Influences and Process — The Books, Automatism, and the Infinite Everything

19 Dec
by L. Nichols

Disclaimer: I have a cold. I am feeling a little loopy and am only functioning at about 80%. Bear with me as I try to talk about things that even at 100% I am not good at talking about.

Behold the finite set of thirteen convex figures. The irrational sine versus tangent 45. – The Books, Beautiful People

With lyrics like that, I guess it might not be such a surprise that The Books are one of my favorite bands.

The Books are one of the few bands I can get completely lost in listening to. I love to put on my headphones, pick one of their albums and just go for a walk. Or I will put on their music when I am working, particularly when I am painting. For years now, this has been the case. The Books are music I live with when I am alone, when I am with my thoughts and with my work.

Every time I listen to them, I find new things. I find new sounds. I find new thoughts. With their constant presence in my life The Books have shaped my thoughts over the years.

I feel like of all the music I listen to, The Books are going along a similar trajectory to where I want to go with my comics. I love all their music, but I find particular resonance with their newest album “The Way Out” which focuses on more emotional and metaphysical themes. The majority of the words on this album come from various self-help, self-hypnosis, and religious recordings (amongst other things). It’s an interesting mix of logic, pseudoscience, and emotions. Sampling, rearranging, and reinventing the world they find around them.

I find that I am drawn more and more to using found images and words in my art. It’s almost as if it feels like creating a new work out of old stuff reveals more about me than my own words could. But maybe that’s just some different take on the surrealist idea of automatism.

Maybe there is something to this idea of automatism and of aleatoric creation. Let’s consider this in more depth.

In creating the comics I have been making lately, I spend hours looking through the newspaper (NY Times) that I subscribe to and of books I find lying on the ground or in the hallway.  I don’t always read, however. At best I’m paying maybe 25% attention to the actual content of the article or story or page. Here I actively try not to read too much. I try to let my mind wander.

Phrases that stick out to me, I tear out and collect in a book. Textures and pictures that stick out to me, I tear out and scan. With everything I select I try to do it in such a way that their original intention is obscured. Generally I’m going for a more general textural/color use of the images. With words, I go with whatever stands out to me. Turns of phrase. Emotional implications. Words I feel drawn to. What matters in this process is the feeling of “pick this one.” The gut feeling of choice is my driving motivation. Automatic selection and collection.

Now, after I have these things I arrange. I arrange and I edit. I rearrange. I construct a new meaning (or at least try to do so). This is the act that isn’t automatic. It is, in fact, incredibly carefully thought out. And maybe it is here that I deviate from more “pure” forms of automatic creation and veer more towards what The Books are doing with their music.

For more specifics, I will draw them and add them in myself, trying to clarify and expand as I go. So in some ways, this process that I’ve been doing feels like a collaboration of my conscious and unconscious, a mix of logic and emotion. Or maybe more truthfully, a logical mind trying to make sense of its emotional cohabitant.

It’s true that I use my art to sort out myself. With my first comics, this was very superficially about dealing with depression in college. But as I’ve grown older and grown as an artist, this is more and more about finding resolution with internal conflicts between logic and emotion, past and present, perception and observation. The Books go hand in hand with this. In getting lost in The Books, I get lost in my own mind.

In creating the art that I do, I hope to create something that externalizes and captures a piece of myself so that I can examine it from a distance. Distancing myself from myself, I guess, in the hopes that this leads to greater understanding of myself. I also hope to create something that evokes a similar self reflection in others. More and more I don’t want to make it completely explicitly clear what it is that I am doing. I am less concerned with explicit explanation than I am with evocation of a response, of thought and reflection. Sacrificing the word of the law to stay more true to the spirit of it.

Emotional experience cannot be put into words…. Therefore we strive for a transrational free language. -Alexei Kruchenyhk, Explodity, 1913

This is the search I’m on, finding a way to communicate emotional experience, finding my own transrational free language using the parts of my experience. I can’t help but go about this search in a logical manner. Experimentation. It is my nature to do this. Try something. Observe. Try again. Hypothesize, experiment, observe, change. I also really enjoy using the language of logic, mathematics, and science in a more fuzzy, more emotional, more evocative way. Subverting the meanings. Expanding the meanings. Logical Expressionism, perhaps.

Lately I feel like I am on the crux of an artistic turn, a shift in understanding. My work has changed, has converged in ways I wasn’t expecting. My life feeds on itself. I find that The Books have been providing a good soundtrack for this change.

If possible, in our modern world, listen for your eyes in your ears. We will continue this pattern until we have reached the Infinite Everything. Now put on some undergarments and go deeper, and deeper, and deeper… – The Books, Group Autogenics I

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