No one will ever see you as you really are.
What makes you not someone else? Such a question is utterly unanswerable and at the same time obvious. Ego is an illusion, a trick of chemistry and logic, it is the only solution to that one sided equation that is the body. Ego is a foundation of paper on which we build empires. Selfhood hangs unsupported in space like the thesis statement in a high school history essay, easily distorted by the forces of culture and ideology.
Facial recognition has been hard wired into us by a million generations of smiling mothers to slip into our minds and by the tenuous webs of sight, weave together souls trapped in eternal isolation. The process of portraiture is one which seeks to capture that particular facet of the sensorium and by understanding it, raise the consciousness of the viewer into a state of empathy for a stranger.
It is a great fall from the height of imagination’s starry dome into the sediment of flesh. To intentionally, faithfully honor the scientific reality of an individual in the arena of subjective visual semiotics is an expression of that inmost process of individuation and rebirth. It is a loving acknowledgement of the borders of ego, a surgical separation of my own assumptions about anatomy and light, from the reality of another body.
This connectivity between the spiritual sense of self and the two dimensional plane goes beyond illusionism, rather it is my experience that the “plane” exists only in concept because the nature of psychosemantics are essentially planar. The most basic form of the ego is a sign representing itself: A painting.
There is a point between thought and flesh: A point where I can paint with living neurons, I can pull wet sable along dendrites and trace cold carbon through convex contours of animate bone. There is a way of laying down paint where I can find the hue of amygdalae as they spark and glow beyond reason and language. I can express abstract feelings and nuanced atmospheres only hinted at by stilted words. I can lay down glazes of dopamine and impasto stains of memory that flow through paper like blood. There is a way to run graphite down emotional sutures, and fill skin with lead and roses.
Likeness has a gentle violence to it. It's a loving dissection, a memento mori.
Portraiture is an archeological dig that may only have the shards of a digital photograph to place its markers. But, like an archeologist, it is not my purpose to invent a good story, it is my purpose to discover truth. The goal, buried deep as Carthage, is the Likeness.
The space between us is cut and cut and cut, each reduction and edit, draws the painting, and thus my thoughts closer to a specific form. The paint, applied in layers of shimmering mineral depth, rings out in optical harmony to breathe and move as true as the image of your face behind my eyes. Almost as true as life.
I have always intuitively identified as a tree. When I was five years old living in Philadelphia I learned about things like dates by watching my grandmother write the year 1995 on the envelope of the letter I wrote to Bill Clinton; telling him that we needed to stop cutting down the rainforest because, after all, trees are people.
I didn't get through to him. We kept cutting down trees and humans indiscriminately.
I don't believe that a tree is such a strange thing for one to identify as. Our minds grow like branches, white matter spreading out into stardust. The pattern of our thoughts grow in infinite quantum uncertainty in shattered fractals across the continuum. We were trees long before we were human.
Rouge myelin and brain injury grew a synesthetic cross branch somewhere deep in my mind, where pain and pleasure and empathy were linked. It's a completely involuntary connection, as fundamental as our association of soft music with pastel colors. For decades, with nothing but a thought, the visualization of a loved one's suffering sent physical pleasure vibrating up through my body.
It's something that I need to talk about publicly, even though it may be weird or off-putting to most, I know that a minority of people must be like me, and my voice can help them heal. I know the shame and the suffering and the secrecy that obsessive mental anguish can inspire, and I can help by simply breaking the silence. So look at them, the things crawling through my amygdalae, beneath the mask of individuality, I hope you see yourself.
I hated the pain and I hated the pleasure more, I thought I was possessed. Or, since demons don't exist, I concluded that I was evil. The natural kindness of my nature seemed laughable beside the abattoir in my heart. I couldn't stop, I became afraid of myself, I forgot I was only a twisted sapling.
When I was nineteen I took the wyrding way. I am a natural non dualist, it is the only strategy I can find to survive my own brain, a born devotee of the God of death and signs - blood and poetry. Odin, Shiva, Jesus, some common tear through all of them. the celestial snake that binds the world, the hanged God, the moon which holds the Earth in orbit. The brain, the cosmos, language, consciousness.
Through neuroplastic ritual and magic, I sacrificed a part of myself to myself. I trimmed a branch from Yggdrasil and I saw that humanity was a forest. I bent my branches towards empathy, even for myself.
A decade later I do not take my devotion lightly. I do not consider myself superstitious, dismissing an anomalous experience as nonsense is the height of arrogance. The cold pit of science ends in the cosmos. The only entity I am in contact with is my own consciousness, and consciousness is infinite.
The mystery of faith is a failure of language, not reason. God is an imaginary word for a real place in your temporal lobes with more neurons than stars in the galaxy. God is less than an inch from your eye. Of course neuropsychological phenomena, mythology, mysticism, madness, are real, they are really inside your head. Only language is imaginary, everything else is your mind sensing itself.
I structure my practice around Norse Mysticism, Ayurveda Vedanta, Swedenborgianism, Qigong, Stoicism, theoretical quantum physics, neuroscience and my own intuitive sense of bioelectrical energy.
I like things that are old, I was in one of the last classes to pass through PAFA's certificate program which ran for two hundred years, seeking out figurative masters like Barkley Hendricks and Odd Nerdrum. I studied at SFAI because it was old. I'm a seventh generation Swedenborgian and my larger shamanic tradition is older than civilization. I study the Futhark, Latin, Akkadian and Sanskrit because they are old. I paint portraits. My art is not modern. I am a tree and the forest is eternal.
Wyrd is the language of reality, neurons are its graphemes, science its expressive faculty. We have been conditioned by those who love dominion to think of our minds as machines, as automatons enslaved by the cold judgement of the bright half of the sky.
What dangerous superstition. We are not machines, we are trees with roots in time and leaves in space. Humanity is a fractal, Yggdrasil has stood forever.
It's all real, it's all you, it's all right here.
We are still a forest.