The Analysis that Became a Rant or The Little Article that Could
It might have been the pot, it might have been the acid, or it might have been the mushrooms, but I remember at some point in my nebulous collection of psychedelic adventures, zombies finally made sense. I figured them out.
I don’t like the word “zombie” though. “Living dead” is getting better—it’s a nice oxymoron. “Walking dead” though… they got it right with that name.
See, “Zombie” is too abstract—it’s not connected with anything tangible, it’s just a funny sounding name that we associate with mindless, autonomic bodies brought back to life.
“Living dead” is better because it hits closer to home. We have deeper associations with the words “living” and “dead”—they mean more to us than “zombie” ever will. But, there’s something wrong with the name.
“Walking dead” on the other hand hits it out of the park. It just nails it. Why?
It does the same thing that “living dead” does—it anchors the name and the idea of the creature into something more tangible than “zombie”—but then “living dead” goes wrong with the “living” part, because we instinctually know that part of the name is a cheap gimmick.
It’s clever, for sure, but we know the zombies aren’t “living”. “Living” for us as humans is something natural. We associate it with “the lights being on”, with a “soul” in the body, maybe even a ghost in the shell (wink, wink). And so, we look at the dead body moving on its own, and we know that it’s not “dead” in the normal sense, but we also know it’s definitely not “living” in any sense.
But, “walking dead”, that name works. You don’t have to think about walking at all in order to do it. You can literally walk in your sleep, it’s so easy and mindless to do. Walking is just your body moving in a pre-programmed way and it literally takes no effort at all—just try thinking about how you actually walk, I’ll bet you don’t even know how walking works.
“Walking dead” implies something that’s just robotic, mechanical, thoughtless or instinctual. It basically calls zombies objects capable of moving (and eating, of course). There’s nothing there. The body moves, but it moves like silt moves in a riverbed, or how snow falls from tree limbs or rocks fall down slopes—there is no thought: it’s purely mechanical.
That term, “walking dead”, removes any sense of agency, animacy, life or consciousness from the zombies: they’re corpses that move; they’re objects that walk.
But, what does this mean symbolically?
What are the walking dead?
They’re mindless people-shaped objects that incessantly consume anything and everything around them.
They’re the hungry, unthinking corpses that stalk the few conscious survivors of the undeath plague in herds.
They’re the masses of thoughtless, mechanical animals made of rotting flesh and decayed nerves.
They’re the shambling costumer, the bottomless, indebted consumer, the TV mind-slaves; they’re the drones, the sellouts, the zealous recruiters of self-dissolution; they’re the frenzied finger-pointers, the inquisitors refusing to look in the mirror, the self-anointed priests of popular opinions.
They’re the walking dead: they’re programmed, they lack self-reflection, they lack the ability to judge their own actions or beliefs, and they lack an understanding of where they’re beliefs and behaviors even stemmed from—more importantly, they even lack a desire to understand.
This idea—this symbol—reflects so succinctly the collective behavior of “the masses”. It’s the idea of herds of people who lack self-reflection or any deeper level of consciousness (perhaps the lack consciousness altogether) and who act on basic instinct and primordial, emotional drives.
So what is the point of the zombie or zombie survival flick?
I began this article with a quote from one of the greatest unknown lyricists, Mark Lenover. Here’s a quote from one of the greatest known lyricists:
“Run desire, run, sexual being Run him like a blade to and through the heart No conscience, one motive Cater to the hollow”
“Screaming feed me, here Fill me up, again And temporarily pacify this hungering”
Maynard James Keenan & Billy Howerdel, “The Hollow”
The zombie narrative reflects humanity’s social reality in that a vast majority of the population is turned “off”—the lights aren’t on, no one’s home, some thoughtless machine is pulling levers behind the scenes—while a small minority of people are survivors.
Perhaps the plague, virus, disease, etc. is society itself—the pressure of millions of people-shaped objects wanting to turn you into one of them—wanting to consume you and degrade you to their mindless level. Perhaps it’s culture, or a specific kind of culture which infects people, or maybe it’s a natural symptom of a society.
So, what about the survivors? Who are they?
What do they represent?
They’re the people fighting to survive the thrall of society or culture—the people who fall prey and become another walking dead are those who give in to apathy, lethargy or self-destruction; or they fall prey to some trauma—physical, social or psychological; or they are overwhelmed by the herd and succumb to the swarming mob of people-shaped meat-objects.
And why do the walking dead wish to feast on other humans? Specifically, the flesh of humans who are still alive? Why are they unable to or have no desire to sustain themselves off dead or undead human flesh?
Because people have no desire to kill and consume other people who are already a part of the herd: we have no desire to transform people who are already transformed, and nothing can be gained from consuming what we already are.
The people who survive the gauntlet of society and culture become targets for zealous conformists and mindless consumers. People don’t “consume” products created by people similar to them, people from the same socio-economic class as them, or people from that they’ve conformed to/with—the people who create the things we consume aren’t like the pepole consuming their goods.
The people who remain original, the people who remain conscious, the people who remain alive and passionate: these are the people the masses wish to feast on.
The herds of walking dead feast on Disney, Walmart, Amazon and others—and while the living may still use these companies, they do not “feast” on them, they are not consumers in the same sense.
The “herd-minded” consumer consumes to blindly satiate an instinctual hunger; the living, thinking individuals understand their actions, and they “consume” to fulfill a conscious, understood necessity, or to aid in assisting some goal.
So there are two elements to this: a hatred of life—an anti-life (an unlife)—driving people-shaped objects to destroy life; and then there is an absolute desire to consume that life. It is a hunger or desire to obtain something, which results in the destruction of the desired thing.
And the emotional kicker to this all is the endless nihilism and suffering of hope.
Those who survive remain conscious, remain thinking, calculating, rationalizing agents—they remain alive—and yet their life is infinitely more difficult because of this. They remain alive and conscious only to be conscious for their own unending peril, pain and hardship. So why continue? Why go on?
Why go on—why struggle so hard against the smothering night and the bitter cold—when one can just let go, become a part of the herd?
