An artist statement on VORE works

In 2008 I made the painting that would launch my VORE series. The piece is Vaster Empire (2008) and the title references Sir Lewis Morris’s poem “A Song of Empire” that commemorates Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, June, 1887. 

“We hold a vaster Empire than has been!
Nigh half the race of man is subject to our Queen!
Nigh half the wide, wide earth is ours in fee!
And where her rule comes all are free.
And therefore ’tis, O Queen, that we,

Knit fast in bonds of temperate liberty,

Rejoice to-day, and make our solemn Jubilee.”

The first line in the above stanza was included in Canada’s first Christmas postage stamp and a pin (referenced in Vaster Empire) was made in support of England in the Second Boer War. Since this work was made to exhibit at the October Gallery in London and representatives from the British Museum were in attendance, the piece leans heavy on British Museum references, including: the Deal Warrior skull, a crystal skull, inverted Polly Anna Club and Primrose League pins. Inversion of objects is how I present things skew, diminished or powerless. 

In hindsight, this piece became the bridge linking up a series of smaller works presented at the Minneapolis Institute of Art in a two-person exhibition titled NEW SKINS (2007). In the New Skins exhibition artist Jim Denomie filled a gallery room with portraits of Native Americans as if to occupy the museum with Native people. My paintings lacked representations of humans, only landscapes littered with the evidence of human activity, objects from the museum’s collection. Stylized animals are depicted approaching the objects as foreign elements. 

Many paintings in the VORE series reference objects and texts from seemingly disparate sources, from museum collections to exploitation films. Objects drawn into these paintings are from encyclopedic collections, specifically the Minneapolis Institute of Art and the British Museum, while the texts refer to titles and tag lines from “Cannibal Boom” films of the 1980’s, such as Cannibal Holocaust (1980), Cut and Run (1985) and Cannibal Ferox (1981). These elements are displayed hovering like holy icons, foreign and floating on the page. They dangle over seashores which rise up to consume, assimilate and aid in the fluidity of culture while the earth takes back and buries it’s histories. Patterned blankets showcase these housewares and opportunistic, gaping-mouthed predators congregate on the banks. 

I work primarily on paper, utilizing many two-dimensional mediums on a single surface including oil, acrylic, gouache, color pencil, graphite, watercolor and ink. Although the work sometimes has the appearance of collage, because the styles and mediums vary so dramatically, the heavyweight paper is entirely worked by hand. This process helps define my artistic role as a filter or translator, fully digesting my sources as a complication to the craft of appropriation. My interests in objects stems from the fictions, stories and histories of objects, and how objects function as surrogates for cultural exchange. The idea of cannibalism, or cultural cannibalism, referenced through the film’s text is a metaphor for the assimilation and consumption of cultural identity. Seascapes refer to the historic and continuing interaction people have with waterways which provide a conduit for cultural trade, interaction, and conflict. For previous exhibitions my artwork has required a willingness on behalf of museums and institutions to engage their patrons in thinking critically about the display and representation of cultural objects. By citing pieces from the museum’s collection, I appropriate and fictionalize them into my own imagined landscapes. The museum is a landscape in it’s own right, accreting and assimilating objects foreign to itself.  

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