Red Shift

I have been working on a piece since NASA launched its final shuttle mission and that event set the course for the new work.  So many things about that shuttle launch struck chords in my psyche.  The gears jumped into action and I was just waterskiing behind the flood of ideas.  The connection with the last time I watched a shuttle launch, which was in fourth grade when the Challenger exploded over Reagan's eyes, was palpable as was the fact that I was watching it on the new medium of live internet stream.  A section of my life felt neatly bookended by the shuttle missions and was now lining up with another event in my life, the imminent birth of our son, Marvel Heron Ingram, also known as Mars.

Mars is our second child so I knew to some degree the difficulty of the road ahead.  Watching NASA perform flawless feats of impossible proportions I felt the seductive pull of that level of control.  Gearing up for the arrival of our son, I drooled at the idea of having NASA like control of my home and business and life.  I could taste the propaganda that NASA was born for, the clear intention in the space race to show the world who was "in control".  I made a decision to adopt a NASA mindset for the making of this piece.

Almost immediately I felt adversarial to my chosen path.  I knew the first NASA step was creating a clear mission statement followed by the mapping of logical steps between point A and point Z.    I found myself in paralysis, stuck between the right and left brain.  I was mired in artists eternal questions, "why am I doing this?"  "what is art for?" "what is my goal, what do I hope to achieve with this piece?"  These are usually questions that I love to talk through and giggle about and see where my mind ends up, but I was attempting greater control this time and so I set pen to paper and came up with this:  Mission Statement- Create a drawing that will evoke a similar awe to that of the shuttle launch experience, but one in which the message is not "USA is all powerful," but rather, "the individual is all powerful."  This was an awful mission statement. It lacked the impact and simplicity of, "put a man on the moon," there was zero objectivity, but I was on a schedule and had to get on with it.  I began drawing with no confidence in my mission and a growing sense of failure already heaping upon my shoulders, ironic because of the NASA byline, "Failure is not an option."  I thought, clearly if you set a mission statement and are not able to meet your statements demands, then failure is the option.

A common thread in my work is the mirror image of macroscopic to microscopic.  In this piece the echo was between the beautiful reach of humanity striving to cross the threshold of our planet's atmosphere and emerge into the frontier of outer space, and the epic adventure of parenting.  I feel a comparable sense of astonishment at the force of  humanity's will power and the constant push of biological life.  Experiencing the growth of my children from single cells into screaming, breathing, giggling, miracles is like watching the entire evolution of humanity, from water-born amoeba to homo-sapiens, compressed into one year.  To be alive in the time when our species emerges from the "womb" of our planet's atmosphere is akin to watching a new birth. Inspired by the similarity of my personal experience to the cosmic experience I began to think of the heads in this drawing as floating space orbs - myself a moon, my son a new star. This metaphor gained authority when a rarely observable supernova occurred on Marvel's birthday.

My wife gave birth to Marvel at home in an inflatable hot tub that we all shared at the spectacular time of his graceful emergence.  In that warm water, seemingly removed from the familiar dimension of time and life's general buzz, I received my mission.  I feel hesitant to use that word, "received," but that was the very specific sense of it, that it came in from the void of wisdom or greater reality at a moment of exceptional access to that place.  It was the proverbial "ah-ha" moment and I realized that my mission was "Fatherhood."  It was just a moment of furrow-browed understanding that might have easily been forgotten like an element of a dream had I not been stewing on what the heck my "mission" was to be.  It was very clearly not, "to be a good father," but rather the announcement of a state change and what felt like a cellular acceptance of this new reality.  In this mission it was clear that failure was truly not an option, that ideas of success and failure were too small and applied only to the narrow scope of the sensitive little ego.


We remained in new-born bliss and sleepless delirium for six weeks, and I had just returned to a full head of steam in the studio, drawing myself and drawing Mars while napping, when he got sick and a fever started to spike.  Newborns cannot handle infection the way the rest of us can, and what followed was a terrifying four days in the hospital, with multiple spinal taps, CAT scans, chest x-rays, intravenous antibiotics and fluids, and words like bacterial meningitis, brain damage, and death.  We watched Mars change before our eyes, turning strange inhuman colors and remain for long long periods in deep sleep.  We always kept skin touching his skin and talked and sang to him, but what was announced to me was that life can fade away and more importantly, it will.

The piece changed after our stay in the hospital.  I referred again to a macroscopic view comparable to my microscopic experience. Due to the Doppler effect of light, anything viewed in outer space that is moving away from us has a "red shifted" appearance and anything moving toward us is "blue shifted."  When it was discovered that everything out there was shifted red, it seemed for a moment that perhaps we were in the center of the universe.  Then it became clear that if we are a spec in a sea of expanding space, then everything is moving away from everything else.  This can seem like a lonely prospect until you realize that everything is sharing that same experience.  I applied a faint red fade to the side of my head to announce the perpetual drift away from my son.  I am still working to find the poetry in the fact that we all share this drift and it is in fact what holds us and the universe together.