Why struggle against something that seems so inevitable? Why wage an impossible war? Why stand against the ocean of mindless walkers?
What is it that is so important about life that people are capable of weathering the most violent storms in order to maintain life—to keep the fire lit, and to carry and pass the torch into the lightless chaos of tomorrow?
The possibility of something better and the hope for a cure: the hope for an end to the infinite dark.
This is what ever zombie narrative inevitably teases us with, and this is what life teases us with: what if, one day, we could end all this pain?
What if, one day, we could cure the walking dead, restore humanity and restore a society into one that loves life and living? What if we could cure the disease of anti-life and mindless consumption?
That’s what keeps us watching, and that’s what keeps the fire lit.
“And these words changing nothing as your body remains And there’s no room in this Hell, there’s no room in the next And our memories defeat us, and I’ll end this duress But does anyone notice? But does anyone care? And if I had the guts to put this to your head But does anything matter if you’re already dead? And should I be shocked now, by the last thing you said? Before I pull this trigger, your eyes vacant and stained And in saying you loved me made things harder, at best And these words changing nothing as your body remains And there’s no room in this Hell, there’s no room in the next But does anyone notice there’s a corpse in this bed?”
My Chemical Romance, “Early Sunsets Over Monroeville”
Conclusion: Episode/Issue #1 of The Walking Dead
A good story reflects reality.
A good symbol reflects a deeper, more complex truth about reality that a literal description cannot.
Zombies, living dead, walking dead: a society moving in herds, which no longer cares for life nor its continuation, and seeks its annihilation and assimilation through mindless consumption.
The Survivors: the ones who rage against the herds of people-shaped objects.
A good narrative speaks in a language of symbols, characters, events and associations.
In the first issue of The Walking Dead comic series and in the first episode of the show, the protagonist, Rick Grimes—a protector and upholder of law, and thereby a protector and upholder of culture and society—is shot and put into a coma. He wakes up in a hospital to find the world in shambles.
He is weak and barely alive. The previously orderly, clean and sensible world he lived in has become a ruined hellscape, devoid of life. He finds that society has been overrun by the Walking Dead, and then finds that a small number of people are still alive.
He then begins protecting these people, these individuals, and upholding life itself.
Rick himself “dies” and returns to life—he goes to the abyss, the place of chaos and darkness, common mythological trope—and returns to the “overworld” or the “normal” world.
Here, we can take a literal interpretation of the story: he wakes up after an actual zombie apocalypse.
Or, we can take a symbolic interpretation of the story: he wakes up to see the world for what it really is.
He wakes up and realizes his own weakness and vulnerability; he wakes up and realizes how important life and consciousness really are; he wakes up and devotes his life to protecting and leading people, not dictates of society.
Perhaps Rick didn’t wake up and see a transformed reality; perhaps Rick woke up transformed and saw reality.
Hailing from Dallas, TX, David Coffey’s is an artist whose figurative style and darker undertones and themes I quickly resonated with. Ranging across themes of power, abuse, human duality and beauty, David’s artwork expresses tangled and conflicting aspects of human nature, much of which we are averse to confronting in our waking lives, but are ever-present in our psyches.
David has been creating art since childhood and, as with many underground artists and creators, is self-taught.
“I’ve been drawing as long as I can remember. My love for art began with sketching during class at school, continued into drawing while lying on the carpet floor of my room as a boy, and I’ve never stopped drawing since. I didn’t start painting until just about 2 years ago, so that’s been a learning experience. I never have had any formal training. I use a lot of books, tutorials, and such to learn. I also just experiment a lot to see how things turn out. I try to imitate things that I really like. My greatest inspiration is other artists both living and dead. They are my teachers.”
Despite the many faults of living in this Digital Era, one of the great benefits—possibly one of the greatest benefits—is the access that everyone now has to information and education that might have previously been barred from many because of money or circumstance. While books and various forms of public access to them have been around for hundreds of years, the sheer level of information that can be accessed now is unprecedented, and it’s a tool that few seem to really appreciate.
So, I wonder how many artists and other creators like David—how many people even outside the arts—we’ll hear about in the coming years who found success from circumventing traditional routes of education and taking their talents and ambitions into their own hands.
David spoke quite a bit about some of his influences and inspirations, which span across historic eras and artistic genres:
“[…] my love of art began with comic book art as a boy. I still adore comic book art. Since around my teenage years I’ve been enamored with a number of famous artists: Picasso, Van Gogh, Francis Bacon, Bosch, Baselitz, Philip Guston, Max Beckmann, and others. I pretty much like anything that’s in the modern art time period. I also adore Japanese art of all flavors from the old school landscapes to contemporary stuff and Manga art.”
“[…] I’ve been reading [comics] ever since I was a boy and still at it. Swamp Thing (old and new), Watchmen, Sandman, Hellboy, anything by Charles Burns, Fables, Books of Magic, Paper Girls, Saga, Buddha (by Tezuka), Bone, Amulet, The Walking Dead, to name a few in my collection.”
“Yes, my Doppelgänger and Nephilim [series] definitely have some Bacon influence. They are dark in theme, have a fairly solid background, and involve a lot of chance and improvisation both within the body structures and the textured backgrounds.”
In David’s first figurative series, his “Artist Portraits” series, many of these famous artists emerge on canvas in a blend of David’s and the artist’s style. His comic book and manga influence likewise can be seen throughout many of his series, whether as reference material or as thematic inspiration for some of his work.
Regarding his art process and how he plans or organizes his pieces, David discussed quite thoroughly how his pieces come to be:
“I think about a larger general idea I’d like to explore, such as power or exploitation, I think about what sort of human figures I’d like to experiment with, some general thoughts about style and composition, and how many I’d like to include in the set. […].
“I don’t tackle any details at all until I start working on an individual painting. When I’m focusing on a single painting, I usually begin with source images that I want to use for composition. […] From there, I start making vague decisions about other elements that I’ll include in the painting (such as including snakes to the interact with the main character) and what colors I might like to use.
