In 2013 I drew a picture of an octopus hiding in a flowerpot:
It was supposed to be a joke about being bad at hide-and-seek, but there was something about its expression that felt much deeper, much more personal. The more I looked at it, the more I realized that my sense of empathy came from recognizing his failure to even look like the thing he was trying so hard to be, a sensation that was quite familiar to me at the time. I didn’t like feeling bad for the octopus though, and I didn’t like the insinuation that there was a closed connection between the two of us—the artist and his creation—so I added a line of text below in order to encourage the viewer to share in the sensation as well:
Right away, I could tell that I had discovered a special zone of intimacy with this particular format. The combination of suggested text with empty outlines extended the responsibility of meaning beyond my intentions as the creator and the limitations of the image itself. I started drawing characters in similar situations with a line of text at the bottom, each one missing the specific information from their narrative that could explain the source of their expressions. By omitting that part of the caption, it felt like I could draw a metaphor for an event in my own life, or judgements of my own character, that could be shared with others without immediately limiting the energy of the image to my own subjective experience nor relying on abstraction to soften the embarrassment that can often accompany the expression of personal feelings.
I started sharing the images during studio visits while I was in art school, and since the smooth black lines of the drawings lent themselves so well to being colored in, I would describe them all as pages of a coloring/activity book that I was putting together. Of all the work I produced in that studio, this coloring book project was almost always the most favorite object to talk about. The ethos and pathos of each image were perfect examples of what I wanted to capture with my graphic work, and the physical context of the coloring/activity book made an ideal vessel for sharing the experience with others. By literally leaving blank space in my work for others’ subjectivities to be filled in, each character on the page could now contain and blend the experiences of artist (myself) with audience (you) while encouraging comfort, creativity, and graciousness. Faculty and visiting artists or curators would often leave me their mailing address so that I could send them one when it was finished. Similarly, most visits would conclude with discussions of future possibilities where I would collect and display other people’s personalized interpretations next to my own as visual proof of the potential for shared subjectivities within such seemingly personal experiences.
Unfortunately, the project ended up taking a backseat to the other books and prints I was creating with my limited access to the facilities at Columbia, and after graduation I lost the drive and encouragement that seemed necessary to make the finished product that I envisioned. But in 2016, on the eve of my 30th birthday, in the midst of a proliferation of adult coloring books aimed at “mindfulness [simply] through meditation”, I’ve decided that this project needs to fully come into being and that its reboot will therefore need the support of all the people that I would like to participate. There are 18 completed drawings with accompanying text (roughly 9″ x 12″) that will be printed on heavy newsprint (good for markers, crayons, and colored pencils) with perforated edges (good for tearing out and putting on the fridge). As originally imagined in my Columbia studio, the end goal of the project, although hopefully not its final iteration, will be to display a collection of the filled-in pages in a gallery space here in NYC.
This is a project about how our subjectivities overlap and what that can mean for our understanding of ourselves amidst the other selves around us, which means it’s also about familiar yet complex things like empathy and honesty and affect. Most importantly I like to think that this project can address how to apply mindfulness as a tactic rather than a strategy, as an operation rather than a technique, and be experienced within the whole of a lifetime rather than a singular present moment.
I’m so pumped to get started printing these books and sending them out, but I’m even more excited to share this art project with everyone that would like to be involved. All of my work is made for those of you that get something out of it and I am immensely grateful for your continued love and support. As you can see in the Rewards section, all of the Rewards above $25 include the opportunity to own other SamDakota artwork, which you can familiarize yourself with here and here, or just continue scrolling down.
If you have any questions, feel free to email me at [email protected], and if you’re further interested in my work and would like to come visit my studio here in Brooklyn I would be more than happy to share an afternoon together.