• Justin Kane Elder

second layer

Now that the concept has been developed and the renderings are complete, we shift into the realm of beginnings. This layer has been present in my work for years, but it took some time to understand its purpose. It began in a hectic era of my career where I was juggling an overbooked schedule. At the time, I would bounce from project to project, always creating. This had two effects; one is the continuous stream of new ideas and techniques to explore. The other evolved from that stream. The trend within all of the projects was one of reinforcing the unknown. Each unique piece was a first, filled with new experiments. I quickly expanded my vocabulary from traditional painting techniques to a variety of untested mediums. Everything was game; spray paint, collage, found objects, origami, miniatures, neon fixtures, even shrink wrap. As this exploration unfolded, I started coming up with little catch phrases for each piece. I began to write them on the work, almost as if I was another artist that was tagging the piece. Over time they became more complex and poetic, eventually becoming omnipresent in all of my work.

After years of this approach, a byproduct started to emerge. It was a trend where those who interacted with the work began to use those same taglines in conversations, even if I had completely painted over them. This was intriguing and very synchronistic because of the clientele I was working with at the time. I had begun to branch out and work with PR firms on experiential marketing campaigns. This was my first experience working with the advertising sector. It was eye-opening to see how they used resources and how they would approach conceptual development. The PR firms had unlimited budgets; they also used those budgets in a myriad of ways. There were the typical things; materials, staff, and meals. Then there was messaging, something that appeared to be inconsequential and understated, yet they would devote countless hours to choosing the right words. Initially, I found this cumbersome and frivolous, but with observation, it became apparent what they were doing. They would start by outlining a project and its components, then immediately shift to what they wanted the customer to feel. When they finally agreed on this feeling, It became the unspoken manifesto of guiding the campaign. Sure enough, when the clients or customers interacted with the final product, they would often repeat that same catchphrase, even though it was never displayed. The PR firm was using subliminal messaging.

After understanding this, it sent chills down my spine. How long had advertising been doing this? I immediately began researching this topic and was shocked to discover how widespread this phenomenon was. Once I understood this concept, I realized that it was a technique anyone could use. So I thought to myself, “if they are using this to sell us anything, could I use it in my work to speak without speaking?”

So I began by creating a body of work in which every piece had subliminal messaging woven into its fabric. I intended to tell everyone the meaning behind each piece secretly. I started by meditating with each blank canvas until the words came to me. The words eventually came in the form of a poem, which I then wrote immediately on the piece. As every painting progressed, the poem would subsequently be covered, leaving it buried under numerous layers. The uncanny part was when the public first interacted with the work. At the opening, when I was chatting with people. I noticed they would repeat the same words used in the poem to describe the painting! Floored by these results, I dove deeper into my research and development.

What I uncovered was both earth-shaking and glaringly obvious. It’s centered around language and its ability to shape the world. Consider this; before language was spoken, it had to be invented. This means someone had to study and consider that bright red orb hanging in a tree until they eventually had the thought “apple.” Then they had to develop a system of symbols that represented the sound of that word so that they could speak it with meaning. This process has never stopped; each new generation adds their lexicon to the tome of human experience, thus broadening our spectrum of knowledge. Some civilizations took this to another level by combining language with the intention to induce mysticism. They understood the magic behind words, and that language was a form of frequency and that each frequency is a vibrational strand woven into the tapestry of experience. They knew every word has underlying power, and when used with intention, it invokes a spell into existence, which is where the term “spelling” originated.

Not only do words carry an underlying power, they also share in the power of association. A word can cause a feeling to arise in us, an emotion that triggers an emotional response. This response has been studied, and it is now understood that our emotions correlate with chemicals that our bodies produce. For example, happiness releases serotonin and dopamine, and anxiety produces cortisol. Every emotion has a chemical partner that influences the very structure of our bodies. Meaning every

thought shapes who we are and what we become.

A concept that has vast implications and can be used by each one of us. This knowledge made me reinvent my approach to creating work. Now I begin by subliminally placing an intention into the piece to guide viewers to the artwork's meaning. The spell I wrote into this layer of the painting states, “we are each other,” this statement is meant to highlight our shared experience. Even though this piece is an abstract self-portrait, it is also a portrait of all of us, and you are meant to see parts of yourself within it. Simply put, we are all in this together, and separateness is just a veil obscuring the fact that it does not exist.

We breathe the same air as those before us.


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