Memory and ownership in art / by Derrick Hickman

A painting titled Expectations, was the first piece of what would become my childhood toy series. It was meant to be a painting for myself.  No intentions beyond that.  There were no thoughts of a body of work, public display, gallery representation, or even sales.  It was simply an attempt to visually sort out many of the confusions of childhood and how they linger into adulthood.  And it was probably the last painting that I have created where the content wasn't weighed and measured.

Art can be a very selfish act.   As an artist whose work revolves around themes of memory and identity, I struggle with ownership.  Not validity, but the artists' right to share.  Obviously, our memories are our own.  But reflections are in a constant state of flux.  Events and their meaning are constantly changing dependent upon current ideas and circumstances.  We tend to think of ourselves as complete people in the present, who are looking back at our incomplete versions.  And because of this, our understanding always seems certain, no matter how many times a recollection alters over our lifetime.  

One of the most frustrating aspects of the creative process is the loss of control once the work is presented.  The artist has no control over how the viewer perceives and interprets the work.  Memory is singular, but the experience often is not.   They touch the relationships around the artist.  Using a public medium as a vehicle to explore a memory from one perspective can be fraught with pitfalls.  Events may occur from multiple vantage points and can be interpreted by others in a myriad of ways. We can be defensive, protective and very private when aspects of our lives are examined.  For me, this always raises the question, what are the blind spots of the artist?  Is there something that isn't, or can't be seen?  is the statement honest?  Is there value that warrants the statement?   The fear that the artist narrative may be received as criticism or judgement.  

When work revolves around revisiting the past, there can be the added complication of referencing others who no longer have a voice.   Trying to balance the fairness of a visual conversation despite their absence can be dubious at times.  No matter how accurate the artist representation may attempt to be, it will always be a version from the artists' perspective.  But this is the point of the the art making process.  Not to define an experience but to start a conversation that helps to better understand it, whether personally or publicly.   To take responsible ownership of their statements rather than edit topics of debate.  After-all, it is the artists' story, too.