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SYNCRETIC BEGINNINGS
A Reckoning of Ideals & Appearances

I enjoyably spend a lot of time making cross-referenced Indo-American art. Can’t rightly say what any of this means, but what I can do is share the story of how this situation came to be… as well as some of the ideas it’s inspired.

“Aesthetic sense is the twin of one's instinct for self-preservation and is more reliable than ethics.”
--
Joseph Brodsky

Like many 20th century Americans I was born into a home under the influence of a diverse mix of sentiments. Dad was definitely a Goldwater conservative where mom was more a mix of Vito Paulekas and Lorrie Collins. And you know what, from an existential standpoint, I absolutely adored the crisscross environment these two distinct personalities had set up for themselves. Everything about their place felt like home to me, so much so that attempting to recreate the entwined ambiance from this time has long been a continuing obsession.

Generating a peculiar correlation where nostalgia courts the spiritual, it’s long been clear to me that my dad is a person who’s thoughts are intensely connected to a past that doesn’t quite equal whatever present he may find himself in; while my mom’s thoughts have always seemed part of some parallel world (that may very well influence this one) but still exists somewhere majestically over yonder. And, when I think back on some of my earliest exposures to these abstract sentiments there are certainly reminiscences of their corresponding objects and scenes, but at the forefront of everything there’s also this unified apparition of my mom and dad’s inner workings and imaginations.

I’ve noticed that there has been a lot of theoretical discussion lately about how we really don’t have any memories of our earliest childhood experiences; that we just make them up later on as “mental constructs,” recreated from the basis of reoccurring photographic exposure. While these observations may hold some weight for more picture saturated smartphone generations, for me I can honestly say they really don’t wash. I have crystal-clear memories of my earliest childhood that are just as much visceral as imagistic and what’s more when I look at the photographs from this time (which in my case are few and far between) they really seem quite one dimensional and nothing like my memories at all.

Nevertheless, this union of theirs (and its mechanisms for generating memories) wouldn’t last past my third birthday. Following this final breakup both my parents would move into their own small apartments. I didn’t care much for these new post-marital environments at all. They were bland and stagnant; it would seem that on their own neither of my parents could outwardly express themselves in their surrounding décor to the same degree as when they were united. This didn’t last long though, as both of them would soon find new partners, ones who were more in line with each of their differing points of view, and would go on to create up-to-date homes for themselves with these newfound love interests.

These second-second-time-around residences were definitely more expressive and robust than the apartments. But, they were also obvious attempts at quarantining themselves from the opposing aesthetics (and the ideals) of their previous relationships. Mom’s new place was buoyant new-age liberal with a dash of Amerindian/country-western, while dad’s was restrained catholic conservative with touches of Hopper and Tchaikovsky. Synthetically perfect little settings aimed at flaunting their polarized identities. It was also during this time that they would spend a lot of energy licking their emotional marital bruises by degradingly dismissing one another with self-grandiose statements about how their own ideas and way of life were somehow superior to the other’s. With all of this one-sided bickering and self-profusion going on I soon found myself disliking these new saccharine-sweet palaces even more than I disliked the flavorless apartments.                 

This was an aversion I took very seriously. Unconsciously embarking on my own superiority trip, I easily convinced myself that dad’s ideal America was a capitalistic disaster area, bogged to the point of uselessness inadaptability and narrow-minded industrial excess and mom’s model really wasn’t much better. For me her unconfined utopia was nothing more than a delusion choked with intra-psychic twaddle, whiny loudmouthed protesters and excessive self-indulgence where most of the major cultural achievements had been whittled down to a compilation cd featured in late night infomercials. So, armed with these strong opinions, I would spend most of my teen years marginalized within the musings of Southern-California’s 80’s and 90’s musically enhanced sub-cultures.

