Envy and the Zeitgeist
I started making animals in grad school when I discovered the Dogs of Colima, Northwestern, Mexico, during a pre-Columbian art history class. I made the Dogs of Colima and then I would fold in a new element in an attempt to create a personal narrative. I made a Colima dog that swallowed bricks and then there were a few Colima dogs that, instead of wearing the traditional human mask, wore a ram mask and skin. This was the beginning of my interest in making clay look like taut skin and membranes that I've been developing for the past several years.
The story that I told back then was that the dogs were a reference to my grandma's dog Peppi, about the same size who, on the weekend of my grandma's funeral, found shade and a resting spot beneath my dad's gardening truck. When my dad left for some early morning gardening chores, he ran her over. After a lot of smashing and breaking things, Peppi was gathered into a plastic trash bag and placed in the freezer to be buried with grandma Lula the next day.
Knowing what I know now about cultural appropriation, I may or may not have made a Colima Dog. I would at least ask the question. I think the fact that I was altering the dog to create a personal narrative was my subconscious way of addressing cultural appropriation because, while it was talked about, it wasn't as serious of an issue as it is today, or maybe it was, maybe I was just naive or insensitive about it.
The Desert Big Horn sheepskin on the dog led to making actual bighorn sheep heads. (not pictured) I made sheep as a reference to my hometown, Palm Springs California, where they are native. The first time I saw a Desert Big Horn was during a school field trip to The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens in Palm Desert, California. I remember being taken by the aesthetics of the sheep, their poise, and the majesty of their horns.
I started making rabbits a few years after graduate school after we moved to Southern Utah. It was during a residency and exhibition at Red Lodge Clay Center when I received an email from a stranger asking "have you ever heard of Beth Cavener?" (If you don't know her work, you should, here) That question could have meant anything, but it revealed the depth of my insecurity as an artist because I took to mean that I was unoriginal and that I was copying.
I lived with this envy for a long time. I'd see her work at NCECA and other venues and simultaneously think, "Damn that is so good, I could never be that good," and, "I am that good and Why can't I get the same recognition?", and then back to, "Damn I can never be that good and so on". If you're an artist, you can relate.
Nowadays, my art has moved on from rabbits and animals in general, but still, I will occasionally get a DM after posting something new. Someone will inevitably show me the work of others who are more famous that are making something similar.
Recently, I made a few of these oozing and taut high heel stilettos, (left) and it was after my first post introducing this work when I was introduced to Jeff Muhs art. (right) Someone DM'd me with an image of his work and said, "Have you ever heard of Jeff Muhs or seen his work?" This time, I didn't get all frothy and interpret this as an accusation, just someone pointing me to another artist. Even if it were an "accusation", it wouldn't have cared, I've grown up.
Now, instead of getting all frothy about not being original, I get excited that I am a part of a particular Zeitgeist. I'm thrilled that other artists are of the same kind of 'weird', as me. I like my tribe. Each time I think I'm making something that has never been done before, inevitably I discover, either through others or just scrolling social media, that it's already been done and some times even better. Well done, artists.