2009 Mike Spears
One of the last things I did before moving out of New York four years and a few months ago, after almost four years of living there, was take a walk over the Brooklyn Bridge for the first time with a friend of mine, Mike. It was one of those experiences that quiets you down because the city feels less like a machine, ready to grind your bones to dust, and more like an organism, heavy with the weight of having so many children running its streets. All you see are lights: in motion, flickering, still. And all you hear is the hum.
I was twenty years old and I thought I was an adult. I remember wearing tights all summer and at least three layers of black, at all times, as if it would protect me. I wore a lot of Ann Demeulemeester bought secondhand. I think the thought of someone asking me what I was doing with my life would cause me to be defensive and angry. I think it was important to me that I could eventually be able to answer that question with pride. I was tired of being tired. I was tired of being on guard, all the time, for no purpose other than to push this image I had of myself as an independent person who did whatever they wanted.
When I moved back to Hawaii, I thought I'd never take an art class again. I took classes in feminist theory and film and philosophy and political science and anthropology instead. It felt like academia was a muscle atrophied in my brain. Every semester that passed it grew stronger, and stronger, and as it flexed it became this awful heavy weight of the entire history of knowledge, oppression, theory, and disciplinary studies that I definitely didn't have enough hours in the day to actually account for. At a certain point, I simply had to take a few lighter classes. I couldn't bear another semester of feeling like the weight of the world was on my shoulders. I enrolled in Intaglio Printmaking and Metal Casting. Every single studio day that semester was magical for me. There was joy, and terror, melting bronze in the furnace and pouring shot for the first time. I remember the very first print I pulled off a zinc plate and just how different it was than any other 2d medium. I felt like a kid again, proud and giddy.
The printmaking studio was the first place in a very long that I could spend countless hours in and actually gain, rather than lose, energy. It was important to me that I didn't overthink my process, imagery, or technique because I did that in every other aspect of my life. This was (and still is) my space of meditation and play. My printmaking is what gets left in the strainer of my mind after I pour my day through it and only the heavy, gritty, misshapen granules of life remain. It's closer to therapy than a professional art practice, and I hope it always stays that way. I'm still learning to balance being a community organizer and activist with being a person who needs practices like printmaking and how to explain my work and myself in one sentence, but every day I learn at least one extra thing that makes me reconsider even doing that.