This isn't the point. The point is, for the few obsessions I do have, I spend a lot of time contemplating the driving force behind those obsessions. And I have yet to come up with an answer to why I am so drawn to the desert, why it lives in my blood, makes me get in my car and drive for weeks to places so hot they literally melt my muffler when I leave my car parked on top of a mesa in 110 degree weather for too long because I'm out doing yoga somewhere on the edge of that mesa. And I don't know what I find compelling about street art that I don't find compelling about, say, Renaissance art. I have ideas, but nothing cohesive, and that lack of cohesion is in large part what's kept me from integrating these obsessions into a larger artistic whole out of which I might actually create something from those things I collect [In the case of street art and the desert, it's photos I collect, though I've started bottling sand and stealing stenciled stickers from my favorite neighborhood artists, too].
All of this is a long-winded introduction to Los Angeles based, Utah born artist Jeff Frost, who recently visited my Digital Studies Symposium to give a guest lecture. He was invited to speak to us because he works across artistic media to create dynamic hybrid art: photography, film, sound, & painting. The subjects of these pieces are the reason I have to now, obsessively, start following his career. He goes out to the desert. He finds abandoned buildings. He paints optical illusions inside these abandoned buildings. He photographs the paintings and the process of painting. Desert. Ruins. Street art. I mean, there's technically no "street," which gives his project a somewhat landart feel, but it's got the DNA of street art in its connotations. Before I go further, here are some examples, which can be seen on his facebook page or his website:
What fascinates me about the first step of this process, the painting of the interior walls of abandoned buildings with optical illusions, is the surprise factor involved for an unknowing adventurer. Were I to stumble upon one of these during my various treks through the desert, I would be endlessly pleased, I would feel like the universe was confirming once again that it does indeed reward active pursuit of the unknown. What Jeff leaves behind in these buildings are his obsessions [if I can call them that]: painting, quantum theory, exploration. And what I find in them, if I were to find one of them, are my own obsessions. A narcissistic person like myself enjoys this very much about certain kinds of art. That someone can create a piece of art that, upon your discovery of it, feels like it's been made for you. I don't mean seeing melted clocks at the MoMA in New York and feeling like Dalí just understands you and your struggle to comprehend the world everyone else seems to be living in. I mean art that is yours because you drove the miles, you paid for the gas, you slept in the back seat, you camped in the fucking cold, and you decided to go into what may or may not be a structurally unsound building. That art is for you.
But this is only the first step for Jeff. Or a first step that is also integrated with the following step, which is to slowly photograph the progress of the painting so that he can accomplish the third step: a time lapse film of his "installation." Take the time to watch the result, which is truly unique, haunting, and beautiful.
What scares me about digitally created art is the lack of physicality. The lack of an art object. In street art and land art, there's also no art object per se, or at least not one you can buy or take home with you. I resist this, too, about digital literature even though it's the thing I'm spending 7 years of my life exploring in graduate school. But Jeff's work marries palpability with the digital. Because of the time lapse, there is a strong sense of presence between photos, even when the film moves quickly though a scene, but it's an absent presence. We see a wall being painted, but we don't see the painter. A perfect visual metaphor for the desert, a place where there is no one, yet where you can feel everyone, everything, by the sudden absence of people and places and things that otherwise fill your life. There might not be something in these films that I can take home or visit in a museum, but there is something almost physical, something analog, reconciled with the digital here that compensates for this desire I have for the object, the thing I can collect.
I don't think I've ever met an artist who so perfectly speaks to the aesthetic that is my life. His talk inspired in me some new ideas for even more trips to the desert and ways to combine everything I do—writing, desert-ing, amateur photography, collecting—into something innovative in an age when the internet makes an artist out of almost everyone.