Agrariadelic Paintings via an American Double-Bubble

“I'd probably tell you that it's easier to desire and pursue the attention of tens of millions of total strangers than it is to accept the love and loyalty of the people
closest to us.” -- William Gibson

Looking back on the social tides of twentieth century America (i.e. the 30’s to mid-60’s demand for traditionalism and the mid-60’s to early-90’s call for revolution and individuality) one could easily argue that our nation suffers from a split-personality crisis. I’m no stranger to the byproducts of this. Like many, I was born into a family of differing sympathies. This especially rang true when it came to the ideas my parents would cite when describing what it means to be American.

While growing up it was made pretty clear to me, my dad’s national culture belonged to Wister, O'Sullivan and Benton. In his mind America was a terrestrial place of fantasia farm-scapes, cowboys, steam-trains and romantic old-timey street corners. When rising to recite our pledge of allegiance (as he often did) he was standing for the freedom to work and enjoy the land; to maintain and apply what he believed had become our country’s “traditional aesthetic” and “functional infrastructure.” For him, America was a place where fruit, labor and military struggle walked hand in hand and the possibilities for outer improvement and preservation were systemically endless.

For my mom things were a bit different. Her nation belonged to Emerson, Fuller, Burroughs and the spiritual mythologies of Native America. In her eyes America wasn’t so much a geographical place as it was a concept; an opportunity where one’s afforded the freedom to explore and express one’s inner-being. Of course the shaping of the land should be reverently preserved and respected. However, in her eyes, this was a task to be primarily left up to nature; what needed expansion and attention didn’t rest so much in martial prowess, industry and field tending, but rather in our intellects, souls and various celestial abodes of retreat.

With these two very different and seemingly contradicting perspectives influencing my formative years, definitions of family and nationality tended to be pretty vague and confusing things for me. My natural teenage reaction to this of course was to simply dismiss both my parent’s perspectives as sociopolitical hogwash.

I easily convinced myself that dad’s America was a frivolous disaster area, bogged to the point of uselessness by inadaptability and industrial excess… and my mom’s model wasn’t any better. For me her transcendental utopia was nothing more than a delusion choked with intra-psychic twaddle, whiny loudmouthed protesters and excessive self-indulgence. I was proud of this exclusionary position I had fostered; and when it came time for art school my pride swelled up even more as I quickly realized that most hip academic circles viewed this sort of ideology denouncing much in the same way a pious catholic views the sacrament of reconciliation.  

Nonetheless, as time went on, it became apparent to me that my “idealess ideology” wasn’t working. What specifically happened was that when I sat down to work, images (which obviously reflected my familial past) began to appear, both in my mind's eye and on canvas. The more I tried to push them back, the more aggressively they would continue to show up. My initial attempt at rectifying this was to try and force in imagery that had little to no meaning for me simply because it seemed counter to my parents' ideals. This would provide some temporary solution, but as soon as let my guard down some sort of expression of either mom or dad’s fascinations would reappear.

I knew this wasn’t self-psychoanalysis or amateur philosophy hour, and believe me, if I could’ve done the job of creating something worthwhile without having to sort through this shit I would’ve. But, it just wasn’t the case. Noticeable signifiers from my familial heritage stubbornly wanted a voice in my work. So how could I paint pictures that obviously wanted to include them without becoming vocationally one-sided or even worse two faced?

Resolving to stick it out I began to honestly confront concepts which basically centered on this premise: The idea of zero ideology is in itself an ideal. I mean, even if I could approach my work with absolutely no concrete expectations (which is an expectation) that notion would always be idealistic since in order to have no expectations the remotest chance for them to arise must always exist.  

And the more I tossed this idea around the more it occurred to me: the stickiness about my parents’ ideals, the thing most unattractive about their hang ups, really wasn’t so much the fundamental qualities of the hang ups themselves. Rather, it was how each of them individually managed those hang ups. That is, there were clearly times when my father’s approach towards this thing we call America would have certainly helped my mom out a bit, and vice versa. But, instead of owning up to this they would both just denounce any new challenge, which could’ve been easily faced by adjusting to the outlook of the other, as simply being beneath them.  

It was also becoming more and more apparent that these incidents of challenge, these confrontational moments in life that occur in-between those that easily cater to our idyllic ways, are gifts. Why? I think it’s because this is where we are able to best adapt. This is the land of Godzilla and Gamera, the charged soil of Chernobyl’s mutant poppies, the in-between spaces where ideals are forced to evolve and progressively modify. And, it was exactly one of these in-between spaces that I was now caught up in; a place where my goals to paint were forcing me to utilize and reconcile divergent, previously expelled ideas.

