In 1990, when I was 19, I entered a bodybuilding contest to help lose weight. I dieted and trained twice a day for an entire year to get ready for the show. There is no such thing as a partial commitment when the final destination is walking through a curtain to pose in your skivvies in front of a crowd of strangers. I lost almost 100lbs in one year, I competed in electric blue trunks, I won best legs in my weight class and posed to “Still loving you” by the Scorpions.
In 2014, at 43, I created a conceptual painting a day to challenge the purpose and connectivity of the art that I was making. There is no such thing as a partial commitment when you ideate, sketch, paint, upload and commercialize an art piece every day via social media to an audience of mostly strangers. I gained almost 40lbs in one year, painted in the same black shirt and blue pants, sketched thousands of sketches in 7 sketchbooks, painted 369 pieces, knocked back a few and memorized too many Kanye West songs.
Here’s some BIGGER. SMALLER. FUNNIER. highlights from the past 365 days.
The big idea – Before Bigger. Smaller. Funnier. was BIGGER. SMALLER. FUNNIER. I had given myself the goal of ideating and sketching every day to challenge the who, what, where and why of the work that I was making. Then one December afternoon in 2013 while searching through some photographs for inspiration I came across an old photo I shot while on a footwear design trip to Asia. It was of a mural on a factory wall that read “BIGGER. SMALLER. FUNNIER.” I remembered taking the picture because of its lost in translation humor as an inspirational imperative. But as I sat there staring at the photo, the message had a profound simplicity; Do more of the good stuff, less of the shitty stuff with a lot more joy. That night, the idea for BIGGER. SMALLER. FUNNIER. was born (or reborn depending upon how you look at it.) *thank you to whomever had that sign painted on the wall.
Purpose found – When I started BIGGER. SMALLER. FUNNIER. I desired an outlet that wasn’t concerned with style or controlling the output. Although as the project steamed along and its daily deadlines loomed and outside life responsibilities mounted it was quickly evident that the inspiration and source for the pieces needed to be more readily available. Intuitively, bits of overheard conversations, personal struggles, memories, wants, needs, loves, hates, joys, etc…, were making their way onto the page. Finally, the countless stories, photographs, ephemera, concepts and alliterations that have filled my head, shelves and storage containers for years had a place to live. Ultimately within the parameters of 8 colors, a happenstance font and a 3” x 4” canvas, a more intimate voice to my work was uncovered driven by wit, my interest in the human condition and the well being of others
It’s working – My goal going in to BIGGER. SMALLER. FUNNIER. was to make more work, connect to more people, share it in a new way and democratize my art. So I did. 7 sketchbooks, thousands of sketches, 369 paintings, exhibited virtually via social media daily with 100 Limited Edition prints offered for each piece to a more than quadrupled audience base.
Hello? – There were times during the project that I felt as if I was working within a vacuum alone. Social media posts were not resonating, newsletters were seemingly being sent into a digital abyss and print orders were non-existent. These are the times that reinforce doing something because you love it. Period.
We’re “like” friends – I would be lying if I didn’t acknowledge how nice it is to get a lot of “likes” and support via social media. It’s a wonderful ego stroke. But to get a comment from somebody letting me know how my work has inspired them or made them laugh completes a huge part of why I make art. For me, art is best served within a feedback loop that lets me know it’s working or not. This inspires evolution and change. It’s reassuring to have the support of a growing virtual community that made the conscious choice to chose my work. Albeit easy to chose, they did. And seeing the same people supporting the project from the start has been flattering and amazing.
Good listener - Having to create a meaningful piece every day I learned to listen better (although my wife might argue this point). I would do a lot of sketching and writing in public places because it makes me feel less alone but it can also be incredibly entertaining and inspirational. Overhearing other people’s conversations reinforces the universality of our concerns and struggles but it can also give great perspective to the pettiness, humor and irony within our lives.
Im-perfect – I am a perfectionist and I like people to like me. These two things love to party with one another. They mostly conspire to achieve a life of safety, incompleteness and indecision. For me having to ideate, sketch, paint, post and commercialize a piece a day is akin to birthing a child. Even last night while posting a piece at 1am after 364 days of doing this I laughed out loud because it never gets easier. From the start of the project I intentionally viewed the finished paintings as sketches that continue to be works in progress and inspiration for future works. Even though it hits the page doesn’t have to mean it has to be final.
I would be remiss to not mention that my wife (and artist) Lisa DeJohn has been there almost daily to look at sketches, read chicken scratch and give me a push when doubt and insecurity loom. I’m a little less precious and I’m still working on caring less about what people think of me. The good news is that I’m getting older and I have less energy to care.
Seriously. Funny. – I like Comedy. And I like Art. I’ve always been really insecure about the inclusion of humor into my work because of the fear of it being perceived as sophomoric and unsophisticated. But as the project progressed I realized that humor, irony and wit is my way of processing and presenting subjects that are far more complex than just a surface level quip.
It’s in the living – It may sound incomprehensibly obvious to some (especially creatives) but probably the most important thing that was reinforced/learned from doing a painting-a-day is that inspiration is in the living. There was little to no time to sit in a studio and force the content for BIGGER. SMALLER. FUNNIER. Not to say that every piece didn’t require a lot of mulling, ideating and sketching but the eureka moments were simply the little moments that make life great. In 2014 they showed up for me 369 times; from the California desert, to a barber shop, while waiting for the next wave, to the passing of a loved one, from my 4 year old niece, during a never-ending meeting and in a saying on a factory wall.
SO WHAT’S NEXT?
I’ve been asked this question a lot (and I’ve asked myself this question a lot). And I don’t necessarily know.
I’m going to start getting ready for a show inclusive of the BIGGER. SMALLER. FUNNIER. original paintings to occur at my partner gallery, Winston Wächter in NYC in the summer of 2015. As well, I’m going to start shopping the project around to do a comprehensive book of the paintings, process and stories. I’m really excited to dig into making some larger works and sculptures from the program. And there’s some potential partnerships in the works for the second half of next year.
What is certain is that I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished over the last year and I really love what the project has turned into as an approach to making work as well as it being a philosophy about approaching life. It’s so much more than just sketches, paintings, sculptures or books. If the “art is in the living” then I’m reassured that there are many more adventures to come and it’s not the last of BIGGER. SMALLER. FUNNIER.