Being an artist myself, I’ve always felt the need to express myself visually as well through prose. Art Upside Your Head is my way of saying thanks to all the artists I’ve had the opportunity to work with so far. First up is my personal favorite of the bunch, Texas-based artist Silverfish aka Amanda Barnett.
What attracted me to Silverfish was that her style reminded me of Stephen Gammell, whose work in the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books I loved as a kid. Turns out Gammell was one of Silver’s influences. From the first piece of art that she turned in, it was evident that our styles were simpatico. Her illustrations, with their twisty, acid-flashback strokes and blotches and gaunt characters with long limbs, pointy digits, and haunted expressions, were like literal translations of my “bizarre ideas and prose,” to quote a reviewer of one of my books. From then on, she was always the first artist I contacted when I started a new book, and she was always willing to contribute.
For a while there we were on a roll. After working on three books, a novella, and a graphic novel (she contributed a pin up to Hollow Eyed Mary), we were starting to feel like a team. We had developed a great rapport as our correspondence graduated from email to speaking over the phone. We discussed art and movies. We made plans for future projects, one of them being her own book of poetry that would also showcase her artwork. I was going to write the introduction for her. But that was a ways down the road.
As I got to know Silver, I got the sense that, like many artists, she struggled with her talent. It was the one thing she loved doing, but it had to take a backseat to paying the bills. The fear is that it’ll always be like that, and your dream will always be just a dream. I’ve been there myself. Then, to top it all off, she lost all of her artwork in a fire that completely destroyed her house while she was at work one day. I don’t think she ever fully recovered from that. I didn’t hear from her for a few months after that, and then, all of a sudden, we were back in business.
The next project was going to be a novel called NoFace. I think it was around ’09 when I started writing it. I had included several different artists in my previous books, but this one was going to be all Silverfish. She turned in two illustrations and then we mysteriously fell out of touch. I waited awhile, thinking that she needed some time for whatever reason, and then tried to contact her several times, but my emails and voicemails went unanswered. Then sometime last year, I happened upon this post on her page at deviantART.com:
Well over a year since i last fell off the wagon now. This site is often an unsettling reminder for me of who i once was, but the disconnect between that person and who i am today makes it quite manageable.
Art used to be a tool for self-validation for me. I would joke that it was just my stupid human trick, but it was so much more. It made me feel worthwhile and special, because it was one thing i could do that no one else could. Lots of people make art that is more beautiful, more moving, more labor-intensive, more intellectual, but no one could do precisely what i did. They could imitate it, or even copy it directly, but no one can reach into your psyche and pull out your secrets and mold them into images that can only be truly understood by you. It makes you feel powerful and certain of your identity.
But i lost it for a very long time. It seemed to be always floating just out of my reach, and i’d grab at it and hold it for a moment, but it never would last.
And y’know, i don’t think i’ll ever have it back in quite the same way. We get older, more complicated; strangers to ourselves. At least i did. Always trying to silence the inner voices rather than bearing the pain of what they had to say. But i’ve reintroduced myself to myself, and we’ve been talking for about a year, and been being honest with ourself for perhaps 6 months or so, and it turns out we have a lot to say. Much of it hurts, much of it makes us deliriously excited, but most of all it makes us feel that underneath all the baggage of terrible choices, discarded opportunities, failed endeavors and lies, there is a me that i recognize and can be friends with. And for the first time in almost 10 years, i feel like i don’t have to be ashamed of myself.
Maybe this is no place to be so confessional, but i say fuck it. Art, among many other things but perhaps above all, is self-expression. I don’t know where exactly this new phase will lead me, but i feel more wildly creative than ever. I’m chiefly in the business of rebuilding my life these days, but i have been and will be drawing, writing, sculpting, sewing, always absorbing (and remembering!) new material, and i am thrilled about the possibilities in life. It isn’t to say i have no remorse, for indeed i consistently endure it and mean to continue to make peace with the past in whatever form that takes. I have a lot of messes to clean up, and i care deeply about doing so with no concern over how much pain it causes me. I’ve been shielding myself and running away for far too long, but i am awake now and have discovered that i am a fighter, and i am not afraid to face the demons.
I hope to reconnect with Silver at some point, even if it’s just to catch up. Maybe I can persuade her to do one last project just to put a period on our collaboration. I’ve got the perfect thing for her; a novel I recently completed called Technicolor Terrorists.