As I approached my twenties though, I began to feel conflicted since several things were becoming more and more apparent to me. The first issue was that, no matter how hard I tried to block them out, imagery from my parents’ varying mindsets was beginning to self-expressively find its way into my life and work. Didn’t matter how much relatively new culture I exposed myself to (which is actually pretty old now) I could never fully shake the buoyant impressions from the experimental hybrid environment they had once attempted to sustain. And to top things off, I was beginning to realize that all the fashionable punk-rock, dub, techno and hip-hop I’d been enjoying, things that I felt had raised me miles above my parent’s conceptual trappings, were just as wrapped up in aesthetic ideology as anything they were into… maybe even more so.

It would be at this point in my life that it really hit me: wherever you find a distinct set of appearances you’re going to find an equally distinct set of ideals; chicken and the egg scenario, there’s really no way to separate one from the other. Moreover, I began to also notice that wherever you find that elusive thing we commonly refer to as beauty it doesn’t necessarily guarantee that all of the propagated principles being associated with it are equally as beautiful. Like a good friend of mine once said, “the worst causes always have the best flags.” With thoughts like these in mind, I found myself spending a lot of time exhaustively reaching for what I could best describe as an ideo-aesthetic balance; while hopefully trying to recapture some of the charm and magic of my toddler years… for whatever that was worth.

Anyhow, the whole thing was starting to get a bit tedious and I was just about to throw in the towel until fate decided to intervene in a pretty big way.

I was sitting by myself in the Van Nuys public-library one rainy Saturday afternoon (circa 1995) perusing a fresh pile of previously requested books on Buddhist and Hindu art; ironically it would be America’s assimilation of South-Asian thought and imagery during the 1960’s that (I then felt) provided the most valuable content of my culturally entwined upbringing. While going through the stack however, I noticed near the bottom there were two (what at the time seemed like out of place) hardbacks: one was a 1974 publication on a twentieth century painterly movement hitherto unknown to me entitled, “The American Scene, the other was a 1986 biography on an artist named Grant Wood. I almost brushed them aside without any thought but the Librarian who had carted the books over convinced me to take a closer look, and what I found inside would initiate some major changes in my thinking that really haven’t changed since.

What mainly caught my eye here was a set of vivid landscapes which were completely new yet totally familiar to me. Mostly executed during the 1930’s these paintings (in my opinion) had compositionally achieved everything Cézanne was after, even rivaling the master Frenchman in many regards. What’s more, their North American agrarian vibe clearly summarized the male virility associated with my dad’s ideas regarding national culture and improvement; while their pastor-idyll charm simultaneously encapsulated the feminine magic and mystery of my mother. And coincidentally, it was this very same play of gender forces that had driven much of my attraction towards the South-Asian art I had originally sought to view that day.

Up until then I had taken several art history courses and I was definitely familiar with the painting “American Gothic, but I couldn’t once remember being this exposed to the vibrant naturalism and artistic modernity contained in some of these rustic yet culturally informed images… I really wanted to know more. Passing the entire afternoon engrossed in these two books some stark clues began to surface as to how and why artists like Wood and Benton had been so intentionally cast-aside. One of the strongest of these telltales appeared in the appendix of Wood’s bio in the form of a first-person (yet ghostwritten) essay tactically entitled “Revolt Against the City;” a prosaic, overly postured stab at trying to preposterously demonstrate (among other things) why the country art these men had created was somehow regionally grander than that of some unfortunate urbanite.

Reading this gratuitous paper I couldn’t help but understand why much of its associated work had been historically closeted. But what I really took away from its transparent prejudices was a valuable organic shift in thinking; a shift which centered on the age old symbiosis of ideology and aesthetics. Terse and obscure in its wording, where the art that accompanies it is anything but, I knew then and there that enraged discourses like “Revolt Against the City” are Trojan-horse travesties; the direct result of what happens when we refuse to let the astounding simply speak for itself and then proceed to anchor our thin rhetoric to something which clearly never needed it in the first place. Every cover has its own book to write.

