The Gold Series Teaser

Here's an oldie but a goodie about The Gold Series. Even though our print supplier fell through on this portion of the project: I love the video itself. We're lining up a new print producer to re-launch print availability in 2017.

The Story Behind The Pieces- The Wanderer

Okay, so I'll just say it now: this piece is hands down the most popular of The Gold Series.  This is the first of many posts where I'll explore the meanings behind select works from The Gold Series.

 "The Wanderer"- 2014

"The Wanderer"- 2014

This is a piece about the search for self after diagnosis.

After realizing that, yes, my body is at war with itself because of a virus and that is okay. I am okay...It took a few dark years (two or so) to really come to terms with being ‪#‎HIV‬ Positive.

Now, few things force the newly positive to radically accept their status than dating. In the course of this long term project, I've dated a few men, three actually. Apparently I'm on a yearly cycle with them. In any case, after each relationship ended, a sense of hopelessness would course through my consciousness. I'd wonder, "Who will want me, damaged and diseased?" "Do I really have to start dating again, fully aware of how many times my status has stood in the way of being with someone otherwise into me?"

These are common questions that positive people ask themselves whether they're newly diagnosed and freaking out, or long term survivors wrestling with lingering and cyclical fears and doubts.

The Wanderer is a "spirit motif" piece, and the figure or "light being" as one of my fans calls it, represents the inner light we each carry, that hopes and dreams for a better tomorrow, full of the knowledge that each of, regardless of status, is made of stars.

In the context of The Gold Series, The Wanderer is a symbol of resilience, fortitude and unwavering search for a better version of one-self through adversity. The recurring spirit motif sees this wanderer-being as bearer of many emotions and burdens. In other pieces he is contemplating the chaos before him in the form of the unknown, in others simply standing witness to a fractured sense of self. This piece, the first "spirit motif" piece, is very dear to me. The glyphs at the bottom are actually the words, "And no matter where he went, he remembered…"I am made of stars." done in my signature loosely stacked cursive style.

Priced at $4,600 for the original. The Wanderer is also available as a print for pre-order until March 30. Prints begin shipping March 15.

 

Weekly Inspiration: Jean-Michel Basquiat

It is a saucy day here in New Milford at the studio. I just sat down to my desk and realized its time for another weekly inspiration! This week I want to talk about one of the most integral figures of the neo-expressionist movement. Some have gone so far as to call my work neo-neo expressionist, which I guess it could be in the same way that Yale's architecture is neo-neo gothic (discuss). Either way, there are some clear parallels to certain aspects of our work that I think hold some merit in light of the philosophy behind The Gold Series.

"50 Cent Piece"

I chose this piece to illustrate the influence of Jean Michel on The Gold Series because it highlights his use of palimpsest textual elements to evoke the frenzied chaos of contemporary existence.

Although Cy Twombly too, made use of palimpsest text, I took from his his more frenzied less textual strokes and also borrowed his undulating color forms on white space, or his repetitive stroke patterns in the pieces focused on visual mantras.

Conversely, Basiquait inspired elements from The Gold Series were woven into many backgrounds and graffiti like structures as in the large scale 6 x 8 foot canvas entitled "If Bath House Walls Could Talk"  This powerful, large scale piece is a reflection on the 80's culture of which both Basquiat, The Downtown 500 and burgeoning gay community borne out of the initial wave of the AIDS crisis lived with. Dripping with paint suggestive of the…fluids that one may encounter…as well as the multicolored striations representing the classic "hanky code" colors, the piece uses gold as a representation of the unique place bath house culture played in the development of both the AIDS epidemic and gay social consciousness. The shadowy gateway figure (not visible in this shot below as it was still in progress)connoting the mysterious pleasures and hidden (potential) dangers in a bath house.)

Yours truly sitting in front of  "If Bath House Walls Could Talk" 2015  Notice the graffiti like forms peeking out from behind striated layers.

The piece raises questions as to how we as a gay culture claim to find a form of liberation through sex, but then slut shame and cast shade and stigma at those who are HIV positive. It asks us to compare the initial, communal, response to HIV that gave rise to the very LGBTQ movement that led us to marriage equality to the cavalier disregard of the violent and radical realities faced by trans women of color (49 % more likely than cisgender folks to contract HIV). Where is the community? Where is the solidarity?

Why is it that in the dark, low-lit rooms, fueled often by a mix of poppers and drugs, that many gay men shed inhibitions they'd never admit to in the light; while spewing vitriol the next day at brunch for the "dirty" and the "slutty".  If bath house walls could talk, they'd tell us as a community to get a grip. They'd tell us to be honest with ourselves and our history. They'd ask us to find new and more healthy ways to connect as people first and not merely tools to get off. They'd tell us that yes, "the glory days" were fun; but they're not a model for a modern liberation movement. They'd ask us to learn from our past, not doom ourselves to repeat it.

