This morning I opened Rolling Stone magazine to find an article called “Nick Kroll’s Filthy Teen Spirit.” Normally I would pass on something like this, but the exuberant, funny photographs of Kroll and two cartoon characters drew my attention… as did this quote in the first paragraph, said to have been whispered to Kroll in a restaurant by a 10-year old boy: “I’m not allowed to watch it, but I love it.” Intrigued, I wanted to know what “it” was.
Author Mark Healy explained that “it” is a sitcom series on Netflix. Writer/actor Nick Kroll has tapped into the danger zone of his own adolescence to harvest experiences that were privately painful and present them back to the Netflix audience in a creative way that heals the viewer’s inner child. His animated comedy show is “about a group of horny suburban spazzes wanking and wet-dreaming their way through puberty.” The show “is widely beloved… not just by horny spazzes themselves but also their parents, their health teachers and pretty much anyone who’s suffered the humiliation of those confounding years.”
This got me to thinking about how art can pull monsters out of closets to reveal that the horrible creatures are in fact normal elements of the human experience in need of healthy appreciation. It takes a lot of courage to tame a personal monster, but as taught by illustrator/artists Maurice Sendak (depression) and Dr. Seuss (social injustice), if one looks for the soft underbelly of a monster and befriends the creature from that spot outward, there is a chance for gentle balancing of one’s fears.
Begin as creation, become a creator.
Never wait at a barrier.
In this kitchen stocked with fresh food,
Why sit content with a cup of warm water?
Daniel Heimbinder “All Good Things”
Art is built on this premise of finding the enlightened truth held within shadow. Artists are often those who rediscover their inner compasses while mucking around creatively somewhere near or inside the hidden, dark slosh that is their own individually charged emotionalism. In swiftly changing civilizations it is paramount that artists find techniques for calming their inner societal fears, presenting their findings to society, and thereby directing communal awareness towards positive change. In today’s climate of equalizing masculine and feminine energies, puberty is a good place to start. If we can learn to relax our critical concepts of natural bodily functions, we might not be so aggressive about belittling and blaming others in an attempt to hide our own tendencies.
What is my own Kroll adolescence to maturity story? When I was a 10-year-old girl I found my Dad’s stash of Playboy magazines. While my guilty sleuthing brought me short term anxiety, it had a positive long term effect. Viewing the superficial images of women got me to thinking about truth and illusion, and led me towards a career in Fine Art as opposed to graphic design. My ongoing question was and still is, “Where is the heart? Where is the soul?” According to the laws of nature, true perfection must include what our society deems the shadow side of humanity: the irregularities, the wrinkles, the moles, the monster dark that holds us back and in doing so lifts us into the light.
In 1979 Judy Chicago unsettled both masculine and feminine norms with her frontier exploration of the female experience in “The Dinner Party.” This elegantly powerful masterpiece brought the shadowed female perspective of sexuality out onto the table, thereby symbolically naming it normal. Even though mainstream society is just now beginning to embrace the truth that Chicago saw then, it could be that Chicago’s creative brilliance set the stage for Nick Kroll’s adolescent neurosis-healing comedy series of today.
Looking around at our local art scene we can see examples of how the traditionally dark shadow of sexuality between men and women is loosening into a greater lightness of allowing and understanding. Daniel Heimbinder, showing at Art Ventures Gallery (image above), explores a variety of historical and present day iconic topics with graceful ease. Within his illustrative and humorous drawings, we often see a loosening of gender specific form.
Sculptor/painter Mark Roller (exhibiting at Think Round Fine Arts in SF) is another artist who celebrates the merging of female/male energies. For over thirty years Roller has tirelessly explored the shifting form and times of his wife and long-time muse, artist Colette Crutcher. A recent sculptural painting is seen below.
Even while the painter presents Colette most often in nude and sometimes naked form, Roller consistently presents her female body as a temple of strength that holds the best of qualities found within the human spirit, two of which are healing awareness and world/universal consciousness. When we view Colette, we view the human potential of all women.
The creative world has benefitted greatly from this contemporary acceptance of the artist as personal explorer, free to leap all traditional boundaries. PMA Studios Artist Colleen Mirassou, touches the heart of all viewers with her homage to her deceased daughter, above. Because of the artist’s use of the truthful but non-exacting death mask, the viewer is able to enter into Mirassou’s story as if it were their own: the mask could be a son, a brother, a sister, a mother, an aged one who lives down the street. We feel soothed by Mirassou’s sensitivities as we embrace our own.
PMA Studios painter Greta Waterman says it well in reference to her pieceThrough the Door, above. “Emerging from the dark, leaving the lurking shadows behind, you forage through the next step, trying to embrace what is ahead.”
The contemporary world’s expanding freedoms of personal artistic expression might be difficult to fathom in initial concepts, but when respectfully explored might be just the pathways we need to help ease us through these difficult social/political times, and to heal our troubled hearts and planet.
"PMA Heartbeat" contains the personal observations of the artist in Studio 26, and not necessarily those of PMA as a whole.