxes and the accompanying interactive web project, mintabox.com, and my current research which came out of the Joshua Tree trip but continues to evolve.

Even though I am working a lot with the computer lately, I still think of myself as a painter. Now I am creating interactive paintings. I am also working on a series of 10″ x 10″ static paintings and art objects which I am hoping to show with this project or shortly thereafter. These came about during bouts of occasional frustration with code, which gave rise to an accompanying need to do something physical. They are also round-about solutions to the challenges of commodifying internet art. I will post some images of those soon.

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The Joy of Trickery (This Is Not A Pipe)

In Newport, Kentucky just on the other side of the river from Cincinnati, Ohio sits a huge old mansion on a hill called the Southgate House.  When Abraham Lincoln visited the house it must have overlooked the beautiful Ohio river where you could watch the striped swimsuit bathers on the river beaches in the summers.  Now, The Southgate House overlooks Newport on the Levy, an enormous new development that is an indoor and outdoor mall flanked by fake Italian restaurants with freshly painted beige walls.  But inside the Southgate House history is everywhere; you can feel the ghosts in the cracked walls and see the aged framed portraits of mustachioed dead guys.  The word “House” is kind of misleading, as the structure underwent a massive extension to the back side at some point so that it now includes a massive ballroom.  The two-tiered room has red curtains and a speakeasy vibe, which seems appropriate when you learn that Frank Sinatra once performed on the stage where we would perform on December 17th, 2010.

To celebrate the release of my solo album Alchemy, i invited Chris Oberle, a Cincinnati area illusionist and conveniently a big July For Kings fan, to open the show.  My album Alchemy contains the word “magic” 50* times, so it seemed fitting that we would have a magician open for us.  * i just made that number up.

i had only communicated with Chris online.  Chris told me he had created his own tricks (sold by www.closeupartists.com) and crossed paths with David Blaine a few times.  Oberle seemed pretty legit so invited him to perform with us.  In the weeks before the event, Chris and i began hanging out and i got to see some amazing close-up magic.  in the first few minutes, i was a bit skeptical, as that is the natural human disposition toward magicians.  as Chris continued to perform i became a believer.  what is amazing is not only the quickness and thoroughness of his illusions but the sheer amount of tricks he can improvise with complete mastery.  cards move around, rings disappear, minds are read–and blown.  now i was feeling quite satisfied, having wrangled a real magician into performing with us at a mysterious, enormous and allegedly haunted house to celebrate the release of my dark new album.  naturally, i asked Chris the question i had been waiting my whole life to ask a magician: “can you make me disappear?”

flash forward to the evening of our Southgate House show, December 17.  by now i hope you know where this is going.  Chris performs a good opening set of illusions assisted by another magician Jason Jacobs, my friend and fellow singer/songwriter Samuel Lockridge plays an incredibly moving selection of original songs, and we are playing our set, which goes reasonably well.  I am performing with JFK members who had graciously agreed to learn and perform songs from my two solo albums Curvature and Alchemy.  Occasionally we are joined onstage by Chris as we attempt to weave some illusions into the music portion of the evening.  we closed the show with a song called “Magic”, the first track on Alchemy.  At the end of the song, there is a long dark instrumental section, which we extended for this show.  For the grand finale, Brian our bassist and John our guitarist leave the stage as my long-time drummer Dan McQuinn emerges from behind the drum set and begins wrapping me in a shiny purple cloth. This is the moment of truth.

at soundcheck, just a few hours before the moment of truth, we botched the illusion completely.

in the same way a rock band learns songs and practices them relentlessly until they are correct, Chris, Dan, and I rehearsed the illusion in the weeks leading up to the event until it felt right.  At first, we were instructed by a veteran Cincinnati area magician and escape artist, Phil Dalton, who Chris brought in to teach us the basics and give us pointers.  Once the trick began to shape up, we performed for John and Brian as they pointed out small mistakes until the illusion looked like real magic.  what i learned about stage and close-up illusions in the course of the few weeks during my pseudo-magician internship with Chris, is that there are few “magic” props that eliminate the need for human skill.  each trick requires a particular combination of timing, dexterity, and patience in different dosages.

all of that rehearsing seemed for naught when, with John and Brian watching again as the only two members of our audience, our sole attempt at the trick during sound-check at the Southgate House looked like an absolute joke.  we left the stage dejected.  the doors of the venue were opening and people began filing in so there was no time for another run-through.  John and Brian began expressing doubts that we should even attempt the stunt in front of a large crowd–it could be the most embarrassing, awkward ending to a concert ever.  but after a month of preparation, i decide we will take our chances and attempt to fulfill my dream of disappearing onstage, a dream that took hold when i was eleven as i watched David Copperfield perform live at a theater in Cincinnati with my father.

Where were we?  At the end of our last song “Magic”, Dan wraps me in a shiny purple cloth.  The audience is confused.  In literally a matter of seconds, the cloth drops to reveal not me but magician Chris Oberle standing on stage in my place, who points a finger and directs the audience to look up at me–standing in the balcony behind them!  a group of people standing in the balcony is completely oblivious until the moment of my appearance a mere five feet beside them.  they spin around and gasp saying “he is quick!” as the room fills with applause and the house lights come on.

