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An Artist Ascension from Hell

December 6, 2009


(Songs From the Crickets In My Basement)

By Bradley Bowers

Twelve years ago I quit etching.  There were many reasons for this, but the most memorable was the pinched nerve in my right shoulder blade.  As far as health problems go, it was merely a nuisance, only bothering me when I etched, but when it was intense and persistent enough, it would drown out other pains and thoughts.  A Zen point of focus of sorts, intensity and concentration I also found by holding my breath in the middle of a long distance run.  And like holding one’s breath, it was something I could not continue doing indefinitely. Being aware of bad behavior is half of the way to sanity.  The other half is attempting to correct it.  I hope it is obvious why I say, ‘attempting’, rather than simply saying ‘correcting’– which might indicate delusions of grandeur.  At the time, I sought out different solutions, such as writing with my left hand, sitting in different positions, and taking more breaks.  These would help some, but in the end and knowing better, I found myself reverting to my old habits.  I am not sure of the empirical progression of my nuisance pain if I had continued to etch, but I postulated my arm falling off.

Another reason I stopped etching was that I found myself working on too many projects.  I was constantly going back and forth between several endeavors, expanding upon each one, changing and diverging into new tangents. I was content, satisfied.  I enjoyed this work method.  I had transformed the artistic process into a cycle.  I worked constantly and finished nothing.  I suppose this was a metaphor for something, possibly, the world is a stage and curtain calls are only symbolic, an intrusion into an ever changing play, but I knew better.  You visit metaphors; you don’t live there.  It took purchasing a house to bring me out of my stupor and refocus me on the importance of finishing things (even if it is all nonsense).


Ten years later I find myself etching again, but this time on vessels, using different techniques and working habits.  So far, I have only experienced a lingering phantom pain– not while I work, but now, when I reflect and write about etching.  Recently, I have been hearing crickets in my basement studio. They seem to be growing more numerous. Louder than your typical cricket in the basement experience.  One evening while engraving a vessel, I realized I never got around to fixing the broken window by the old boiler furnace.  I had forgotten about the jagged missing piece of glass. Actually, I had remembered and forgotten many times over the past ten years.  As I worked and the crickets chirped, I considered whether I should replace the glass, buy new widows, or just re-duct tape the plastic over the hole.  I had this same conversation with myself for next several weeks as I finished my vessels for the SOFA show, until October when the weather turned chilly and my basement was quiet again…

The notion for Structural Integrity came to me three years ago at the SOFA show. I was discussing the design of a one legged desk with a metal smith friend.  We were considering how I could place the single leg in the desk’s corner, not have it be too substantial, and appear as if it was made of wood, and not worry about it collapsing if I was jumping on top of it.  I surmised I would need to engineer some kind of hidden metal infrastructure, but I needed more information.  Thus I began to contemplate the structure of the things around me.  I also thought about the building process and the integrity of my work and others.  It is easy to take for granted the infrastructures around us; hidden like a puppet master, they can perform mysterious, almost magical acts, until they are exposed.

Structural Integrity (One) is my first piece exploring this theme. The I-beams are covered with the text of an essay of the same title, which I have been working on for the past three years, I suppose the series will finish when the essay is finished.

The Spiteful Word Tree One and  Two come from a compulsion to write and my aversion to finish things.  In Two,  the tree pattern is made up of several layers of text; shade and texture forming with the multiple applications of ink. In total the surface was etched with 8255 words (I guessed).

The words include an unfinished poem and essay of the vessel’s namesake. There’s also a rambling and disjointed explanation of the building process, some free writing (first time I ever found any value in free writing, which was to fill space), and a few spiteful words (which I really don’t have in me).  It all results in some uneventful self-reflection.

Then there is some plagiarism– parts taken from a Donald Barthelme short story, a DJ mix of sorts.  Also, transcriptions of selected Fall lyrics, and extemporaneous dialog from various novels I was listening to on my MP3 player while etching.

One, was less ambitious, having similar content but only 1500 words.  These were written on top the surface of an etched tree.

Simple Equations in Mathematics and Art fulfills a long-standing desire to steer my art in a more educational direction… but only in a half-hearted way.

In the first grade I was placed in remedial classes because of my “learning disabilities” and then I spent most of my compulsory education trying to get out.  In the fifth grade, I had a math teacher who told the class if anyone got six “A’s” in a row on homework assignments, they could move up to the higher level math class.  After 20 perfect scores, I finally had the courage to ask the teacher if I could move up.  I vividly remember the big fat “NO” that rolled off her lips… What I can’t remember is what kind of creative math I subsequently did to bring my final grade up to the letter, “F”.

The vessel I Have a Plan is a reflection upon my working process, entangled in the forms of allegory, parody and satire.   It’s also fairly truthful and to a certain degree, I hope, universal.

I Have a Plan…
I have ideas. I have dreams.
I thought on it. I did research. I asked for advice.
I made lists. I made hundreds of lists.
I prioritized and I made choices.
I saved money. I prepared. I studied.
I experimented. I practiced and then I reflected. I sought input.
After evaluating the results, I made more lists. I made more choices…
My plan changed. My plan grew, becoming more ambitious, more complex… more glorious.
It bloomed. It evolved. Somewhere in this process, my plan took on a life of its own.
It became indignant; talking back and slamming doors.
It would stay out all night long. It would bring strange plans home.

Suddenly, I had become a slave to several offspring plans.
First having to baby sit and pick up after them.
Then trying to teach and guide them.
I lost influence. I lost authority.
I had to write their papers and drive them all over town.
I lost sleep. I lost desire. I lost hair.
Eventually I was relegated to the role of supplier, buying them drinks, scoring them dope.
And finally, I’m the guy they called to bail them out of jail.

It is early in the morning and the house reeks of cigarette smoke.
I am tired, but it is the only peaceful moment left in my home.
It is time enough to write an abbreviated list,
And a moment of reflection before I head to the grocery store.
Eggs. Milk. Scotch. I have no ideas. No dreams…
Beans, corn, Money is running low, Grape Nuts.
I’ve lost direction… purpose. Velveeta Cheese. Rice. Flour. Maple syrup.
I might not have been happy before, but at least I was content. Bacon?
I need a new plan.

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