If you’ve seen any of my art, you already know that I tend toward the macabre and weird. But I’m also attracted to whimsical medieval art. I love deep diving through internet archives of ancient manuscripts, just to bathe my eyes in the luscious colors, gorgeous calligraphy, and little surprises in the margins. When I come across something subversive like a 15th Century Bible that has doodles of a monk farting or a fish with feet (can anyone say Darwin?), I get endorphins for days.
I’m also fortunate enough to live near the Art Institute of Chicago, where you’ll find an enormous altarpiece from 1396 featuring these sheep. It’s vibrant and alive and endearing. I mean, look at those sheep! Sheep butting heads. Sheep milling about. Sheep nibbling from trees. I love them so much I want to recreate them somehow. Paint? Embroidery? Ooooo, or maybe felting!! I get a rush just thinking about the possibilities. The first time I stood in front of this altarpiece, just taking in the details and feeling the inspiration to create, my follow-up thought was: no, you can’t make those. It's not on brand.
Brand is an essential component of any successful business. Google it and you’ll be rewarded with hundreds of articles, classes, and videos about branding. As a small business owner, I know I need to create and build a consistent brand so my art is recognizable and cohesive.
But at some point, the concept of brand needs to be questioned. It has deep roots in capitalism, where everything we do is judged by its commercial viability or monetary value. We feel guilty for resting. Or playing. Or trying something new. We squash any impulse to do or be something that isn’t marketable or bringing in money. To which I say: fuck that capitalist bullshit. I will not be ruled by capitalism. I will not reduce my art to only that which can be sold. I reject the notion that playing with sheep is a waste of time and effort.
In other words, get ready. This curator of the macabre is preparing to tackle cute.
By the by, this altarpiece was commissioned in 1396 by a rich Castilian statesman named Pedro Lopez de Ayala in order to “honor the Virgin and perpetuate the memory of himself and his family.” The altarpiece covered an entire wall of his family chapel and includes images of himself and his wife. Ohmygod. Don’t you just love the ego?