I might be at that stage in my career written about in books like Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist” where I’m my own worst enemy. The release of one of my most interesting projects to date is impending. However, on several occasions I’ve questioned why it should even exist and if I can’t rationalize my latest work then why should any of it exist.
I took a video art class in college taught by Brian Mack who was a grad student at the time. Technique was an afterthought, the class was all about storytelling, exploring the genesis of our ideas, and recursively peeling back the layers of “why” and “what” inspired the beginnings of an idea as far back as we were willing to dig. One of the ways I was able to realize value in my work again after these surges of self doubt was to dig all the way back to three creatures that I was captivated by as a child. I believe that the fascination with minute patterns and details in nature that drives my work started with them.
Scoliid wasp Campsomeris quadrimaculata
When I was young I loved the idea of big, living things (think dinosaurs). Often the first place I’d run to in a department or video rental store would be the shelf where I thought I could find Godzilla movies I hadn’t seen yet. I was pretty familiar with insects and wasps in general but I had a few misconceptions with this one. First off, I almost always simply referred to it as a ‘killer bee’ and observed it from a reverent distance. Secondly, I think I never appropriately distinguished these from two or three other species of large wasps. My family always referred to these as ‘cicada killers.’ The insect pictured above isn’t a ‘cicada killer’ but this very well could have been what I was seeing on several occasions. Regardless, I was impressed by their size and the distinctive markings on their abdomen.
Red velvet-ant Dasymutilla occidentalis
Continuing with my fascination toward oversized things it was always exciting to find one of these fast moving, wingless wasps which I thought were giant solitary ants because of their name. One interesting thing tying together all the insects I’ve mentioned so far is that the female incapacitates the larvae or adults of some other species and lays her eggs on or near them so her young can emerge to a meal. Apparently they have a pretty vicious bite, the respect I always gave them was due to the fact that I imagined that sting was directly proportional to size and they were hundreds of times larger than other ants I’d seen and been bitten by.
Eastern fence lizard Sceloporus undulatus
There was nothing I considered cooler than spiky reptiles (I already managed to mention Godzilla and dinosaurs in a paragraph about an insect). The zoo’s reptile house was one of my favorite stops and although they were relatively smooth there was no greater disappointment than finding that the komodo dragons weren’t out. My favorite nature pop-up books featured gila monsters and horned toads. The fence lizard was the closest thing that I could see for myself up close and in it’s natural habitat. They were spiky reptiles, I was smitten.
I was more likely to find these three on brief trips inland from where I lived, a coastal town in Northeast Florida. They flourished in sandy soils and I’d often see them when visiting my grandparents in Lake City, FL or when visiting a place on the Suwannee River that had been in the family for generations. This was probably for the best as at some point in my youth I got pretty sucked into video games and since the portable ones weren’t quite as good yet I could pull myself away on these trips. Some of the games I played constitute positive core influences in my work, but they don’t go quite as far back as these three beings.