Artist Statement

Popular Culture is Like a Shadow

Popular culture is the practices, beliefs and objects that are dominant in a society at a given point in

time. Popular culture is an imperfect representation of the society from which it comes. A shadow casts

an outline of an object, the silhouette an identifiable reference but not an exact representation. In the

same regard, popular culture offers a visible but imperfect sketch of the society that created it.

Images that are widely circulated within a culture are important because they give form to the views of

that culture. Often what is valued in a culture is what the culture fears it might lose. This can be seen in

science fiction’s depiction of dystopian futures, but it is something that has been around as long as

human culture. A good historical example of this is Peter Bruegel’s Seven Deadly Sins which gave

visual form to the northern European Renaissance’s religious anxieties.

My current work uses American popular culture as a visual language to explore and critique the

narratives, power roles and shifting identities of American culture dating back to Horatio Alger Jr.’s

formulation of the American dream.

I do this in a variety of ways, through different media and bodies of work.

I re-appropriate images taken from the covers of dime novels—the precursor to the comic book. I draw

from the series Work and Win (1898-1925) which is historical cheap serialized American fiction that

originated from writers like Horatio Alger Jr. In 2016, I received the Horatio Alger Fellowship for the

Study of American Popular Culture at the Rare Books and Special Collections at Northern Illinois

University in DeKalb Illinois. My research gave me a visual vocabulary specific to American popular

culture seen in popular fiction from the 19th and early 20th century, images that come directly out of the

time period where the narrative behind the American dream was being developed. What I have done in

the body of work using these historical images is to alter and re-appropriate them to speak to the

anxieties of today’s post American dream Trump Era America. Similar to the way in which the original

covers of the dime novels were created, I recreate them through print processes that use CMYK color

separation that I am painting into.

Another way I explore the theme of the American narrative is in the form of a comic book. In my book

Growing Up, I use a pop culture visual language that this time is taken from the music, toys, and

television shows of the 90’s. I call on the nostalgia of those who grew up in the 90’s, telling a fictional

story that explores the themes of growing up, race, intergenerational trauma, and economic class

structure. I wanted to create a story with a sense of familiarity that touches on the memories of a

generation.

With each new body of work, I am creating a conversation about the present by using a visual language

taken from American popular culture of the past. I am opening communication between different varied

narratives that have existed in America, from the days of Horatio Alger Jr, the MTV generation of the

90’s, to a post 9/11 America. This is to show how popular culture hints at what is to come and is

identifiable like a shadow being cast by a figure.