Thoughts on Projected Income

In this latest piece, I wanted to explore the relationship between the subjective and the objective, and the title I settled on seemed to perfectly encapsulate the meaning behind the painting (the actual meaning of the term is irrelevant). I saw the mirror as representing the subjective nature of human perception, the landscape symbolizing our environment or the objective thing that we perceive, and the endless reflections of one mirror off another as representing the way in which we try to understand others by subconsciously projecting ourselves onto them.

I think that we are constantly projecting onto other people in various ways. Some of them are neutral, such as assuming most people are capable of doing the things that we are capable of doing, and some ways are destructive toward the projector and the people around them. If we are greedy, manipulative or generally nefarious people by nature, we may be more inclined to view the actions of others as motivated by these things and become incapable of trusting anyone. If we are experiencing moral conflict within ourselves and can’t bear the reality of accepting responsibility for objectionable traits, we may project onto others so that we can punish them instead of ourselves.

These are the things that are usually implied when people say someone is “projecting”, but I guess I also meant to explore projection in a more general sense. Throughout life, we have only our insight and self awareness to draw from when attempting to process our external world and come to any definitive conclusions. The stimuli that we take in gets processed through our own unique version of the human template, resulting in the sense that we know someone or that our perception of reality is in any way objective.

There are of course certain things that exist in our collective consciousness that are backed by empirical evidence and can be considered universal truth, but when we don’t have this evidence we subconsciously turn inward and use the limited information we do have to make sense of what we experience. When we form a bond with someone and think that we know them more intimately than we know other people, we are only seeing a more vivid reflecting image in them, and the objective “them” is a separate thing entirely. Empathy, the distinctly human trait that is one of the major driving forces behind selfless action, is by definition seeing oneself in another person, so one might say we are so self-centered that we have to envision other people as ourselves before we can truly care about them.

Of course in the end this is all pseudo-psychological speculation on my part and nothing more than assumptions drawn from my own subjective experience delivered with conviction – my grand statements about the way humans understand the world are projections themselves, as I imagine are many other theories that typically begin with “Most people…”.

As the painting progressed, I began to imagine the centerpiece full of bustling little capsules of light and energy clustered together (only visible in the final painting as a reflection in one of the mirrors) as representing humanity as seen from afar, separate yet connected by the common source from which we sprang, whatever it may be. The light’s reflections in the encompassing mirrors could be symbolic of the way we externalize in order to transform concepts we can’t fully comprehend into some version of ourselves so that they are palatable. From birth we begin humanizing inanimate objects, beginning with a child’s tendency to start viewing a certain blanket or stuffed animal as an externalization of their own ego. We make gods in our own image and our origin stories are all human-centric, we see patterns in the stars that resemble mythological humans and animals, we use images of humanoid creatures as a way of communicating the concept of extra-terrestrial life, and we see Jesus in toast. Although advances in science and the diminishing popularity of organized religion have steered us further away from trying to grasp the unknown by processing it within our limited vacuum of understanding, we remain a species hard-wired to try and see a little of ourselves, materially and immaterially, in everything around us.

Mirrors have always fascinated me. They are such simple constructions and are such a part of our daily lives that we’re barely aware of them, but up until the advent of the camcorder, we would of had few ways to actually see a crystal clear, unwavering reflection of ourselves in real time. Mirrors can serve as intriguing and unique visual elements in painting – they are tangible objects that absorb and reflect different unseen angles of the space in which they rest, fracturing the painting’s composition and adding dimensions that provide the viewer with a more complex, immersive experience.

They also have a sort of magical quality to them. I remember the first time I discovered the optical illusion you get when you face two mirrors toward one another, a tunnel of reflections infinitely stretching out before me into the walls. Countless horror movies and folklore have played off our fears of mirrors as mystical objects that might become gateways through which things could cross over and harm us. Personally, my childhood was filled with paranoid psychological games where I’d be waiting to see something rising up in the shower stall behind me or to see a monstrously distorted reflection of my own face staring back at me.

I finished Projected Income around late August of 2013. The final execution of the painting ended up taking a little less than a month which, for me, is unusually quick. Although there were one or two major obstacles that come to mind during the painting process, this was a rare situation where I found myself relatively uninhibited and with a clear end result in mind. At the time, I had been approaching most of my work by beginning with a rough burnt sienna wash, then moving to a loose tonal sketch and finally building on top of this with planes of color that would be slowly refined. For Projected Income, I decided to abandon this tried and true method in favor of a crude, spontaneous starting point consisting of ruled lines painted rapidly and without much thought. I found that working in this piecemeal way onto the stark white gesso added a feeling of freedom from the confines of an underpainting covering the entire picture plane, and it left room for incompletion. The composition was approximated and purposely a bit off, leaving me the opportunity to let the mistakes show through the future adjustments semi-transparently and weave into the final image.

When I’m preparing to paint a fictional interior, I’m typically using multiple found images, either scanned to found online, and integrating them into a digital collage. My goal is usually to work toward a point of cohesion where separate elements are unified and appear to be existing in the same space. I think this is the first painting where every element (except for the central shape) is derived from a real interior set up, which allowed me to paint a surreal scene in a fairly realistic way. The frustration of trying to find the perfect scanned image and imagine how it’s shadow would play on another scanned image was gone and in the end I think this made the painting stage more pleasurable.

I can confidently say that the most exciting yet infuriating stage of the entire process was the set up for the source photo. I remember the anxiety from constantly lugging the 2-3 full length mirrors (all of which belonged to Liz and were still in use) up and down the basement stairs, the frequent readjusting of wax paper sheets and unwinding of various piles of colored Christmas lights (which would eventually make up the landscape), and the endless snapping of photos in a desperate search for an image where the lights didn’t become a white, overexposed blur in the surrounding darkness.

At this point, I think that I’m getting closer to fully understanding my typical thought patterns over the course of a project, and there almost always seems to be a point at which I start seriously questioning my original idea and resign myself to the fact that it may be impossible to execute. This thought occurred more than a few times during the setup stage, and I consider Projected Income to be evidence of persistence paying off.

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