“On the actual canvas, I usually begin with a pencil sketch that is very close to the original pic I’m using as a basis. From there I alter the pencil markings. This is pretty intuitive, so I just keep changing things until I see what I like. The pencil serves as a basic sketch for where I might place paint. The painting process is super intuitive. I have ideas about what I might like to do, but I rarely make decisions beyond what I’m doing in the moment. I change colors often, experiment with movements and blends, add, cover, etc. It’s really just a constant work of adding and covering elements that I don’t like. I evaluate the work about every 30 seconds or so.”
The process of creation is something I’ve personally been interested in. The mechanical aspects of various forms of creation are endlessly fascinating. Composition, color arrangement, grammar, narrative structure, chord progressions—these are all the architectures of paintings, music and stories we’ve all come to love. But then there’s this sort of black-box of intuition, where the mechanics of art end and the subtler mechanics of the psyche begin. There’s a sort of jumping off point, a place where you’re swimming in open water.
With David’s work, this jumping off point comes as soon as the brush begins spreading color across the canvas. There’s the underlying structure of the sketch, and the themes he plans to incorporate, and then it’s all based on intuition from there.
Beginning with his “Artist Portraits” series, there is a lean towards figuratism, as well as expressionist and impressionist styles. For each different artist, David mixed the style of the artist with his own personal way of painting, making portraits that reflect both his and the artist’s work.
“The artist series was an attempt to explore some of my favorite artists by incorporating elements of their style into a portrait. I was the one making it thought so it actually was more about me than them and how I thought about them, what I wanted to learn from them and their lives. […] I mostly chose artists that I admire and that I personally felt provided major breakthroughs in the art world, but that’s just according to my own bias.”
These portraits include Egon Schiele, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Leonardo da Vinci, Vincent van Gogh and William de Kooning. The one exception to this blending of styles seems to be with Leonardo da Vinci, where, rather than blend styles, David includes personal, childhood icons with his portrait of a man who made incredibly iconic pieces of art.
In the next series, the “Nephilim” series, David pushes his artwork into an almost surreal space of impressionist figuratism—which carries on into the series after it, “Doppelgänger”. This series consists of incredibly muscular—at times grotesquely muscular—figures painted in a style that blends abstract with impressionist. The figures in these paintings strike intimidating and violent poses, and are presented over backgrounds of layered and textured color. However, the most striking feature of these paintings are the unreal, bulging, chorded muscles of the Nephilim—showing the unhealthy excess of power each possesses.
“The Nephilim is basically about power and how it leads to destruction and isolation. Some of the stories of the Nephilim were based off of biblical accounts, extra biblical accounts, and some of it I just made up in a growing narrative. […] The figures were all inspired by comic book art. I chose some of my favorite comic drawings as source material for the forms, mostly coming from modern Swamp Thing comics and Animal Man.
“I did a lot of experimenting with using markers, various acrylics and sealants to get the affects. Lots of back and forth between drawing with black sharpie, covering it with white paint, letting it dry, adding a sealant, adding more marker, etc. They are better to see in person because they have so many layers they actually have very thick textures. Some of them are actually quite heavy and have deep grooves.”
In much of David’s lore surrounding the Nephilim, there are themes of isolation and corruption, and we spoke about these themes in tandem together.
My primary thoughts were, does corruption lead to an isolation from the larger community? Or does isolation lead to corruption? Do we seek power because of our own corruption? Or does the search for and eventual gaining of power corrupt us?
Or, coming around to the first questions, is it powerlessness and isolation that urges us towards seeking power, and having that power as an isolated, “evicted” individual spurn us toward abuse of that power onto the community that expulsed us?
These are a complicated tangle of ideas to parse apart, and it was interesting hearing David’s take on the themes:
“[…] I believe the corruption is both passed down and generated through personal actions. […] Though perhaps they desired to use it for good, the nature of the world must win out. Yes, their form does evolve over time. The more they use their power for evil, the more deformed their bodies become. The black form (the last in the series) is almost a purely spiritual form, but, in a sense, in the end the nephilim become fallen angles just like their fathers.
“I think power pretty much always lead to corruption, at least that’s all I’ve ever seen or experienced in this life. But I like your point that isolation could also lead to a hunger for power. A desire to change one’s destiny or perhaps hurt those who put one into a position of isolation. The thought that the ability to change circumstances and overcome others would lead to happiness is an interesting one. It’s very natural to think that way, but false I believe. […] All that being said, I don’t believe power itself is bad. I think there is a possibility of it being used for good…”
This corrupting influence—whether an inherited disfiguration or a maladaptation evolved across time—can be seen in the bodies of the Nephilim and in the heads and faces.
While the bodies certainly do have grotesquely muscular, powerful forms, it’s their heads transformed the most, and in many ways heads and faces communicate an individual’s identity.
With Nephilim #3 and #5, the rectangular and spherical-headed Nephilim, there’s a transformation to simplicity in shape, expression and simplicity, and a sort of self-dehumanization.
With Nephilim #3, the rectangular head reflects a flatness—an almost uni-dimensional, machine-like personality, devoid of warmth, compassion or empathy. It looks cold and calculating, like a computer screen, and the narrowness of its eyes and mouth might be the narrowness of its vision—it’s vision of power—and the narrowness of its ability to communicated with others—a narrowness of empathy and an inability to socially connect.
With Nephilim #5, the shape of its head is roughly spherical, but it’s like a head that’s been crudely molded and can’t decide what it is. It lacks any expression except for it’s tiny, slitted eyes and enormous, toothy mouth. This giant has lost any defining features, its vision has been narrowed to a tiny slit, and its mouth appears to be useful for little more than violence, consumption and animalistic vocalizations.
Following a similar thread as the “Nephilim”, the “Doppelgänger” series features surreal, heavily muscled figures over a textured background of simple colors. With the “Doppelgänger” series, David pushes both the surreal musculature of his figures and a darker, more abstract vision of human nature through their entangled forms.
