A new portrait of Emmett Till (better image to come eventually), the first in a series of drawings of this civil rights icon, is paired with the Talking Heads lyric “same as it ever was.” For what I think are obvious reasons. The brilliant Jabari Asim wrote in his indispensable book The N Word, that “far more durable is the majority culture’s invocation of ‘timeless American values’ such as individual rights, religious freedom, and equal justice, and its simultaneous ignorance of other traditional American values such as greed, duplicity, and intolerance.”
Till, like Martin Luther King, jr., is as relevant today as he was in the 1950’s when he was lynched by two white men who were then acquitted of the crime. Such atrocities still happen. In my Chicago, there is still needless violence visited upon young black men and women. Same as it ever was.
In preparation for an upcoming show, I am making four new drawings, including this, which is based on the mug shot of a Finnish immigrant coming through Ellis Island in the 1920’s. The text is a lyric from the Living Colour song Type: “Everything is possible but nothing is real.” Sort of sums up my feelings about the idea of the American dream.
I’ve also made a portrait of another American dreamer, Spalding Gray, which, along with other new works, you can see in the COLOR gallery. Because why not?
I find myself in the odd position of having both a very old piece and a very new piece in two concurrent shows. I’ll eat your shame and make you new, 2009, will be on display at Jackson Junge Gallery in Wicker Park from the end of September to the end of October, and cunt, 2017, will hang in the Columbia College Library through mid December.
These are both important pieces to me, turning point pieces, perhaps.
Inspiration for I’ll eat your shame came out of a conversation between a couple of authors, teachers, and filmmakers about the iconography of war. As these five people spoke, I tried to remember all the snapshots I had ever seen from the hundreds of human rights catastrophes in my own lifetime, starting from what was then the present onslaught of cell phone photographs coming back from Abu Ghraib, and working in reverse chronological order through great American failures like the lack of relief for victims of Hurricane Katrina, slowly but constantly escalating police brutality, race riots and ethnic cleansings and massacres; the dark, defining moments of a culture captured on film, in print, for posterity, to be studied over time and revisited and learned from. I asked one of the panelists, Errol Morris, if he thought there would ever be enough of these profound images to eventually inspire people to work toward real positive social change, to make better choices. He replied, “One thing I’ve learned is to never underestimate the stupidity of humans.”
cunt, a drawing that happened over months spent considering the fallibility of language, the obscuring of truth, and the resolution of anger, among other things, ultimately allowed me to step into a new life. Within the lines and shades of this piece, I remembered something that a few years of self-loathing had significantly dimmed: my worth. The time I put into this piece helped me to not only forgive myself for the past – to find calm within the blue ocean of thought, a necessity if I were to ever touch dry land again – but to also be honest about my future and finally relinquish my attachment to the false security that comes from a steady paycheck, to employ better systems of value for the sake of my survival. With this drawing, I realized that I would rather work for myself, make my own choices, better choices, starting with how I live on a daily basis.
Both of these works are connected to my belief in the necessity of change, the power we do have to make real changes in our lives. I’m pleased that they’re both hanging on vastly different walls in my fair city.
I’ve just had two new reviews published in New City, one on Henry Darger’s Vivian Girls at Intuit Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art, and another on Wild Cuts, a group exhibition at Woman Made Gallery. Feel free to take a look.
Darger’s work and life have always fascinated me, and Intuit does an excellent job of sharing him with the city. Woman Made is also an essential Chicago institution that doesn’t get enough coverage in the local press. The importance of women’s voices in the art world is not to be ignored or diminished.
As those of you familiar with my work are likely aware, I rarely make overtly political drawings. Juvenile humor is not something I toy with much, either. But in the face of such farce, with such a low example of humanity in office, making important decisions – bad decisions – I couldn’t help but draw this chump, this child sitting on his throne. The door has been opened for reality TV stars to call the shots. Frankly, one of the half-wits from Jersey Shores could probably do better. Or at least no worse. Here’s to keeping our fingers crossed for a better future.
Begun in 2012 as part of The Collector drawings, and revisited in 2015 and again this year, I finally finished Impact in May, and it promptly sold a few days later. This piece bridges different bodies of my work, combining aspects of drawings from both Notes to Self and What I See When I Only Listen. More importantly for me, perhaps, this piece spans a difficult emotional terrain that, once traversed, allowed me to realize I had done some actual healing. There are far worse things than therapeutic art.
You can see a detail shot of this piece in the COLOR gallery. And you can zoom way the hell in.
Moments ago I launched a crowd-funding page through Patreon. Please take a look, and even if you can’t pledge, feel free to share your thoughts. I always enjoy hearing from you. Even when you’re gruff and blustery. And, if you’re willing, I would be grateful if you would post links to my Patreon on the social media of your choice. I heard about this thing called FaceBook that’s good for getting the word out.
Yours truly – Damien James
PS: I’m also on Instagram now. None of us thought it would happen, but it has.
Fellow humans, above is the newest addition to the Notes to Self drawings. This piece is 30×22 and was made with ultra fine-tip turquoise Sharpies betwen the end of 2016 and the start of 2017. I know, you’re wondering why, after all these years, does Sharpie not just send me markers whenever I need them? It’s a mystery to me as well.
There are some detail shots of this drawing in the Notes to Self gallery. Feel free to take a look, a gander, have a glance, peruse. Also, if you have questions, let me know. It’s ok. I’m here for you.
Please feel free to visit the Notes to Self gallery and feast your eyes on seven new pieces. Yes, free feasting on pieces. OK, maybe it’s not actually free; it’ll cost your time, for what that’s worth (which only you can answer). But should you spend some small measure of your time here, know that you’ll have my appreciation, for what that’s worth (which only you can answer still; sorry to put this all on you, people).