Inspired by this realization, as well as how nicely these American landscapes coincided with the South-Asian art I had initially sought out that day, I resolved to liberate the aesthetics of my childhood from the partialities of my parents by simply allowing them to speak for themselves. It wasn’t like I entirely stopped listening to people’s opinions. It’s just that if they claimed one cluster of appearances to be superior and anti-social towards the ideals of another, I would now always investigate such divisiveness by letting the aesthetics (not their handlers) have the first and final say. And you know what I discovered? Somethings that I had been told were enemies all of my life were actually really good friends.

From here I would proceed to freely connect (as much as I could) with the American art I had discovered that day, while tandemly continuing investigations of the symbolic imagery of India. Setting up a western-Asiatic vehicle for myself that would not only quell a lot of the conceptual dissidence of my youth but would also allow me to converse with some rather articulate symbols and imageries, thus beginning a visual journey which I’m happy to say is still going strong today.

Obviously America is a place of ideological tension and diversity and so the same naturally follows when it comes to our cultural tastes. Still, most of us do understand the innate worth in the appearances we claim as our own, that is until we allow the static of our fanaticism to get in the way (i.e. as soon as we decide to hold one individual set of aesthetics hostage to our own clannish limitations, all our inherent notions of ideo-aesthetic value begin to fade.) As humans, we always have more in common with one another than we don’t. And, when we make an effort to remove the baggage of our social biases from our aesthetic achievements, this revelation of universal commonality only becomes strikingly clearer.

A closing note on cultural infusion: I find it a bit farfetched to think that the standing cultures of this world were spawned and refined in some sort of absolute indigenous vacuum. What’s more, it would be pretty pretentious to view one culture as so overbearingly exclusive that it couldn’t possibly benefit from a complementary influx of its various counterparts. Still, there is some legitimacy in asking what a gen-Xer from the San Fernando Valley is doing expounding on 1930’s mid-western art and South-Asian symbolism and does he even have a right to? For me, all human culture is an extension of humanity itself, especially when it expresses universal usefulness and truth. When treated with the esteem to liberate us from our narrow extremes, and not exploited as a mere means of egocentric vanity or profiteering, culture has no owner -- only cheerleaders. I respectfully realize that some of you may not agree but this is the spirit in which this work was fashioned, maybe it will be the same spirit in which it’s mostly received… either way, I trust you guys will let me know how it all turns out.

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Painting Titles & Descriptions
This gallery contains some of my first attempts at working alongside the Indo-American 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 translating culture from another time and place were just a few. I like to think that some of these pieces rise to the occasion, while I'm sure others certainly fall short. Everything here represents a rewarding time of trial and growth for me as a painter though, and I’m always 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 unpolished, colored pencil rendering but it did set the tone for much to come. A final note: although all of the work in this gallery continues 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 arose during this period) called for more secular stylings.

Undeniably, these are American paintings. And, keeping in step with the Regionalists (as well as the Kalighat “pataus” of East Bengal) the Images here contain their fair share of socio-political commentary and satire. The genesis for this stems along these lines: America’s theoretical claims at equal rights and human unity, contrasted by the rather clumsy and even pathetic way we go about insuring such things for mankind, have long been points of interest to me. Freedom is paramount to the American experience. And, as such, it’s a place where everyone should always be allowed their own tastes and opinions. But, if your personal directives lead you to thinking that you are superior to others, if they lead you to contemptuous ideas that you are somehow “more American” than the people who don’t share in your values and dreams? Then you really aren’t behaving American like at all, at least not the way I see it.

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Paintings:
1) Title:
Truman’s Eden & The Neuroses of Sayyid Qutb. (2006)
Dimensions & Medium:   33x48 in. -- Oil on Canvas Panel.
Description: A visual exploration into the defining elements of the materialistic American dream and the envy they are capable of unleashing. Copro Gallery 15th Anniversary group show, 2006. 