“The doppelgänger series is about a personal belief in the dual nature of humans. I personified it in these figures. A lot of it relates to personal inner conflicts I’ve had throughout my life. The forms are inspired by comic book art again. I did get more experimental with the forms than in the ‘Nephilim’. […]
“In my view most of the interactions are negative. Either one form dominates the other or the forms are in conflict. There is a very strong undercurrent of violence and domination. When I drew details on the forms, I got more abstract with the muscle forms sometimes making it close to a vegetative or organic bubbly form. This was all very intuitive. I used the basic shapes as my guide but created lines from a moment to moment basis.”
The “Doppelgänger” series immediately struck me when I first look through it. There’s a tremendous intensity to many of these forms, and the various emotions of each piece seem to be ripping out of each figure’s bodies (perhaps the internal force that’s turning these subject’s muscles into such grotesque shapes). The extreme musculature shows the power of these forces, but their inhumanness and occasional grotesqueness show how they warp the subject into something equally inhuman or grotesque.
As David alluded to in his explanation of the pieces, with the doppelgängers, there seems to be this sort of reversion into a chaotic state, where the bodies of the figures are turning into stringy, tubular, or wet, bubbling, oozing states. The figures seem to be returning to the chaotic state of nature—to the bubbling, swampy morasses of life that we come from: the violent, grotesque state of nature modernity often tries to ignore, but that is ever present.
Doppelgänger #7, the white-background doppelgänger, is beating its identical twin—its clone, copy or its self—into a thick, viscous, frothing foam. The muscles on its body are on the verge of bursting—of popping with blood and bulging flesh—and even parts of its body seem to be turning into this bubbling, oozing material.
There’s this blend of violence done unto the self, or possibly of self-domination and self-submission, and this reversion into a primordial, hyper-violent chaotic state—the animalistic and grotesque reality humans have emerged from.
Doppelgänger #3, the red-background doppelgänger, similarly has this reversion into a dissolving, deindividualizing state. The muscles have lost any real resemblance to a healthy body, and are more like piles of intestines strung up on a skeleton frame. The two bodies are intertwined to the point where its difficult to tell which limbs belongs to which body, and, at certain points, there seems to be an entire dissolution of a concrete, bodily form. There’s just this fleshy, dripping entanglement where individuality reverts to primordial flesh and organs.
Finally, there is David’s “Siren/Muse” series, which is David’s latest and still ongoing series. Here, David takes a large leap from the style of his previous two series, but still retains elements of his figurative style, and explores similarly dark and all-too-human themes.
“For the ‘Siren/Muse’ set, I really wanted to go with more colorful figures that were females. I didn’t want them to look aggressive or violent, so I gave them more of an anime inspired smooth appearance. I also wanted to convey a sense of ‘fake-ness’. […].
“This series is basically about a potential danger in the pursuit of beauty. Hence the toxic creatures. It made sense to meld music and art. They accomplish a lot of the same things. I also liked exploring the myth of the sirens and the myth of the muses. I do think they’re related. I guess with the siren there’s a draw toward sex that ends in destruction. With the muses there is a desire for inspiration and the ability to create perhaps at the expense or abuse of the muse herself. I think those are both about creation in a way. Both can end in the abortion of a desire. Both can consume and ultimately destroy. I really love contradiction and contrast.”
When I was first reading David’s explanation of this, I was reminded of story arc in the Sandman comic book series where an author has kidnapped one of the Greek muses and sexually exploits her in order to find inspiration for his books. I brought this up with David, and found that this was indeed part of the inspiration for this series.
“So glad you mentioned the Sandman story about the muse. That actually was what first got this idea for the siren/must series percolating in my mind! What an amazing story (by the way, Sandman is probably my fav comic series of all time). I was so drawn to the idea of someone abusing a muse in order to get inspiration it made me think that perhaps that is a deeper truth about the lengths people will go to grasp fame or fortune, much like the writer did in that story.
“It also melds the idea of sexual dominance, but really again just a picture of abuse for personal gain. I guess when you think in terms of a siren though the tables are turned. The female is in the position of power.”
As with our conversations over David’s other sets, our conversation of “Siren/Muse” delved down its own rabbit hole.
In modernity, there is a tension between fact and opinion. This tension likely goes deeper than most people realize, but one of the most obvious tensions comes from beauty and aesthetic. Can something be objectively beautiful? Is there anything that can be said to be truly beautiful?
Or is everything regarding beauty and aesthetic just an arbitrary illusion of the mind? Is there a tangible reality or truth to beauty? Or is it all arbitrary opinion?
“I do think there is definitely something objective about beauty, but I’m not really sure what it is. I just know that people often agree on what is beautiful, but if it were totally subjective maybe that wouldn’t happen as often. For me though, beauty is just what I find physically appealing to my eyes. The structure, composition, color, framing, etc. so many things go into it. And the more refined your eye becomes the more you are able to appreciate beauty, like a fine wine.
“Personally, I’m obsessed with beautiful things because I love to consume them with my eyes. It’s much like enjoying a good steak or tasty beer. It’s very visceral to me and just flat out pleasing to my soul. But beauty can also be a marker that points to something beyond it. A deeper truth or a more lofty ideal. This is what creates such strong emotional reactions and perhaps has something to do with why people sometimes seek to destroy it.”
David’s “Siren/Muse” set has only just been started, with two completed pieces so far. One features a blonde-haired pop singer with green snakes emerging from behind her—similar, I would say, to not only the sirens and muses, but the gorgons as well. We have a beautiful woman, whose face implies pleasure, in front of a microphone onstage, with snakes surrounding her and facing the audience while her eyes are closed.
There’s a sort of narcissism here, being the center of attention and finding pleasure in one’s own existence as the center of attention. There are also a number of quasi-sexual phallic elements here, one being the microphone in front of the woman’s lips, the others being the snakes emerging from the woman herself. The microphone is where the singer projects herself—the center of her self-pleasuring narcissism, as well as the tool by which she holds the crowd’s attention.
Every man in the crowd might wish they could take the place of the microphone, and let the singer speak—or more—to them. The microphone might actually be the stand-in or an idol representing every man in the audience, almost like a voodoo doll by which she can manipulate from afar.
But this also comes at a cost, as everyone in the audience is ogling her. She loses her identity as well, and becomes simply an object of desire, just like the microphone is every man being turned into a tool to derive attention from. She is no longer who she was before she got dressed, put on her makeup and went on stage, she has become a sexual and artistic or musical object—her trade for siphoning the audience’s attention.
