This Is My Heart Please Don’t Use It Against Me

April 17, 2017

by Ella Viscardi, Barnard College

“i guess i can’t lose me anymore if you are gonna know where to look”

These words, carved into wooden planks, frame the doorway of the space at Craig Krull Gallery and introduce a series of emotionally charged artworks by Michael Deyermond. Michael Deyermond: This Is My Heart Please Don’t Use It Against Me features a collection of carved wood works and paintings made by Deyermond in 2016. Three wood pieces, each repurposed from fragments of a collapsed windmill, include a lectern encircled by low benches, a prayer kneeler, and a primitive seesaw that rests on a bed of sand. Gouache paintings on paper are casually thumbtacked to the walls of the gallery. Arranged on one wall is a cluster of paintings­­­––a food series of sorts––with carrots, onions, or cans of Hormel chili as their main subjects. Another series of cool-toned cactus paintings line the remaining walls; most depict a single cactus in the center of a landscape. Whether painted with gouache or carved into wood, each piece also incorporates text in the form of deeply intimate, poetic phrases.

As the Los Angeles-based artist describes in the show’s catalog, the word-filled works are a result of a self-imposed exile to an abandoned ranch in the American southwest. Beginning as an escape from society, which he claims to have failed, the truth-seeking venture turned out to be simultaneously self-destructive and productive of authentic self-reflection. The artwork resulting from Deyermond’s social displacement indexes his charged existential crisis. Through their combination of text and imagery, the paintings and wooden works both present an intimate look into Deyermond’s solitary endeavor and elicit empathy from the spectator with unabashed honesty.

Linguistic snapshots of Deyermond’s southwestern episode appear on many works. The words in the cactus painting Here I Am, for example, read, “if you came looking for the totally naked man in the middle of nowhere telling his story of love here i am.” This text, like all of its kind in the show, takes the form of lowercase handwriting; the serif letters are tall and lean, and they possess an almost childlike quality. The naiveté of the lettering is heightened by its imperfect alignment; one section of the texts slants diagonally downward, the words forming a staircase on the paper from the top left corner to the bottom right corner. Like an entry scrawled in an unlined journal, the figuration of the phrase lends it an informal quality, which contrasts to the complexity of its content. While this specific text genders the speaker as male, referencing Deyermond’s personal narrative directly, other paintings offer more open-ended possibilities for an assumed speaker or subject. In There is Something in You, for instance, the text reads, “there is something in you that knows something in me and they are supposed to do something together.” This painting, one of the few exhibited that highlights two cacti at once, positions the text below the identically shaped succulents. Like Here I Am, this work similarly elicits a sense of hope for connection. However, unlike the previous painting, the chosen pronouns “me” and “you” are linguistic shifters, meaning they can be adopted by a ubiquitous number of subjects.

Deyermond furthers the juxtaposition between a tortured individual experience and a yearning for shared experience in the wooden works. The objects all signal connectivity, or at least a hope to attain it. The kneeler is made for one to pray to a higher power, the seesaw is intended to seat two, and the lectern and its surrounding stools indubitably reference some kind of religious gathering. All of these wood constructions are life-size, a quality that invites spectator participation––if not literally, then imaginatively. The benches are a prime example of Deyermond’s personal narrative and the invocation of the viewer. “I” statements are carved on the seat of each bench, including phrases like, “i sat here and waited for you,” “i sat here and i begged,” and “i sat here and wanted badly to kill myself again.” The phrases reveal a rollercoaster of largely hopeless, melancholic, and violent emotions, which are exaggerated by the jagged carved form of each letter. As spectators peruse the gallery space and read the rough inscriptions on each bench, they might choose to metaphorically occupy one of the seats based on their personal connection to a specific statement. Not only do the stools represent Deyermond’s own psychosomatic symptoms and failures in faith, but they also invite the viewer to take a seat and assess their own emotional and spiritual stances. While the artist is not always present in the gallery space to watch viewers relate to the work, perhaps these happenings still fulfill the genuine connection for which he ultimately strove.

Michael Deyermond: This is My Heart Please Don’t Use it Against Me was on view at Craig Kull Gallery, Santa Monica, from March 4th – April 8th, 2017.
The Journal of Art Criticism
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