Summer is here and I’m longing for a good road trip – windows down, sun shining over the horizon and good music à la Nicole Kidman inside Applied Sorcery. That desire is the idea behind my latest piece, Road Trip: four cassettes containing eight miniature oilscape paintings depicting the journey across America from the west coast to the east. All of my road trip adventures have playlists, and by looking at each of the tape images I can hear the songs that have kept me company on those long drives. Of course it also works the other way around; When I hear a specific song, it can take me right back to I-80, where I sing along to half the words as I explore the skyline. This sense of being transported into memory and nostalgia is what I’m trying to evoke with these tapes.
COVID has resulted in multiple cycles of canceled plans, so I’ve taken multiple road trips to keep my wandering brain sane. Most of the reference photos I used for the paintings were photos I took on an overland trip in the summer of 2021. I’ve started painting other obsolete devices like old cell phones and laptops; they feel like slightly more meaningful Polaroids or other memorabilia I carry with me. I like to bring the phones to examine and enjoy in other contexts like the subway or in the park. With the right preparation, almost any surface can be painted, from seashells and rocks to glass soda bottles or pickle jars. Finding objects to paint on can easily become part of a vacation, and painting on those objects when you get home is a great way to remember the fun times.
When I was commissioned by a professor to bring unusual “canvases” into the classroom, I first got the idea of painting on a cassette. One thing I had to think about for painting class was to transport all the paintings I had made in class to my apartment wet. Traveling a lot as a kid also left me with an appreciation for portable ways of presenting art. Finding an item that came with its own case was really satisfying – even better that it’s a clear case.
When I first started painting cassettes, I also experimented with CD cases. I eventually decided that I liked ribbons and their cases better than CD cases because of the separation between art and frame (or case), but I kept coming back to the first CD case I painted. It was an oil painting of a cloudy sky in a CD case that I called “SoundCloud”. I wanted it to do more than just show the sky; I wanted it to be immersive. It’s hard to do with such a small object, and I realized the way to do it is to add music.
Music has always been a big part of my artistic practice – I always have the radio on in my studio and many of my pieces have playlists that I made to listen to while I’m working on them. Some of the tapes I’ve painted contain recordings of the playlists I listened to while working on them, but many of them are also mass-produced tapes of music by icons such as Hall & Oates, U2, James Taylor, Tina Turner and other bands I grew up with in the car. I was able to source many of the pre-recorded tapes through neighbors in my local Buy Nothing group, and I’m thrilled to be able to work with recycled materials.
To paint such an object at home, you will need several brushes (#1 round, #3 round, #5 round, #6 flat), gesso or mod podge, acrylic paint, some cardboard or paper plates to mix the paint to mix and several cups of water for rinsing. First apply several thin coats of Gesso or Mod Podge to your object with the Flat Brush to prime it. This will help your paint stick to the object and prevent it from peeling off. This step can be done anytime before painting. So if you’re crafting with kids, you can avoid boring drying times by priming the objects the night before. Before painting, I quickly sketch the object with a pencil or ballpoint pen to avoid distorted images. I use oil paint, but I don’t recommend it for casual crafting; it is very dirty and requires the use of toxic solvents. Acrylic paint is much cheaper, easier to use, and easier to clean. It dries quickly and can be cleaned with soap and water.
I love painting on canvas, but there is something particularly satisfying about creating art that someone else can hold in their own two hands and sometimes even listen to. Because of these tapes, when I see those specific views, someone else can know what it sounds like in my brain. Someone else may know what my memories sound like.