The snakes also hold additional meaning, as the snakes are what make her unapproachable. Though all eyes are on the singer, though every man in the audience wishes he could be the microphone she sings to, she is also writhed in fear and danger. Just as when we see someone we are attracted to, and freeze in fear, unable to think clearly or do anything but act like an idiot, we see the beautiful woman on stage singing to us, but we also see the fear of death around her like a venomous halo.
How often then do we seek to abuse, deface and destroy these beautiful things we are afraid of?
At times, these living idols, these people made living statues, are sources of inspiration. At other times, they are source of zealotry and obsession. At other times, they are the sources of our fear, contempt and resentment—the objects of our hate as much as of our love.
The second “Siren/Muse” piece possesses similar elements, though I won’t delve too deeply into these. The emotion of the singer is more lively, more energetic. Rather than snakes, the singer is surrounded with bees like loyal drones. With the first painting, the color scheme is roughly green, black and golden/yellow, which is somewhat suggestive of a dragon guarding gold. The second painting, by contrast, is primarily violet, blue and yellow, which contrasts cooler colors with the more energetic yellow body and red eyes of the bees. So, there is a calming effect, but there is still an awareness of danger. In the second painting, there is also the sexual implication of the microphone.
David’s art journey is still relatively early in its story. His works are still experimental in many ways, and his style and talent are still developing. However, the works he’s made so far are quite impressive. The emotions and ideas he’s able to capture in his paintings have drawn my own eye, and seem to be catching many others’ eyes. It will be interesting to see where he goes next with his “Siren/Muse” set, but it will also be interesting to see where he goes both with his work and with the themes he explores after this set.
There was much more we both could have talked about with each other regarding both his artwork and the themes surrounding his artwork (and, also, the long list of comic books we both love). Hopefully we can extend some of these conversations in the future.
In addition to his artwork on @davidcoffey_figz on Instagram, David also has many other pieces, primarily commission pieces, on his Instagram page @davidcoffey_artstudio. There are many beautiful paintings here as well, many of which follow a more impressionist or post-impressionist style. Please give his work a look and a like, and if you enjoy his creations, give his pages a follow.
Unfortunately, writers’ guilt is all too common. When we are
working on a project, we feel guilty that we aren’t doing something more
practical or useful – even if that task is nothing more than basic domestic
chores. Ironically, as soon as we leave our desk to carry out said useful task,
we feel guilty for abandoning our project. “I should be writing!” is the
familiar, tedious mantra that plays in every writer’s mind.
Lately, though, I’ve been struck by the other type of guilt
creatives suffer from. Perhaps you are familiar with it? The “Is my art doing
Part of me believes in art for art’s sake. With so much
ugliness and helplessness in the world, I believe there is a place for
aesthetically pleasing art. What harm can come from admiring something that is
beautiful? What’s wrong with reading fun, frivolous fiction and indulging in
the escapism it offers? Then there is the other part of me. The part of me that
scorns this irresponsible reader. This placid person who chooses to read the
latest bestseller while soaking in a tub of Epson salt as the world burns
outside their window.
A vision that spurs the question: how can reading and
writing contribute to solutions?
The “civilized” world has never been perfect. For better or
for worse, technology’s omnipresence means we can no longer remain ignorant of
our imperfection. In the face of these serious and urgent global issues, how
can writers contribute to the crafting of solutions? Do their storytelling and
communication skills offer anything of value?
Some argue that the publication of books reflecting current
global issues is vital. Of course, these people tend to be authors. Ann
Patchett (author) recently stated that she has moved away from reading classic
literature in favour of contemporary texts. She believes that the
accountability and challenging themes presented in recent works have once again
made reading a political act.
To contradict Patchett’s point, I recently started reading
Sylvia Plath’s ‘The Bell Jar’ and I have been shocked by the timeliness of the
commentary. Many of Esther’s existential concerns remain relevant today.
“I felt now that all the uncomfortable suspicions I had
about myself were coming true, and I couldn’t hide the truth much longer.” (31)
“A million years of evolution […] and what are we? Animals?”
This modern classic was published in 1971. A fact that
saddens me slightly, as it illustrated how little we have evolved in the last
47 years. As an aside, I bought my copy of ‘The Bell Jar’ from a second-hand
bookstore. The previous owner had unlined the above passages (and others) in
I wondered why someone who loved a book enough to read it
with a pencil in hand would ever part with said book. This question was
immediately followed by the thought, “Maybe they died?” Given the sombre tenor
of these passages/the whole book, and the former reader’s obvious
identification with them, I hope their ending was happier than Esther/Sylvia’s
… That being said, I was constantly impressed by Plath’s ability to clearly
articulate what depression felt like. I’ve never experienced depression (though
the evening news does test me…) but Plath’s considered descriptions of
Esther’s mental state bridged that divide. I got it.
If nothing else, this is what writers can do. They can
communicate ideas. They can shape messy and complex emotions into tidy
sentences. They can shatter binaries and expose hidden nuance. They can
repackage complex problems into comprehensible forms. But. Is this the only
irrefutable claim that writers can make? That they can present readers with
As the saying goes, if information was the solution, we’d
all be happy millionaires with ripped abs.
You can write about the issues that trouble you, but you
can’t make people read your work and you definitely can’t make them do
something. While the publication of cli-fi and other challenging literary works
are appearing more and more, the market isn’t exactly flooded. (No pun
In a recent episode of The Garrett Podcast, Jennifer Mills,
author and literary editor of Overland said that while the magazine has been
successful in the publishing of marginal voices, few submissions address our
present-day issues like the Anthropocene (humans impact on non-humans).
Instead, most of the submissions received are concerned with relationship
Is this because readers want escapism or because writers do?
Mills, who has published her own Anthropogenic work,
Dyschronia, says that she intentionally constructed a plot that offered little
in the way of solutions or action because that is what she sees in society:
passivity. An observation that is no doubt reinforced by the submissions she
Information is key. Without it, people may not understand
the depth of a problem or how to fix it. Historically, the publication of good writing
has played a vital role in the mobilizing of populations and the igniting of
revolutions. Within our current culture, the problem is not a lack of
information but our passivity and denial in the face of it.