And you know what? As these realizations sunk in, it dawned on me: I actually like many of the general aspects of my parents’ points of view. Even if their imaginings don’t quite represent a 100% unified reality. The idea that the freedom to pursue inner growth and spiritual awareness will only better one’s life was evidently beginning to represent something very meaningful and real to me. And the same goes for the idea that a place where we are encouraged to preserve the many traditional faces of our outer lands and inherent cultures is worth maintaining and celebrating. I just needed to find a viable way to visually balance them.

Interestingly though, in a pursuit to effectively craft paintings which united both faces of my American upbringing, I would end up turning to a south-Asian culture continents and centuries away; a place where the psychedelic symbolism of my mom’s kaleidoscopic mindset had long been perfected to a science. Thus, by looking east and west, my paintings became wholly clearer and more feasible. From here, the practicing basis for my work finally kicked in: find subjects or situations which either challenge or interest me, and introduce them to the generosity of this geo-culturally latticed framework.

I have to admit though, I’m not sure if any of my coping practices have affected my parents all too much. Which sort of sucks, because when allowed to run amuck I believe their ideologies still seem to be a tremendous source of limitation and heavy consequence for them. But, I would also be lying if I told you I haven’t found legitimate splendor there. I’m glad my drive to paint forced me to take a closer look at my parental legacy. I just hope that the next time the functioning world doesn’t quite line up with my parents’ ideals, they (or anyone else who’s hung up on rigid expectations) are able to roll with it and maybe even modify their beliefs accordingly… which, when you come to think of it, is a pretty idealistic thought.

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Painting Titles & Descriptions
This gallery contains some of my first attempts at working alongside the western-oriental vehicle I set up for myself.  Challenges would abound for sure: working within and around conventions, fashioning paintings that would stand free from the assistance of a rhetorical crutch and respectfully assimilating a non-indigenous culture were just a few. I like to think that some of these pieces rise to the occasion, while I'm sure others naturally fall short. Everything here represents a rewarding time of trial and growth for me as a painter though, and I’m certainly grateful for that. So, regardless of whatever future directions I may find myself gravitating towards, I think it’s fairly safe to assume that I will always look back on most of this initial work as a worthwhile start.

The paintings featured here roughly span a period of four years, 2004 through 2007. However, I’ve also included images from the very first large piece I ever produced which aimed to blend American and South-Asian imagery (Tri-Guna Stew, 1995). It’s a rather rough colored pencil rendering, but it did set the tone for much to come. A final note: although all of the work in this gallery strives to continue with many of the motifs found in the work of the Regionalists, not all of it pays homage to the symbolism of South-Asia. This mainly has to do with the fact that some of the subject matter addressed here (especially in regards to the various group shows which fashionably arose during this period) seemed to call for more western stylings.

1)    Tri-Guna Stew (1995)
Description: This is one of the very first pieces I did in the vein of American and South-Asian aesthetic harmony. It features the Trifecta of Lakshmi, Saraswati and Kali as well as Radha and Krishna.

2)    American Tara -- In White. (2004)
Description: Tara: (Sanskrit-Star) one of the most beloved deities of Tibet.  Having vowed (after being advised of the spiritual advantages of male birth) never to relinquish her female form, Tara symbolizes the universes’ role as cosmic mother of all… even the bad kids in America.  Omerica solo show, C-pop Gallery, 2005.

3)    American Tara -- In Green. (2004)
Description: Tara again (but in her green form) accompanying a tractor and sunflowers of a benevolent nature. Omerica solo show, C-pop Gallery, 2005.

4)    The Otiosity of Patsy Cline. (2004)
Description: A tribute to a recreate goddess of the pop-music scene, ironically stolen from us (all too soon) by promoters of the hastened lifestyle.  This piece is all about the fine art of disengagement… the willingness to forfeit practicalities and responsibility in exchange for romantic searches in the moonlight. Note: I have been criticized by several Cline fans for my use of the word “Otiosity” to describe this piece. I used the word here in the Latin sense, to be idle, not in the American sense which often tends to liken this word with stupidity. Omerica solo show, C-pop Gallery, 2005.

5)     American Surrealchemist. (2004)
Description: Agrarian, gothic bromide at its finest.  Magic things are always happening, and they’re closer than you think. Omerica solo show, C-pop Gallery, 2005.

6)    The Vacant Promises of Harold Hill. (2004)
Description: If someone makes you an offer that sounds too good to be true, be sure to take them up on it, especially if there’s a fugue involved. Omerica solo show, C-pop Gallery, 2005.

7)    Cinco De Diciembre. (2004)
Description: Krampus and consort, safe at home… contemplating their lot.  Krampus group show, Copro Gallery, 2004.

