I am an artist working in paint, photography, and occasionally mixed media. My work contemplates religious, historic, and mythological women, personal histories, and the psychological undercurrents of contemporary society. My early works reflect a classical approach to oil painting. After an Italian residency, I fell in love with the Arte Povera movement, and their use of raw, everyday materials. It was then I began to explore painting on other surfaces such as burlap and slate and a looser style in paint. I especially love using discarded slate from a former state-run (1885-1996) condemned psychiatric hospital. Now a hotspot for urbex explorers, it provides a wealth of unusual poignant pieces of history on which to work. The added symbolism using a piece of broken shelter for portraits seems appropriate for our times.
Diaspora to Nowhere - Who we used to be
“There is no foreign land.
It is the traveler only that is foreign.”
Robert Louis Stevenson
I often refer to the town that I grew up in as Little Appalachia. With many of the same core characteristics and family values as Appalachia proper, our urban hillbilly town, perched on the fringe of two mammoth boroughs of New York City, was a reminder that hillbilly runs deeper than sidewalks and blacktop. As far as I knew, my own family was only one generation out of the poor Pennsylvania backwaters of the Little Conemaugh River and abandoned farm towns of Delhi, with a diaspora to nowhere. The same held true for our neighbors, most who were also first-generation New Yorkers with hot tempers and violent tendencies. Although this place only existed for a short moment in time, and has since disappeared, this was our world and the place we called home.
“When you are not fed love on a silver spoon, you learn to lick it off knives.”
Before 2021 I was led to believe I was part of a small, fractured family. At best, I knew our short tree had shriveled roots, which was split apart by atrocities and abuse in my parent’s generation and by political turmoil in my current generation. The photograph, discovered in early 2021, launched a journey of discovery. It revealed an epic tale that went much further back in time, with a small army of family marching along with it.
This chapter of the story begins in 1849, when a family of poor Irish immigrants arrived on America’s shore fleeing the “Great Hunger”. Once here, they were immediately drafted into even greater troubles of the American Civil War. How they survived is a testament to their endurance, determination, and will to survive. I never knew of this family, only of the legacy of trauma that has carried on from generation to generation after them. Although I did not know of their existence until recently, I immediately recognized the faces and expressions of these ghosts as my own.
This series reflects on the trials, tribulations, and reverberations of trauma. It is how, as Faulkner put it, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Although dead a hundred years, I still hear their voices in my ear, with a story that needs to be told. This body of work examines how experiences of the past relate to my own American expectations. It is, as the old adage goes, “a disease known is half cured”. Perhaps this holds true not only for my family, but for my country as well. Maybe all the strife of humanity can be traced back to some sort of inter-generational trauma.
These paintings of my family have been called scary, depressing, and haunting. It is my hope that it is because they tap into a subliminal unconscious of the viewer, which recognizes and relates to the emotions expressed visually. Incorporating inspirations from contemporary and magic realism, Irish mythology, and figurative portraiture, this is a collection that captures the spirit and the continuing presence of ghosts. It is my hope that in delving into this concept in paint, I can address and better understand the ongoing trauma in my own family, and perhaps eventually identify similar patterns in the greater concept for humanity.