Have you ever felt that driving force to to achieve something, striving to obtain that spot on the proverbial podium for what seems like ages, and once you get there you don’t quite know how you’ll thrive in your newfound position? As a lifelong artist I feel this way pretty regularly. Sometimes reaching an achievement proves to be lackluster on its own, and it’s not always the giant, glowing, star shooting, confetti falling, angels trumpeting from heaven kind of moment that will stick with us.
One of my absolute favorite parts of childhood was summer camp. I loved it because you didn’t have to be “cool” or popular in your everyday life to fit in. The most awkward among us could thrive, being our best selves. Having an older brother who was a couple notches cooler than I was in non-camp life sure didn’t hurt. I had confidence straight away when I got to camp as Paul and I were treated like rock stars the second we’d step out of Mom’s car and were greeted by our summer friends. Even as the years went on and my brother aged out, I still felt amazingly loved and looked up to, which gave me an abundance of confidence. A confidence I felt none of at school (Junior High is awful, am I right?!). Sure I was a good artist, and I showed that off when I could, but at camp I was also seen as a really good athlete (Ikr?!). Everyone wanted me on their team. After Paul left camp, I was often the first one picked for sports teams. Honest to Judy I have no idea why this was the case in kickball…my foot rarely connected with that spherical object, but I digress…
Swimming days were the best. Twice a week we were bused over to a local college to use the pool. I started off in the shallow end with most of the camp. In the shallow end we spent half of the time learning the basics of swimming and the other half playing games and screwing around. But there was another side to the pool…where the older kids were…effortlessly swimming laps across the huge expanse of the dark blue section of the pool, diving for rings, being amazing.
The deep end. I wanted to be there.
As young artists we spend so much time in the “shallow end”, learning to use pencil, watercolor, clay, paint, etc. playing with mediums we’ve never tried before. So much practice. For those of us who always knew we’d end up in a creative field, it was time very well spent, and while we continue to practice for a lifetime, we can’t stay in the shallow end forever. Our work needs to mean something more, it needs to speak to people…the louder the better if anyone is ever going to hear or see our artistic message.
High School art classes were, in many ways, like summer camp to me. While I was obviously in the room with other kids from school, I thrived there. I loved creating in that space. It was the one room in school where I could be as much of “me” as an otherwise shy, closeted high schooler could be. I credit Mrs. Pope and Ms. Funke for fostering that fulfilling environment…not all art teachers are created equal, and these two gave me that space. I was good at something…art…and in that room everyone knew it. It wasn’t just about being good, but some of us were actually interested unlike half of the class, a hilariously inspirational, yet unserious group of people who mostly took these classes for an easy “A”.
Ha, an “A”. Grades matter so much more when you really want it. Junior year I painted the best watercolor I had created up until that point (and it's still my favorite). It was a scene based off of a photo I had taken in Hawaii the summer before. I was so proud of that piece. I rarely used watercolor, so just coming up with such a magnificent output was a clear triumph.
I know Ms. Funke was watching me as my eyebrows furled…looking at the grade she had given me with contempt, alongside the note that said “more motion in the trees”. I looked around the room at others receiving their grades on their latest projects…pieces of art thrown together in haste by people who didn’t give a damn…half of them got undeserved A’s. Garbage. I got it. More was expected of my work. She probably figured it would get under my skin and push me to do that much better the next time. That’s fine…I still wasn’t about to look at her again the rest of the period. I think of this A minus a lot. That one grade surely had me subconsciously throwing motion into my work over time in High School and even more so after, as I began my art career in earnest. It was also a good metaphor for how I’ve felt much of my life. A minus. Good, but not quite great, in so many ways.
So there I was, in the shallow end, swimming laps of freestyle and backstroke, trying to make my way through a fun loving, yet sloppy crowd of my fellow A minuses to get from one side to the other.
And then I heard it. The voice of Ms. Nolan. She was the shallow end swim instructor at the time, and interestingly an artist herself. She eventually left camp to pursue an art career in Paris. Gosh I loved her. She called out to me with her fingers a half-inch apart, “Peter, you’re this close to being in the deep end”.
I was so excited I gulped a bunch of gross shallow end pee water while trying to maintain a good backstroke. I grabbed the wall, ready to show off the best damn freestyle I’ve ever swam.
“You’re in the deep end!” Ms. Nolan proclaimed.
And she meant immediately. Thrilled, I jumped out of the pool and walked over to the dark blue waters of the deep end. There was a different instructor on that side of the pool for “advanced swimming”, he was currently doing a lap of breast stroke, while the handful of others in this exclusive club were taking turns showing off their swimming prowess. No one was gulping down pee water as they struggled to reach the wall, there were no kickboards, and the atmosphere was much more serene. As I stared into the water my excitement didn’t disappear, but it was filtered with a layer of “oops”. Lessons were basically over for the day so I just jumped in. My feet didn’t touch the ground. Where’s the bottom? This is deeper than I thought, and It’s colder. They probably don’t pee as much in this end. I could hear the sounds of my friends in the shallow end having fun and splashing around. I kinda missed them, but hey, I’ll see them back at camp. On this side of the pool I was the newbie, the weakest link, the youngest, an A minus in a group of A pluses with an opportunity to prove myself once again. This would be more challenging.
I reached this step as an artist years back, when I decided I was ready to take the plunge and express with my liquid colors full time. It was uncharted waters for me…both scary and exciting as I looked at the vast expanse of options before me, trying my best in a field of well-seasoned artists. Over these many years, I’ve driven myself to dive through what is expected of a painter. I feel like I’ve pushed boundaries of subject matter and brought new life to old imagery. I’ve created whimsy in my work, creating visual stories through color play and unique line work. I’ve discovered ways to trick myself into “perfecting” each piece like looking at my work in grayscale to make sure I’ve got the color tones the way I want them. The black and white in my “Thaddeus Art Behind the Scenes” YouTube video was not just creative flare...it was an expansion of this desaturation practice I use for every piece I create...in addition to the fact that I love me some black and white silent film. The new part for me is the video production itself. Throughout this new adventure I've shown off my drag persona Champagne Toast, and created S.B.P, Grayson, L.P., and others. As a group we have been able to bring the artwork to life in a new way on YouTube.
I’m proud of what my work has become, not just in style or subject matter, but in what it means to others. It’s the connection with others through my work that I’m most happy with. It means I’ve done something right so far. A new gallery opportunity this coming fall will provide me with some amazing ways to connect with new people. While I enjoy travel and meeting people in new places, over time I’ve realized that there isn’t anywhere to go beyond the dark blue waters, it’s living up to the challenge while being here that is what keeps one afloat. No matter how we swim, or what waters we come from, it's all one big pool we are swimming in. I’m still young, and the world has only seen a splash of what I have in my head. There are countless options for me to explore in the future, diving further, stroking towards an “A”, or dare I say, an “A plus”. I’m not entirely certain what that will mean for my work, or my prismatic life…all I know is that I will be figuring it out alongside all the others in the deep end.
As an acrylic painter, I use my soft bristle brushes to tell a story of love and pride in vivid, contrasting colors and strong whimsical line work. I portray a love for life and the magnificent creations this world has to offer, and love of the diverse array of people that occupy our spaces and the relationships they enter into. In my work I celebrate pride in the communities we come from and live in, and pride in ourselves, embracing who we are in bold fashion.