by John Gutoskey
I make work that is political because I cannot help it. I tend to make work that reflects my life experience, and, as the saying goes, the personal is political. This phrase, which was popularized during the feminist movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s, means that there are connections between my own personal experience and the larger social and political structures which tend to dominate, exploit, and oppress minorities in our politics, society, and culture. In the past, I have made work about marriage equality, queer families, queer spirituality, same sex love,AIDS, wounded Iraqi warriors, war, 911, the re-election of George W. Bush , homophobia, racism, closeted hypocritical politicians, gun violence, the Pulse nightclub massacre, don’t ask, don’t tell, and the election of Trump. I did not approach all of these themes from a political perspective. Some were emotionally resonant or had me thinking about something in ways that were more personal than overtly political. Because of our current political climate, what has changed for me is that I have found it almost impossible to make work about anything that is not political. There are just too many important issues facing us for me not to make work that reflects this time. I feel strongly that we need to counter all the vicious propaganda that is gaining traction in the media. It is important, for me, to counter those messages through my art work.
I make art because there are often times where I cannot find words to express what I am feeling. This was especially true for me recently, when I heard about the Pulse nightclub massacre in 2016. Initially, I was not thinking about this work as being political. I was coming at it from a sense of loss and grief, and an attempt to memorialize the event and the victims. Although I was thinking more about the poetic form of the elegy when I created the 49 monoprints, in the end, I came to see it as a political work because it is about the epidemic of gun violence in the USA. The finished piece, “PULSE Nightclub: 49 Elegies”, is about the murder of 49 people in a gay nightclub with a military assault rifle. Even though there are no guns represented in the 49 monoprints, there is no doubt that it is a political piece.
To keep me engaged and interested in the work I create in my studio, the content of the work needs to have some kind of emotional or intellectual hook or investment that makes me want to explore it and go deeper with it through my creative process. I want to visually communicate something meaningful. I want to start a dialogue about important issues of our time that matter to me—especially pertaining to LGBTQ rights and other social issues.
In the studio, my ideas and inspiration usually come from my responding to what is bothering me, or something I am mulling over and trying to figure out—either personally or culturally in the wider world. I then take these thoughts, feelings, and ideas into my studio to try and work through them visually and to see what I can make out of it—by responding to it through various media. I usually have some idea of where I might begin, some sense of what I want to say, and how I might begin visually to enter into the creative dance. By engaging with color, line, shape and a wide variety of creative tools, I allow myself to sink into the process. My work tends to be multi-layered, and I work with mixed media, using whatever I feel will help me get where I am visually trying to go.
I begin to free-associate and allow images, symbols, textures, shapes, and color to guide me in the process. I am looking for that sweet spot where the pieces start to make themselves, and I get into a flow where the process takes over, and the ideas start to come organically. This is why I prefer to work in a series. It allows me to keep going deeper and deeper into the work. By working this way, I tend to generate more ideas. This deepening into the creative flow feeds the process that leads to me creating more work. Usually, when I find the flow, my ideas begin to translate visually with ease, more ideas start to appear effortlessly, and typically the message or story starts to come across as a visual poem or narrative. When this is happening, I will often find myself working on five or six pieces at once. Time disappears. I forget to eat lunch. When I get to this organic creative state, I find that the place I most want to be is in my studio creating new work, and in the process working through my own stuff. The cool thing is that I often feel better about what has been bothering me because I have been able to work it out visually in my studio. I’m also able to start a dialogue that will make its out into the world beyond my studio.
John Gutoskey’s recent work can be seen on his Facebook page or his website: www.johngutoskeystudio.com