Perhaps this is where our writerly self-consciousness stems
from. Words are the tools wielded by skillful writers, but are we simply hiding
behind our profession? Perhaps we should accept the fact that the gap between
information and action is too wide? That our culture is passive. That a challenging
book is likely to achieve little more than a 3.5 star rating on Good Reads.
That it is time to close our laptops, start a biodynamic farm, become vegan and
trade our cars for bicycles…I’m not being facetious; sincerity rests in this
It is true that the grandiosity of the world’s problems is
overwhelming, but none of these issues occurred in isolation. We are all
driving cars, drinking takeaway coffees, shutting our mouths instead of
speaking up, lying to our kids about where the steak on their plate came from
and buying caged eggs because they’re a dollar cheaper.
We need to do better. We need to do something.
Writers can offer solutions in their weekly columns and
fiction. They can encourage readers to re-evaluate their opinions and behaviours
by holding up a mirror. While a single blog post cannot change the world, our
combined voices do have the power to shift culture.
Together, we can aspire to create a new culture. A culture
that carries re-useable cups, that walks to work and eats ethical, sustainable
food. A culture that votes. A culture that allows minorities to have space
without slipping into fear that they are ‘taking over.’ A culture that
questions why education hasn’t changed in 150 years. A culture that swivels its
gaze away from the individual to focus on the collective. A world that is less
about stuff and more about substance.
That, my friends, is a world worth writing for.
Produce Art when the World is Falling apart
Sir Philip Sidney stated that poetry was “the first
light-giver to ignorance, and first nurse, whose milk little by little enabled
them to feed afterwards of tougher knowledges.” Ezra Pound believed that
“The arts, literature, posesy are a science, just as chemistry is a
science. Their subject is man, mankind, and the individual.” And yet,
still, sometimes, we struggle to justify our creative practice.
If you’re in the middle of a personal crisis, it’s unlikely
that you will have the energy or the mental bandwidth to produce art.
If you stop to consider big problems like climate change,
terrorism, refugees, our shrinking job marketing, rising house prices, the privatization
of health care and a multitude of other issues, sitting down to work on a short
story or novel can seem self-indulgent and pointless.
What good is a novel when the world is falling apart?
It’s important to acknowledge these feelings of inadequacy
because simply ignoring them won’t do anyone any favours. However, it’s equally
important that artists continue to produce work despite this feeling of
inadequacy. Art itself may not be able to solve our complex, incomprehensible
social, economic, political and educational problems, but artists must continue
to use their skills and ability because we need art, even if the world is
At their most basic, novels provide a space for escapism and
entertainment. At their best, a novel can inspire us into action by forcing us
to confront our own behaviours and beliefs. We may ask ourselves why we do the
things that we do, whether our behaviour is contributing to the solution or to
the problem, and how can we change for the better both individually and as a
Stories don’t have to change the world. If you want to write
stories for the sole purpose of escapism, both for yourself and your reader,
then that is an honourable use of time. We need a little escapism. We need
books that we can read at the end of a long day; books that offer comfort
instead of further confrontation. It’s okay to read funny books or adventure
stories or mysteries. Not only is it nice to escape into a different world with
different people and different problems, it is also nice to see those problems
Here’s the thing though, even nice books have value beyond
mere entertainment. Whether consciously constructed or not, narratives contain
the observations and reflections of their author. They are stories about people
living with other people. They contain insight and knowledge about human
behviour, our relationships with ourselves and others, our desires, strengths,
and weaknesses. A novel is a response to the experiences an author has had and
the observations they have made. They contain magic, and though this magic is
unlikely to reverse climate change, novels can still teach us something about
ourselves and the world we live in.
Novels have purpose.
A well-crafted and thoughtful novel that asks hard questions
may not alter the general public opinion, but it can cause a shift within a
reader. You may choose to write a dystopian novel based on scientific fact
about where we’re heading environmentally, or you may write a speculative
fiction novel about what the world would look like if women became infertile
(The Handmaids Tale – Margarett Attwood), or if we intentionally used clones as
a means for organ harvesting (Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro). Stories such
as these act as a type of role play. They allow us to ponder and explore
potential future spaces. If we continue to remain passive about particular issues,
what will happen? Additionally, they provide a container for our personal and
social fears. Not only is the writer able to unburden themselves, but it also
allows the reader to experience their innermost fears while remaining within
the safe, imaginary confines of a story.
The world may have a lot of problems, but when has it not.
If you’re still struggling to justify your need to create
art, perhaps my final point will convince you. When we look back on the type of
art that was produced at any given moment in history, we can see the prominent
concerns of that time through the themes, structures, and styles that are
repeated across different works by different artists. We need to write stories
that capture this moment in time. That explore our societal concerns. That
showcase our collective psyche. Artists need to make their contribution to the
historical record because we have skills that scientists and politicians don’t
have. We can take incompressible problems and present them in a consumable
format that will make you feel something, and that is a very special skill
Writers are so Obsessed with Process
Whenever two or more writers find themselves in a room
together, there are a handful of topics that inevitably bubble to the surface:
money, publishing, current projects, favourite authors, latest reads, and most
If you are new to creative writing and developing your
craft, an interest in other writers’ habits is understandable. We’ve all been a
beginner at some point in our lives and we all know that the best way to
develop our own skills is to learn off someone who can do the thing that we
want to do. Of course, it’s also advisable that you actually practice the craft
you intend to become good at.
If you want to learn the piano, you go to a piano teacher. If you want to learn another language, you take classes or buy an audiobook. Whenever a known author is interviewed, questions regarding their process inevitably arise. You could say that ‘Tell us about your writing routine’ is the literary equivalent of talking about the weather, but this frivolous question serves as more than a mere icebreaker because within this small request lies a myriad of even smaller questions:
Do you write in the morning or at night?
Do you write longhand or use a computer?
Are you a pantser or a plotter?