“how is it done?” you might ask.  well, there are a lot of ways one might disappear and reappear or switch places with a magician: trap doors, body doubles, underground tunnels–we used none of these, honestly.  it was magic!  if i was talking about a song, i would tell you exactly how it was created, and that would enrich your experience.  this is not the case with magic tricks.

it is no coincidence that david blaine and chris angel and a host of other illusionists have enjoyed greater popularity in recent years.  we live in a paranoid society where missing the “real” truth could mean voting for the lying candidate, drinking from the water bottle that leeches toxic chemicals, or believing in a god that does not exist.  we no longer trust our government, our corporations, or our religious institutions.  And maybe we never did?  but access to a deluge of conflicting and vitriolic information has rendered us almost incapable of trust, and more vocal about our lack of faith.  ideology colors everything.  and as we slowly begin to realize that our ideologies are ephemeral and socially constructed, we cling ever more tightly to our precepts, lest they lose all of their fundamental power.

ironically, a magic trick gives us something to believe in.  we know it isn’t real, but as we are thrust into the moment, that suspension of disbelief is genuine refuge from the misery of postmodern paranoia.  and the real kicker is that the only consequence of being so completely fooled is pure joy–a net positive instead of a negative.

during my one-minute career as a performing illusionist i felt the rush that comes with breaking laws and rules, with doing something bad for the sake of being bad.  but we weren’t robbing a bank.  we were using lies and deception to bring joy into our own lives and into the lives of the audience.  as the supposedly magic purple cloth first touched my body, the timing was perfect.  it just felt right.  i knew we had nailed it.

but magicians are not the only weavers of illusion.  every act of creation is at once a truth and a lie.  every artist–including painters, songwriters, movie directors, poets, and so on–is a magician, an alchemist.  we take from reality and reconstruct a world that does not truly exist, a world that is a mere reflection, a lie of the “real” world.  we are thieves and liars of the best sort.  here is to the tricksters, to the craftsmen of ruses, to every act of amiable social deviance!  Thanks to Chris, my band, and everyone who came to the show and continues to support my music.

now you see me, now you don’t!

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college degrees, brand-building, justifications, cereals

Holy crap I have a new website! And a place to blog again. I hope you are well. It has been a long while since I have written. Let’s catch up!

I have graduated from Northern Kentucky University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts, Studio Arts with an Emphasis in Painting. I have been accepted into the graduate program at the University of Cincinnati to pursue a Masters of Fine Art. That begins in the fall.

With some extra time on my hands the last few months I created this website for my solo music, and a website for my visual art. I am working on a new jfk site as well.  My old website became outdated both in terms of content and web accessibility. In the process of creating the new site I went back and dug out some extremely old blogs (from before the word blog existed, as i like to say) from the early July For Kings days.  Unfortunately I lost some photos for some posts in 2005 and 2006. But all the text is intact. If you are long-time fan (or former band member, for that matter) it is entertaining reading. Some of the writing is rather bland but it does at the very least, say what happened. Which at the time was all an “online journal” was supposed to do. I guess now a blog is supposed to be interesting. Ha!  i have created a category called Favorites for entries that were intentionally or accidentally interesting to read.

We played a July For Kings show in Dayton, OH at McGuffy’s last week with Smalltown Sleeper that confirmed our deepest suspicions–we still have fans!  and lots of them!  we were overjoyed by the turnout and really encouraged.  it had been a while since we had played with JFK (and longer since we had promoted much).  the timing is perfect as well, since I have written a more guitar-oriented, driving July for Kings album. I have demos that I am really excited about and continue to record but no, sorry, you cannot hear them as i am singing in a half-assed falsetto so as not to disturb my neighbors.  We will begin recording the masters in the next few weeks, and i will do some real singing and possibly even some throat-ripping screaming, which i have not done on an album in a very long while. I will write more about that as it unfolds. It is still early–we are expecting at least four or five months until you can hear anything–but I am excited about doing something more rocking, coming off my solo album Alchemy.  Alchemy was well-received but probably would not be described as hard rocking.  increasingly, jfk and my solo adventures are different entities, and that is very fun for me since i must constantly create, and i can’t make the same kind of pie every day because i may have adhd or add or aaaaaahhhh i want a gourmet ice cream sandwich!  wowow okay.

also, i have found that there is little tolerance for variety when it comes to artists.  we have come to see creators like companies.  artists build brands the same way corporations do, and don’t stray from their brand much (see shepherd fairey).  if you are a rock band, you have a stylistic thing and do it over and over.  if you are a visual artist, you make the same kind of painting over and over.  there are some exceptions to the rule (Picasso, Radiohead), but many times the people who have gotten away with this have done so because their entire schtick has been eclecticism.  since i am no radiohead or picasso, it is easiest to divide my life into different categories or brands, which has been a good way to direct my energy.  right now it is Alt-Rock Frontman, Prog-Electro-Folk Singer-Songwriter, and painter.  any pursuit i get into is going to have its own set of rules, so it is easiest to kind of keep those lines drawn.  i am not sure why i started writing this.  i guess i spend a lot of time justifying myself, which is what happens when you go to art school.  see how i just justified the reason i was justifying myself?!  after i get my masters degree, i probably won’t be able to think or create at all!  i will be in a paralyzing coma that alternates between self-doubt, self-justification, and fear.  i hope though, that i will have Mom’s Best Naturals Mallow-Oats cereal, my favorite new cereal.

Speaking of cereal, I only have one really great story since the last time I wrote a blog, and it has nothing to do with cereal.  the story takes place at the Alchemy full-band show in the historic ballroom at the Southgate House.  I will post it after this.  it seems that life is just not as interesting as it was when i was trekking all over europe during the summer.  but it would be a shame to exclude this one story, even if the telling is belated, as it contains suspense, American history, deception, philosophy and more.  all of that wrapped up in less than sixty seconds of my life.  yes, really!  the sixty seconds i was a magician.

That is the update for now.  xoxox

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