2) Title: The Translation of Lal-Dade. (2007)
Dimensions & Medium:  18x24 in. -- Oil on Canvas Panel.
Description: Lal Ded or Lalla, a 14th century, Kashmiri Shaivite poetess. Little is known of her life apart from an immense proliferation of stories, which attest to her popularity.  She composed numerous verse sayings which are direct and simple.  But, many of them are linguistically regional in their associations, so much so that western translations cannot convey why they are so deeply loved among many native Kashmiris, both Hindu and Muslim. 

3) Title: La Negra de la Luna. (2005)
Dimensions & Medium:   30x48 in. -- Acrylic on Canvas.
Description: Kali and Shiva happily at home in rural America. Omerica solo show, C-pop Gallery, 2005. 

4) Title:  American Tara -- In White. (2004)
Dimensions & Medium:   48x68 in. -- Acrylic on Canvas.
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.  

5) Title: American Tara -- In Green. (2004)
Dimensions & Medium:   42x68 in. -- Acrylic on Canvas.
Description: Tara again (but in her green form) accompanying a tractor and sunflowers of a benevolent nature. Omerica solo show, C-pop Gallery, 2005. 

6) Title: National Narcissist – 1845 (2005)
Dimensions & Medium:   20x28 in. -- Acrylic on Canvas
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.
 

7) Title: National Narcissist – 1945 (2005)
Dimensions & Medium:   20x28 in. -- Acrylic on Canvas 
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. 

8) Title:  National Narcissist – 2045 (2005)
Dimensions & Medium:   20x28 in. -- Acrylic on Canvas
Description: The last of these three paintings - The mighty arms of karma rob the heavens from the earth. Omerica solo show, C-pop Gallery, 2005. 

9) Title: The Otiosity of Patsy Cline. (2004)
Dimensions & Medium:  20x24 in. -- Acrylic on Canvas. 
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 the word “Otiosity” to entitle this piece. I use the word here satirically to draw attention to how malicious negativity is ridiculously used by *others* to criticize our behavior and manipulate our fears, not to actually describe Ms. Cline. Omerica solo show, C-pop Gallery, 2005.

10) Title: American Surrealchemist. (2004)
Dimensions & Medium:   24x28 in. -- Acrylic on Canvas
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. 

11) Title: The Vacant Promises of Harold Hill. (2004)
Dimensions & Medium:   20x24 in. -- Acrylic on Canvas.
Description: As the crops wither, Persephone and Hades look eastwest to realize the ultimate  harvest is within; 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 an imaginary  fugue involved. Omerica solo show, C-pop Gallery, 2005.

12) Title: Novus Ordo Seclorum, A New Order of The Ages. (2004)
Dimensions & Medium:   24x28 in. -- Acrylic on canvas
Description: There’s other ways of learning about the confines of a theocratic plutocracy than creating one. Omerica solo show, C-pop Gallery, 2005. 

13) Title: War of the Goo-nuhs. (2004)
Dimensions & Medium:   20x24 in. --  Acrylic on Canvas
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.  

14) Title: Victorian Sacrifice. (2005)
Dimensions & Medium:   20x28 in. -- Acrylic on Canvas.
Description: The consecration of the cultural harvest.  To receive everything, one must be willing to give the same. Samhain group show, Copro Gallery, 2005. 

15) Title: Victorian Sacrifice II. (2005)
Dimensions & Medium:   20x24 in. -- Acrylic on Canvas. 
Description: Chinnamasta dances in the theater of the neo-American scene. Samhain group show, Copro Gallery, 2005.  

16) Title: Ganapati Ice Creams. (2005)
Dimensions & Medium:   20x24 in. -- Acrylic on Canvas.
Description: All I know is that in my neighborhood every once in a while this amazingly cool guy comes around.   He drives an ice cream truck, loves his job and even has a pretty good singing voice … for an elephant god. 

17) Title: The Ballad of Anissa Jones. (2006)
Dimensions & Medium:   8x12 in. -- Oil on Wood.
Description: Small oil painting of one of my favorite T.V. child stars. 