Where do you prefer to write?
Do you aim for a specific word count, page count or a set number of hours each day/week/month?
Do you research before, during or after the first draft?
Writers have a lot of questions when it comes to process,
but this fascination is not limited to newbies.
Two years ago, Charlotte Wood, a successful and established
author herself, released her book The Writer’s Room. Here, Wood has curated a
myriad of insightful interviews between herself and some of Australia’s
best-known authors. Though the content of each conversation varies, Wood always
encourages her interviewee to talk about their writing process. Though some
authors respond to such probing questions vaguely (perhaps because their
process is loose or frequently changing), others describe their rigid or
elaborate routines in fine detail.
These conversations were initially only available online.
However, the interviews were so popular that the publication of a print edition
became viable, which proves just how hungry writers are for this conversation.
We don’t want to read these insightful interviews on our laptops and forget
about them, we want a physical copy that we can highlight, dog-ear, and return
to again and again whenever we need a touch of guidance or inspiration. Writers
not only love talking about process, they love reading about it too.
Despite the almost cliché nature of the topic, writers
continue to ask each other questions about process. Fortunately, we’re also
happy to answer them. Sometimes these answers are dull and predictable, but
sometimes they are surprising, ingenious, and entertaining. By exposing
ourselves to other writer’s approaches, we may gain insight into our own
creative routine or learn new techniques that can be adopted into our own
Our continuing obsession with creative practice is driven by
our need to understand how writing works. We’re all looking for a way to
articulate what can sometimes feel like a very mysterious and fickle practice.
All artists struggle to explain how they transformed an idea into a creative
artefact. This discussion of process helps give shape to what can otherwise be
perceived as an almost mystical unfolding.
That being said, the question of process also contains a
subtle and self-conscious subtext: “Is your process better than mine? If I
adopt your habits, will I become a better writer?” Deep down, we all hold the
same subconscious belief: there is a secret to writing, we just need to find
However, discovering this secret is impossible as every
author has a different answer. Lee Child writes his Jack Reacher novels without
an outline and without revision (jerk). Stephen King is a panster too, but he
typically produces three drafts of each novel and prefers to write at home.
J.K. Rowling using outlines and writes where and whenever she can.
In terms of hours clocked, Maile Meloy, Kate Morton and
Steven Pressfield stick with two to four hours a day (typically in the morning).
Others like Chuck Wendig, Dani Shapiro, and Margaret Atwood keep standard
working hours, starting at nine in the morning and finishing at five in the
Despite advances in technology, we are still weighing the
pros/cons of longhand vs typing. Jackie Collins writes all her books by hand,
as does Quentin Tarantino; two names I never thought I’d see in the same
sentence! Joe Hill writes his first draft by hand, but then edits the work
while typing the second draft, and J.K. Rowling has experimented with both
longhand and typing.
Every writer’s process is different, and yet we keep asking
the same question. We keep searching for some kind of hack in the hope that
there is a hack. We want to hear a clever sound bite that promises an easier
way to get inside our own story. One simple tool or word of advice that will
guarantee our success.
No one wants to hear, “just write.” No one wants
to hear, “if you do the work, the work gets done.” No one wants to
hear, “finish writing the novel, edit it, email it out and maybe you’ll
When asked about her own process, Elizabeth Strout recounted
a conversation with her neighbour who had just finished painting his apartment.
When she’d finished gushing over this domestic accomplishment and complimenting
him on the tremendous achievement of painting an entire apartment by himself,
he replied: “There’s no magic to it.”
The same can be said of writing: there is no magic, you just
Hailing from Houston, TX, Lauren Power is a mother, an art and art history teacher at Waltrip High School, and the creator of uniquely beautiful and grotesque artwork. In much of her work, Lauren aims at pairing vivid colors and imagery—such as animals, flowers, and women—with dark, unsettling, and at times disgusting imagery—intestines, bones, brains, hearts and other organs. However, her pieces have a wide range of style, subject matter, and medium—ranging from painting, to digital art, to tattoo work.
Lauren’s art blends the technical work of realism, experiments
with color theory, and elements of surrealism to create these oddly
intoxicating images. All at once, her art hits us with the mesmerizing beauty
of nature, the strangeness of dream-like visuals, and a train wreck we can’t
look away from.
“I’ve always enjoyed flowers and highly saturated colors, but I often pair them with internal organs or dark backgrounds. I feel my work can be both hideous and beautiful at the same time, but that’s mostly what interests me. The contrasts we experience in this world of the pretty façade hiding a sinister ulterior.”
Lauren’s work blurs the line between the things we love and
adore, and the things we fear or loathe. In her piece, “Kiss of Death”, she
molds a severed heart into a face with seductive lips, and frames it with dark
and cool tones, which contrasts attraction and revulsion.
“…originally [I] had sat down to paint a rose. While
sketching, that rose evolved into deadly nightshade flowers and I kept thinking
about that type of toxic love that tricks you with her beauty, but will
ultimately destroy you. This heart is both seductive and deadly, contrasting
the vibrant greens and lush pink.”
Lauren—who has been happily married for nearly 10 years—created
this piece to show how some people fall head-over-heels for people that
eventually hurt them. Sometimes we become entranced by someone we hardly know.
Other times we fall in love with a false identity that someone has created, or
we fall in love with a false identity that we fabricated in our heads. Whether
through this person’s manipulation, their card-castle of lies, or through
seeing the person with sober clarity, these relationships eventually collapse.
In other pieces, we see an outpouring of emotion, and the
inner tension we often feel as we bury our emotions deeper into our psyche.
“Rainbow Guts” is about the insecurities and anxieties that
wrack us from the inside out. Whether we feel worthless in the eyes of others,
or feel like those we love and care about don’t love us back, we often find
ourselves wondering if anyone truly accepts us as who we are. And even beyond
this, life is filled with doubts and hurtles and uncertain times.
For the most part, we try to shield these troubles and
insecurities from friends, family and co-workers, so as not to worry them with.
However, this often comes at a cost to us, as the more we bury our emotions,
the more our emotions strive to burst forth.
“The week I made this, I was experiencing a lot of anxiety.
