A cartoon is really a picture demonstrating one thought in the guise of another.
Generally I take note of the things that people seem to be talking about or I think of things that would carry strong associations in the culture that I grew up with. I look for compelling images of those things and throw them into a file labeled Leviathan on my computer's hard drive and kind of try to forget about them. At least, I try to forget the factual specifics of each subject.- Charles Shulz.
When I'm ready to work I come back and, still pretending to forget factual specifics, look through the collected images and choose one that I think would make an interesting drawing. I take that image, go into a dark room, project it onto a piece of paper, and trace it with hatch marks in the darkest places. Not the darkest areas relative to the entire image but the parts that are darkest relative to others in a small area. I go over the whole image with the same medium pencil making sure I get as much detail as possible. Attention to detail is the most important thing.
The resulting drawing, both then and now, is a collection of flat hatch marked areas that don't seem to want to lend themselves to being part of an image. They're about the marks themselves. They're very much about mark making and about visually interesting things that happen in some areas. At the same time, the drawings hang together as images and manage to have a lot in common with the way photographs look. Partly, this has to do with the photos that I tend to choose, the staged PR headshot in which the sitter looks meaningfully at the viewer or the media photo which tends to try to illustrate certain qualities in the subject, noble, confrontational, untrustworthy, etc. Even when the tones in the image are flattened, the lightest areas still tend to have the fewest marks and the darkest areas still tend to have the most. So, there is still this feeling about the way that photographs capture light. The lightest areas might be overexposed and have all of the detail blown out. The darkest areas might be the opposite, underexposed with all of the detail obscured.
When I began this series, in the light I would put the drawing next to an inkjet print of the source image and with a dark pencil start revisiting and making hatch marks over the darkest areas according to the source image. I would pay more attention to the entire image and darken the drawing where the source image is darker. I would go into the eyes and try to bring them to life, wanting to relate to the person in the image. So the eyes would get whatever work necessary to make that happen. Sometimes the source image would take over a little and I'd find myself filling in large areas with the same middle-toned pencil I used to trace the image in order to help the image hang together. And then sometimes I'd let things get out of hand a little and a dark area will grow and deepen and begin to add a sinister aesthetic to the image.
That getting out of hand has gotten more and more interesting. Now, I'm going back into the drawing without the source image. I don't make new marks, I only go over the marks made by tracing the projected image, making them darker if I think they ought to be darker. These drawings are lighter, more and more spare. They're more a collection of marks that have something to do with an image rather than being there so that the image can exist.
... a physical sensation of being inside that mind. Both Freud and Proust thought that the best way to get inside of the mind is to go behind what the mind thinks it knows of itself. That is to say to allow for the fact that there are pockets of thought and areas of feeling which our conscious, controlling minds do not have access to and that the mind is the friend to all kinds of things which if we stop in the tracks of our normal identities we wouldn't be comfortable with.
Proust ... plunges you inside the processes and you have to loose yourself there. You cannot read Proust unless your willing to really let go and go inside there with him. ... The first time you read a Proust sentence, if you hold on too tight you will loose it. You will not be able to get to the end of the sentence. ... You have to go in there and let it carry you. And if you don't you will drown. Um, and I think this is an amazing sort of rendition of the way we both control our own minds and have to let ourselves go inside them.
When you allow yourself be taken into the "sensuous intimations of another person's every day" it's not as simple as it sounds. Generally, it's much more complex and, generally, it's a really big, difficult, messy thing. It's at least as big as Moby Dick. Kurt Anderson describes Moby Dick, another "big, rolling, difficult novel", as a novel that itself "lies in the depths of the American subconsciousness almost all the time." That's a strange thing to think about, a novel that most of us haven't read yet that we collectively carry with us all the time. But I believe that's true for a lot of reasons. Andrew Del Barco describes an important one. "There's a great chapter more or less at the center of the book called 'The Doubloon' which describes how Captain Ahab nails a shiny Ecuadorian gold coin to the mast and offers it for a reward to the first man to spy the white whale. And one by one the officers of the Pequod step before this doubloon and stare into it and what they see in it, of course, is a reflection of themselves." This metaphor of confronting one's self is so ingrained in the text of the book that I think we implicitly understand it even when we only know the book anecdotally.
For, behold, the LORD cometh out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity: the earth also shall disclose her blood, and shall no more cover her slain.