18) Title: Daughters of Evolution I. (2006)
Dimensions & Medium:   18x24 in. -- Acrylic on Canvas.
Description: Daughters of Evolution: One of three paintings (based on Grant Wood’s “Daughters of Revolution”) which explore some of the changes in American feminine dynamism -- from stuffy, ultra-national tea sippers to suicide goddesses gone weird. Bergamot Invasion II group show, Copro Gallery, 2006.

Drawings:
1) Tri-Guna Stew (1995)
Dimensions & Medium:   26x40 in. Graphite, Prismacolor, Ink & Watercolor on Paper.
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) Accompanies the Painting:  Annuit Coeptis. (2004)
Dimensions & Medium:   4x5 in. Graphite & Watercolor on Paper.

3) Accompanies the Painting:  War of The Goo-nuhs. (2005)
Dimensions & Medium:   9x12 in.  Graphite & Watercolor on Paper

4) Accompanies the Painting:   American Tara -- In White. (2004)
Dimensions & Medium:   9x12 in.  Graphite & Watercolor on Paper.

5) Accompanies the Painting:   American Tara -- In White. (2004)
Dimensions & Medium:   4x5 in. Graphite & Watercolor on Paper.

6) Accompanies the Painting:  War of The Goo-nuhs. (2005)
Dimensions & Medium:   4x5 in. Graphite & Watercolor on Paper.

7) Accompanies the Painting:  War of The Goo-nuhs. (2005)
Dimensions & Medium:   8x10 in.  Graphite & Watercolor on Paper.

8) Accompanies the Painting: The Otiosity of Patsy Cline. (2004)
Dimensions & Medium: 7x9 in. Graphite & Watercolor on Paper.

9) Accompanies the Painting: The Otiosity of Patsy Cline. (2004)
Dimensions & Medium: 4x5 in. Graphite & Watercolor on Paper.

10) Accompanies the Paintings in the National Narcissist series. (2005)
Dimensions & Medium: 4x5 in. Graphite & Watercolor on Paper.

11) Accompanies the Paintings in the National Narcissist series. (2005)
Dimensions & Medium: 4x5 in. Graphite & Watercolor on Paper.

12) Accompanies the Paintings in the National Narcissist series. (2005)
Dimensions & Medium: 9x12 in. Graphite & Watercolor on Paper.

13) Accompanies the Paintings in the National Narcissist series. (2005)
Dimensions & Medium: 9x12 in. Graphite & Watercolor on Paper.

14) Accompanies the Paintings in the National Narcissist series. (2005)
Dimensions & Medium: 8x10 in. Graphite & Watercolor on Paper.

15) Accompanies the Paintings in the National Narcissist series. (2005)
Dimensions & Medium: 5x6 in. Graphite & Watercolor on Paper.

16) Accompanies the Painting: Victorian Sacrifice II. (2005)
Dimensions & Medium: 8x8 in. Graphite & Watercolor on Paper.

17) Accompanies the Painting: Victorian Sacrifice II. (2005)
Dimensions & Medium: 10x10 in. Graphite & Watercolor on Paper.

18) Accompanies the Painting: Victorian Sacrifice. (2005)
Dimensions & Medium: 8x10 in. Graphite & Watercolor on Paper.

19) Accompanies the Painting: La Negra de La Luna. (2005)
Dimensions & Medium: 7x9 in. Graphite & Watercolor on Paper.

20) Accompanies the Painting: La Negra de La Luna. (2005)
Dimensions & Medium: 7x9 in. Graphite & Watercolor on Paper.

21) Accompanies the Painting: Ganapati Ice Creams. (2005)
Dimensions & Medium: 8x10 in. Graphite & Watercolor on Paper.

22) Accompanies the Painting: Ganapati Ice Creams. (2005)
Dimensions & Medium: 5x6 in. Graphite & Watercolor on Paper.

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