This is what I imagined you would see if you cut me open and looked inside—a
twisting mess of color and confusion.”
In “Rainbow Guts”, we see a small storm of different colors,
and often when we bottle ourselves up, even the things that make us happy,
content or excited become muddied up with our anxieties and frustrations. It
becomes difficult to differentiate between our fears and our desires, our love
and our hate, and our doubts and our hopes. When the storms of emotions inside
us become too much, often the best way to get rid of them is to let it all out
and find some way to express the convoluted thoughts we have. (Meditation and
morning runs help too.)
With “Electric Heart”, Lauren uses grotesque imagery to
create a sense of masculinity, and frames the heart in black, which gives it a
sense of detachment or isolation. This grotesque and isolated heart stares up
at the world above it, or perhaps at the world outside of it. Oftentimes men
have difficulties expressing themselves, or repress their thoughts or feelings.
However, the feeling of being isolated inside our own minds is something
universal. We often feel vulnerable when revealing how we truly feel or think.
“I inherently like pretty things like flowers… …but I often
try to combine them with masculine elements. For me, hard elements like bones
or grotesque things like internal organs seem very masculine to me… …I feel
like the grotesque represents all the things we hold inside, that we
internalize and compartmentalize. That is an inherently masculine activity,
concealing one’s emotions inside, whereas the feminine is more open and up
front about feelings.”
What fearsome, repulsive, or hard personas do we put up to
shield our vulnerabilities inside? For a lot of us, it’s almost instinctual to
conceal our inner selves. We don’t know how to drop our hardened, angry, absurd
or serious personas, and reveal our true dreams, doubts and ideas.
Beyond her work with the grotesque, the surreal, and the
introspective, Lauren has experimented with various mediums, and with her use
of color theory. In addition to traditional oil and watercolor, and drawing,
Lauren uses alcohol markers, gel pens, microns and India ink. Lauren has even tried
her hand at tattoo-work, and has written a children’s book.
With “Garden Skull”, Lauren uses a mix of watercolor, micron
pens, and alcohol markers to create a haunting and beautiful skull.
“I just love the graphic nature, saturation, and
blendability of alcohol markers. I was previously super involved in watercolor,
but couldn’t get the clean saturation that I now get from copics and
In “Smokey Eye”, Lauren mixes alcohol markers and microns
with gel pens. What I personally liked about this piece is how the linework,
the colors, and the places where she used gel pen all seem disconnected from
each other, like they were physically laid on top of each other, but not
actually the same image. And yet, despite this, they still complimented each
other a formed a dazzling whole.
While working on this surreal and glamorous piece, Lauren found
that “Smokey Eye” emboldened her sense of creativity.
“My past really lied in traditional painting and realism; I
was enjoying the excitement of something outside of that comfort zone. I love
gel pens specifically for their saturation and ability to create high contrast
highlights. I fell like they give my work a sense of sparkly otherworldness.”
With “Jessica Rabbit”, Lauren plays around with form and
color to produce a portrait that is strange, yet still beautiful. Lauren emphasizes
this woman’s eyes and lips, while de-emphasizing other aspects of her. Lauren
also matches typical hair and skin tones with more vibrant colors, which gives
a sense of realism, yet also causes the colors to pop in a way we wouldn’t see
in real life. This makes the subject seem more natural than the original
Jessica Rabbit, but still surreal compared to someone in real life.
“I have a background in traditional realism painting, but
lately I’ve been pushing my color theory and style… …my reference photo for
this piece was actually a very soft pink. She had brown hair and was overall
very regular. I enjoyed punching up the complements of turquoise and red in
this one. I have a tendency to draw giant chins and small eyes, so I tried to
do the opposite here to stylize the figure.”
With both “Jessica Rabbit” and “Smokey Eye”, Lauren
mentioned an influence from digital art, saying, “…I do draw inspiration from
their ability to stylize the figure, emphasizing eyes, saturated colors,
blends, and sparkly highlights.”
However, Lauren still prefers physical mediums over digital
“I’ve been super inspired by digital art, but have more enjoyed
seeing its translation in my traditional paint medium. I feel a closer
connection to paint and brushes than I do a stylus… …when I actually attempted
digital art, I felt very disconnected.”
As with many other things that’ve been changed with digitization,
many people embrace digital artwork, but many people still prefer physical,
tangible art. Of course, many artists who work with physical mediums still
admire the work of digital artists, but for artists like Lauren, nothing
compares to holding a paintbrush and watching a canvas come to life.
On top of all this work, Lauren found inspiration from her
2-year-old daughter to create a children’s book. Lauren’s book pairs each
letter of the alphabet with a wide variety of different images and color
schemes, ranging from a fauvist Jellyfish to a living Ukulele. This helps young
children associate abstract letters with visual representations, and gives them
something fun and creative to flip through.
“I initially made it just to print for myself and [my] daughter,
but decided to publish it with Amazon KDP. I really only thought my family
would end up buying it, but my friends are so supportive, they promoted it so
widely that people I didn’t even know were purchasing it and leaving reviews. I
even had some people ask me to autograph their copy, which really tickled me.
“I wanted a book that focused on visuals and aesthetics. I
wanted my little one (she’s 2 and a half) to have to sort of guess what each
letter represented. There’s some pretty out there references like Z for Zap and
Q for Quiet. It is currently my daughter’s favorite book, she calls it the
mommy book, as it has my picture on the back cover.”
Though much of Lauren’s work focuses on the ugly and
grotesque, the real and surreal, Lauren also draws inspiration from her
daughter, her loving husband, and the beauty of the world around her. The
inspiration that Lauren takes from the world, she also gives back out to her
family, friends, students and fans.
If you haven’t seen the rest of her work on Instagram, I would highly recommend checking it out (@artistlaurenpower), and you can find her students’ artwork on Instagram as well (@waltripvisualarts). If you like her work, let her know and give her a follow. If you’re interested in her book, you can find it at www.amazon.com/dp/1790918030. Lauren has also designed graphics for tee-shirts, which you can find at https://www.teepublic.com/user/artistlaurenpower.