8)    Annuit Coeptis., Providence Has Favored Our Undertaking. (2004)
Description: A commoner’s take on escaping the insistence of reciprocity in a hard day’s work. This piece went missing in transit via Fedex, if anyone knows of its whereabouts please feel free to share. Omerica solo show, C-pop Gallery, 2005.

9)    Novus Ordo Seclorum, A New Order of The Ages. (2004)
Description: There’s other ways of learning about the confines of a theocratic plutocracy than creating one. This piece went missing in transit via Fedex, if anyone knows of its whereabouts please feel free to share. Omerica solo show, C-pop Gallery, 2005.

10)  War of the Goo-nuhs. (2004)
Description: Guna: Sanskrit-cord or strand, The only three perceptual qualities of our illusionary existence.  1) The total, concealing quality of tamas, 2) The false, projecting quality of rajas, 3) The semi-revealing quality of sattva.     According to certain circles, the bulk of humanity exists in a stinted dream.   Constantly bound by varying degrees of the three gunas, we live out our lives like blind marionettes, manipulated by stimuli that at best offers only pale reflections of our true, unlimited nature. Eye of The Illuminati group show, Copro Gallery, 2005.

11)  National Narcissist – 1845 (2005)
Description: The first of three paintings, in an ode to Thomas Cole’s “The Course of Empire” series, which visual comment on the Biblical tale of Adam and Eve and the rise and fall of oil consumption in America - The mighty arms of karma hold the heavens from the earth. Omerica solo show, C-pop Gallery, 2005.

12)  National Narcissist – 1945 (2005)
Description: The second of these three paintings - The mighty arms of karma bring the heavens to the earth. Omerica solo show, C-pop Gallery, 2005.

13)  National Narcissist – 2045 (2005)
Description: The last of these three paintings - The mighty arms of karma robthe heavens from the earth. Omerica solo show, C-pop Gallery, 2005.

14)  La Negra de la Luna. (2005)
Description: Kali and Shiva happily at home in rural America. Omerica solo show, C-pop Gallery, 2005.

15)  Parson Al’s Fable. (2005)
Description: A Regionalist take on Hitchcock’s classic celluloid tale describing the potential horrors of an underlying psychosis. Static Cinema group show,” C-Pop Gallery, 2005.

16)  Victorian Sacrifice. (2005)
Description: The consecration of the cultural harvest.  To receive everything, one must be willing to give the same. Samhain group show, Copro Gallery, 2005.

17)  Victorian Sacrifice II. (2005)
Description: Chinnamasta dances in the theater of the neo-American scene. Samhain group show, Copro Gallery, 2005.  

18)  Ganapati Ice Creams. (2005)
Description: All I know is that every once in a while in my neighborhood this amazingly cool guy comes around.   He drives an ice cream truck, loves his job and has a pretty good singing voice … for an elephant god.

19)  Manifold Temerity. (2005)
Description: A continuing exploration into the phenomenon of cultural superiority, and cross-cultural experimentation, within the frontiers of an egalitarian nation.

20)  Fabricating Evil. (2006)
Description: Nostradamus group show, Copro Gallery, 2006.

21)  Apocalyptic Popcorn. (2006)
Description: Secular Bravado against the certainty of ecumenical doom. Nostradamus group show, Copro Gallery, 2006.

22)  The Ballad of Anissa Jones. (2006)
Description: Small oil painting on wood of one of my favorite T.V. child stars

23)  Organized Fundamentalism in the Garden of Existential Relativity (2006)
Description: Ratzinger waging war on all the floral, mutant hybrids.

24)  The Calories of Conspicuous Blue-Collarism. (2006)
Description: A symbolic look at the hazards of over commercializing a good name. Von Dutch group show, Copro Gallery, 2006. 

25)  Daughters of Evolution I. (2006)
Description: Daughters of Evolution: One of three paintings, based on Grant Wood’s Daughters of Revolution, which explore the evolution of feminine dynamism in America -- from stuffy, ultra-national tea sippers to suicide goddesses gone weird. Bergamot Invasion II group show, Copro Gallery, 2006.

26) Truman’s Eden & The Neuroses of Sayyid Qutb. (2006)
Description: A visual exploration into the defining elements of the American dream and the envy they are capable of unleashing. Copro Gallery 15th Anniversary group show, 2006.

27) The Translation of Lal-Dade. (2007)
Description: Lal Ded or Lalla was a 14th century, Kashmiri Shaivite poetess. Little is known of her life apart from an immense proliferation of stories, which attest to her popularity, but cannot be verified historically.  She composed many verse sayings which are often direct and simple.  But, many of them are complex in their associations, so much so that translations cannot convey why they are so deeply loved among many Kashmiris, both Hindu and Muslim.  This painting attempts to visually comment on both the mysteriousness and beauty of this famous poetess.  

       Charles Wish     Copyright 2007

      Charles Wish
    Copyright 2007