The piece places the colored striations and golden drips above a background of these frenzied strokes, these chaotic strokes formed from stacked cursive letters are the secrets of the bath house, the 2,3,4 AM bloodshot eyes rolling back in heads to the thump thump thump of a stranger unknown through a hole in some MDF; The colors our euphemistic codes for the raunch and the rollicking. Or the memorialized fallen from an epidemic of excess. 

I'll close with a few questions:

Hookups, fleeting intimacy, play, fun whatever you want to call casual sex is irrelevant. It’s a wonderful thing and I firmly believe in sexual autonomy free from stigma on all levels. But I must ask myself as a community health advocate the following , “How can we make fun, safe and informed? How can we meet people where they’re at in ways that speak to their personal truths absent stigma and fear based messaging? How can we reconcile the past with a responsible, informed future without romanticizing risk? If bath house walls could talk, what would we say back to them?
— Jonathan-Joseph Ganjian

Weekly Inspiration: Cy Twombly

It's the weekend! Hooray! I know for me, the weekend is the perfect time to learn about something new. In that spirit, I've decided that every Saturday I'll share a different perspective on my work through the lens of the artists whose work inspires me.

I'm going to start with one of the most influential painters to my creative ethos, Cy Twombly. 

Featured below is one of his later works "untitled iii (Bacchus)" Notice the undulating and fervent stroke patterns evoking the frenzied passion of the title diety, Roman god of wine and celebration Bacchus. Links to myth and allusions to figures therein run throughout the corpus of Twombly's career. For me as an artist who uses my craft to express the unspoken in similarly abstract ways; I am drawn to both the visceral nature of the strokes and their underlying intensity, but more philosophically I am moved by the links he draws between abstraction and meaning through allusion and title. I am moved by the experience he calls the viewer in the gallery or museum to have in assessing the work first upon sight, then when moving closer to engross themselves in the detail, and then when they come upon the title. This multiple-stage process of understanding, to me, runs throughout The Gold Series in much the same way as Twombly: through both titling of pieces and the palimpsest integration of text on canvas. 

 Cy Twombly |  untitled iii (Bacchus) 2005

Cy Twombly |  untitled iii (Bacchus) 2005

 "Mortal Coil" 2015 

"Mortal Coil" 2015 

Compare Twombly's use of repetitive stroke with Gold Series piece "Mortal Coil".

This piece is one to the most surprisingly complex of the series despite its diminutive size. Thick layers of linseed oil and pigments swirl under a golden coil. This coil marks a meditation on the personal choices made between 2004 and 2015, when the piece was made. It is important to note that under this piece was the start of a painting from 2004; for which I felt an artistic reclamation was necessary given the nature of The Gold Series.  

The philosophical underpinnings of this piece stem both from the popular notion of "Mortal Coil" present in Shakespeare's Hamlet (scene 3 act i) therefore invoking themes of death and depression; not only of Shakespeare but the ancient Greeks. The mortal coil can take on the role suggested by Schopenhauer's reading of the history behind the play where he proposes that a typesetters error in the line "When we have shuffled off this mortal coil.." should in fact be "shuttled". This, he believes, cements a connection between "mortal coil" and the life-thread of ancient Greek mythology. Aside from these direct references; "coil" itself has a rich etymological history with a variety of meanings including culling, threshing, fuss, or a stirring.

All of these converge upon my experience as an HIV positive artist both in the obvious contemplations of death that arise with diagnosis of such a condition; but also in the act of refection on life itself.

Conditions like HIV that are accompanied by shame, stigma and fear compounded by the inescapably visceral feelings related to a disease acquired through intimacy leave open wounds that cause many to dwell on or question the relationships and choices that led to living with a body at war with itself. The complex layers below the golden thread of life representing the ebb and flow of people and choices are the perfect background for contemplation in stark, unspeakable reality. 

Why all the fuss? A #TBT to why I started the #Goldseries

I mean, HIV is totally not a problem anymore right? At least, if you're not in Africa…WRONG! HIV is not over, but the era of scare tactics and fear mongering should be. I guess that's where my  whole inspiration started. I wanted to use my artistic voice to draw attention to the complexity of HIV/AIDS today. I wanted to share the benefits I gained from meditation and mindfulness with others living with not only HIV but other chronic conditions; I wanted to share my perspectives so that other positive young men and women searching, might see they're not alone and might see that there is a community of us fighting for visibility, respect, rights, funding for research and the promise of an AIDS Free Generation. 

