A Year in Review: My Life at Artist Residencies

I have been putting off writing this post for almost a month now, because I didn’t quite know what needed to be said, but I wanted to somehow wrap up the blog in its current state. This is the end of a journey: I’m not bouncing around to different residencies on an almost monthly basis anymore. My boxes are unpacked, car empty, storage unit lease terminated. I am here, in Gatlinburg, TN, for the next eleven months. Which feels like a lifetime compared to this past year of travel. Nomad no more.

In all honesty, it was hard to make the decision to come here, even though I knew my options were limited. There is an incredible freedom that accompanies the transient lifestyle, a kind of “on to the next thing” mentality that fed my greener grass syndrome and fueled a beautifully positive future outlook. Once I subscribed to the notion that my reality was a life on the road, albeit temporarily, it was difficult to stop seeking out new residency opportunities. I wanted to keep going, but knew that the best thing for my work (and bank account) was to stay put for a while.

I can’t talk about this past year without discussing home, and the impact traveling has made on my creative practice. While I am still interested in skin and a general exploration of identity, my main questions have shifted. The concept of a home was one I briefly investigated while still in college, when my parents sold my childhood home and moved across the country. Feelings of un-permanence, instability and the desire to preserve and contain lay low for a few years, then abruptly resurfaced and changed the face of my work. And a need for change was ultimately the reason why I started this residency tour in the first place.

It’s tempting to fall into the blog cliché and write a list of ten lessons I learned, or attempt to share some deep, philosophical observations from my year of travel, but I have nothing to offer along those lines. I have no good quotes to pull out of context and turn into a needlepoint, and I’m hardly qualified to offer advice. All I know is that I still don’t know very much, but I’m confident that learning and experiencing are often better than knowing. And that you get more from asking questions than making statements.

That being said, I still feel the need to post some kind of closure to this year of nomadism, some kind of acknowledgement of where I started, how far I've come and where I'm going. I started this blog as much for my own benefit as it was for my friends and family to stay updated. And in revisiting some past posts and looking over my photos, I'm awestruck by the amount of satisfaction I feel, and am reminded of just how much I've experienced. I've met and befriended some of the most amazing people who I never would have known otherwise, and encountered a variety of wild creatures including bears, foxes, skunks and porcupines. I dealt with both extreme isolation and periods of almost continuous partying. I lived in a renovated church, on a bison ranch, and on the campus of a former psychiatric hospital. Campfires, hiking, small town diners, late night discussions, potlucks, mud wrestling, dance parties, and plenty of sunrises. And of course some art-making here and there.

But in reviewing last year while considering where I'm headed, I can reduce it all down to a single truth. So here is the most honest thing I can say to sum up past year: I’m back to square one.

Physically and mentally, really. I started out the year of residencies at Arrowmont exactly a year ago and here I am again. There’s something really comforting about this pseudo deja vu. It really does feel like I’m starting all over again, but in a much more informed way, perhaps even some kind of second chance. I’ve come to believe that life is cyclical, that the challenges I face will flare up again down the line, and the art I make today has its roots deep in the work I threw away long ago. So I find myself at square one not because I’ve backtracked, but because I’ve gone far enough to start over. It’s a pretty solid place, this square one. It is familiar. It comfortable. It is home.

For now.