I have a tortured relationship with the American Dream.
I was born in Cleveland in the 1960’s, an add-on bonus baby to an already-large nineteen-fifties family of a union truck driver and full-time homemaker. I came to political consciousness in the Reagan years, amid a misplaced sentimentality for an imagined “lost” America, with its uncomplicated 1950’s morality and rigid social roles.
Squeaking by as one of the last beneficiaries of post-war prosperity, the irony, the beauty, the optimism, and the horror of Leave-it-to-Beaver America collided in my world-view and, later, in my work.
I’ve drawn and painted since I was a child. After several changes of heart and academic false starts, I landed in a filmmaking program in Chicago. Finding myself more interested in drawing the storyboards than in making the actual films, I was back to drawing and painting again.
I had the idea for what I wanted to do with paint before I knew how to properly paint. I’d been collecting printed fabrics for years: I scoured thrift stores for interesting patterned curtains and sewed them into clothes for myself and my friends. At one point I had the idea to paint on the fabrics instead of making clothes out of them, and to use the pattern as some object depicted in the painting, a bedspread or a dress. At the time, I lacked the technical skills to make this happen, so I put the idea aside for a while, until I met someone on a house-painting job who mentioned the existence of clear acrylic medium, and the “how” part clicked.
Meanwhile, I’d been collecting old women’s magazines from the fifties. The hysteria with which the idea of the happy housewife and the white picket fence were pushed as desirable made it clear the consumer was being sold a bill of goods. But I found the illustrations so gorgeous and the colors so rich, the food so decoratively disgusting, that the visuals were irresistible. I had to find these women new homes. I had to find out who they were. I needed to unearth them from all those polka-dotted curtains I’d collected and in which they were trapped. They, nor I, would ever be the same.
Twenty years later, this is my job. I own my house. Welcome to my American Dream.