I posted the other day about endings, about how the falling leaves and crisp air had me realizing that this whole three year process is coming to a close. Now I think its time to take a look at the other side of the coin; the beginning of this whole project. 


I started The Gold Series because I wanted to find a way to translate my experience with HIV into paintings that speak to the thousands of maybes, what-if’s, could’ve beens and how did I’s which are part and parcel of this disease and all its facets. The Gold Series is about making the unspoken and unspeakable visual. It is about the combination of my creative style and spiritual path. It is about the triumph of self over limitations of the body. I began painting in my youth as a way to counteract the motor skill issues that come with my cerebral palsy; it is no surprise then, that to overcome this new challenge in adulthood I should turn back to art as the conduit for reflection, understanding and most importantly, spreading awareness of the many HIV related issues facing us as a national and global community.

The palimpsest, complex layers and color combinations infuse the process-centered notions of abstract expressionism with written and quasi-linguistic forms to call into question the hidden personal and social narratives the piece seeks to highlight; often juxtaposed with titles that further contextualize them within the mission of The Gold Series

As evidenced by the robust work of organizations like Visual AIDS, I am not original in this. I am not the first to take brush to canvas in the hopes of translating these perspectives. However I believe the holistic nature of The Gold Series project, spanning 50 original paintings (5 available as prints) and a monograph featuring my relevant poetry, prose and interviews with other HIV positive individuals, activists and change-makers is a uniquely comprehensive window into life with HIV/AIDS today and the issues we face a we fight for an AIDS free generation

 

Endings

Hello loves; how are you?

Things at the studio are going swimmingly as I come up on the final phases of The Gold Series, my first major collection, check out "The Wanderer" in the amazing frame by our friends at Northlight Framing down the road from me in New Milford.

It's a rainy day here, but with fall settling in and the river outside running low; its not strange that I'd be thinking of closure and endings. 

Three years ago, really three and a quarter…I realized that my unique creative talents combined with compelling personal narrative should launch me into something outside myself. 

How could I turn such a negative, an HIV diagnosis, into a positive the way I had with my Cerebral Palsy and painting to overcome my motor skill handicaps? As I complete the final pieces, let's reflect:


Imagine you've just taken a seat at the studio…let's chat!

The answer to these questions was, of course, to combine them. To use the power of art to speak to the many issues of and surrounding HIV/AIDS both in the US and internationally.

I set out to paint 50 pieces. I set out to showcase the way I'd used Buddhist concepts and teachings to overcome challenges to acceptance of my own mortality. I set out to create a body of work that used a palimpsest abstraction to convey the silent pains and unspoken complex narratives of those with HIV/AIDS and chronic conditions.  As I worked hand in hand at the grassroots level tackling these issues I realized my project was more serious than I'd intended. It was a chance to highlight vital issues such as:

  • depression and mental health issues amongst the HIV positive
  • PrEP, Syringe exchange programs
  • serodiscordant (mixed status) relationship
  • drug use in the gay community
  • minority access to HIV/AIDS prevention and education services
  • the trans community's unique burden in the fight against HIV/AIDS amongst those who are engaged in sex work and
  • ever present reductions in state and federal funding for direct services and research through agencies such as the National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control and offices of the Ryan White Care Act and even philanthropic bodies such as United Way.

among many others. This is why select pieces of The Gold Series have been accompanied by thematic essays and select poems, highlighting the issues at the core of The Gold Series. Together, across medium and style, The Gold Series originals, studies, prints and final book serve as one artists comprehensive view of HIV/AIDS as a painter, fundraiser and activist living with the virus. 



Stylistic motifs throughout the collection are rooted in process-focused deconstructions of my thoughts or mantras as conveyed through "automatic" or repetitive movements imbued with meditative absorption and mindful application. Many of those feature my signature "glyph" constructs, some of which are repetitive syllables or words (as in the piece "OM" 2014), others mere nothingness absent the meditative background to their flowing movements. ("The normal heART" 2014) This too is deliberate, and intends to draw into question the very underpinnings of meaning, context and mimetic purpose. Such semiotic arguments are raised in light of The Gold Series mission to explore the deep complexity of living with HIV. 

the normal heART"

To that end, these confusing, shifting knots of "meaning" contain the questions of struggling with fundamental meaning, period.  Of struggling with what defines love, lust, living, dying, surviving, medicating or failing. They are like the trails of the whirling dervish, circling to find meaning in the chaos, in the turning, yearning of humanity towards God in the search for meaning.

Other motifs of course run throughout, but for now, I wanted to touch on my glyphs, because I happens to love them.

Thanks for checking in with the studio, until next time, stay saucy!