In that day the LORD with his sore and great and strong sword shall punish leviathan the piercing serpent, even leviathan that crooked serpent; and he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea.
Lacan's idea is that identity is displaced. Our subjective idea of self is a falsehood modelled on the people and things that one interacts with in the world. Paraphrasing in Lacanian terms, one's sense of self develops through identifying with others (or the self in the mirror, as a kind of other). Humans then desire as or through others. We get a sense of this through looking at social phenomena like fashion or the squabbling of jealous children. It is common for an individual to desire an object because they perceive that others desire it.
Melvin Bragg reads into this and takes it a little further,
You don't desire directly, you desire through association, somebody reminds you of somebody else, or even, to refer back to Ruskin, you only desire something if it's already been aesthetically framed for you. And comes very close upon to saying there are no people in the world, and certainly at moments there are no women in the world, there's simply these people rendered to you by their aesthetic transformation through culture.
To the extent that a subject can reflectively see itself, it sees itself not as a subject but as one more represented object. ... The subject knows that it is something, Zizek argues. But it does not and can never know what thing it is “in the Real”... This is why it must seek clues to its identity in its social and political life.
I talk about people’s stories as the most important fiction. So, memory research tells us that we are not particularly accurate reporters of the things that happened to us, but the stories that we tell about our lives are based on a true story. So they have some kind of correspondence with capital R reality, but we are constantly doing this interpretative and reconstructive thing as we make sense of our lives.
So, to combine Zizek's and Adler's thinking, when a person has learned and internalized the stories of the culture around them that person might be said to effectively be those stories. Through repetition and re-enforcement the stories of my community have worked their way into my unconscious mind and if Robert Fraser is right about Proust and memory, about voluntary and involuntary knowing, those stories are me in the most stable sense. He says,
Proust's view actually was that the involuntary memory (read knowing), which you might call the unconscious memory ... is in some way much more patterned, much more orderly, much more coherent, ... , than the deliberate memory is. Now, this is the opposite of what most people think. Most people don't trust their unconscious minds. They trust their conscious minds because they need their conscious minds to get them through the day. But Proust, I think, had an immense faith in the involuntary memory and what it conjured forth. Just before he published Swann's Way, the first volume of his great sequence, he published in a magazine called Etrand in Paris an interesting article which actually is an interview with himself. ... The interviewer says now what is this about the involuntary memory? What's so important about it? And the interviewee who is also Proust, Proust the novelist, says when you remember something in this involuntary way it comes clothed in association ... it brings an entire world with it. And therefore in a way, the unconscious memory, random as it may seem, accidental as it may seem, is far more coherent and artistically wholesome than conscious memory.
It is in language that expectation and fulfillment make contact. - Wittgenstein
I, on the other hand, have not often felt that epistemic feeling about myself or about things in the world. While my immediate understanding happens on the terms of the culture I grew up in, I can easily step out of that set of stories. I am the product of two different cultures. When I was four my parents moved us from socially liberal suburban Minnesota to socially conservative rural Alabama. At home we were one way and out in the world we were another. Over time, Southern culture became the dominant influence and I would say that I am most comfortable navigating that culture. It's just that I don't fully define myself in relation to it and I question it all the time. I don't agree with it most of the time. This means I am at odds with my culture and therefore in conflict with myself. It may not be as cataclysmic as Ahab's but that conflict is at the center of my work, or at least my thinking about it.
Now, that's not the aim of the work. It's not about me displaying or invoking the idea of a struggle with my self. It's about me thinking about these images, re-making them and trying to be faithful to the photograph within a set of rules that I've created. As I do that and as I make choices in following the rules, the conflict comes out and is illustrated in the making.
As I move forward with this work, I find that some of these images need a lot more thought than the making of one drawing allows. I don't want to just make the same drawing again. That image's ability to move from one medium to another allows me to think about an image longer and also in different ways through printmaking. When I make a painting or drawing the simple set of rules that I follow comes between me and the image. The work is as much a result of the rules as it is of the choices I make as I follow them. However, I don't want to keep making the same images from scratch. That makes printmaking an attractive option for helping me think about these images further. The printing matrix that comes between me and the resulting work provides another obstacle between myself and the finished work. Through the matrix there's a kind of forced indirectness and a forced re-interaction with the rules that allows me to draw out the process of thinking through these images, thinking about the culture that I grew up in and thinking about my stories.