Text accompanying an exhibition of visual work based on fragments of philosophy.

The Origin & Future of the Blood is a series of visual responses to the text fragments of Blaise Pascal, a mathematician, philosopher, and theologian who lived in the seventeenth century. When he died he was working on what was to become a book in defense of Christianity, but which would remain unfinished. Instead we were left with literally a box containing scraps of paper that ranged from notes about esoteric Biblical passages to pithy observations about humanity in the manner of La Rochefoucauld.

The opportunity to finish and show this series as a whole couldn’t have come at a better time. I had been working on the images for over three years and had made around 40 total. Each one was based on one or two of the fragments, whose ruminations on passion, religion, chance, knowledge, belief, and humanity I found to be universally accessible and provoking, even to those unfamiliar with Pascal. The images began as collages and drawings created for a drawing-a-day-for-a-year group that included Bay Area artists Obi Kaufmann, Alex Rosmarin, Brian Caraway, Brion Nuda Rosch, Chris Corales, and others. The same daily exercise had allowed me to produce the series of twenty-four illustrations of Schubert that I exhibited in 2007.

Then I began to execute many of the pieces as sculptures in wood, fabric, glass, and plaster: it seemed that taking flat images into three dimensions could enhance the already strange effect they might produce as sinister quasi-religious symbols. The current and final form they took was red, grey, and black cut paper. Grey was used as a neutral color, while black was used only when thematically necessary, or to set off the grey in addition to the red. I avoided using white at all, as it tends to already have a symbolism when combined with red. Red and grey, on the other hand, as complementary colors produce strong sensory impressions without including any definite symbolic baggage.

In the end, it seemed that the power and immediacy of the images, the color scheme, the flat graphic quality of the images and, above all, the fact that Pascal’s sometimes complex ideas speak simply and straightforwardly to anyone who can read: all of these factors dictated that the presentation should not get in the way of communicating with words and pictures. Why fill a room with objects to create an installation when one could be constructed in the mind?

There is nothing in these pieces that should be unfamiliar to the viewer, and I made no attempt to willfully obscure the subject matter in the name of creating depth or meaning. Instead of “exploring” some arcane or academic theme in this series, I focused on what is as true and strange about being human today as it was 400 years ago.

I mentioned that showing this series is timely, perhaps just in the sense that I started creating visual art that responded to Pascal’s fragments in a period of art practice when I was trying to make visual sense of elements of communication in the human world. Inorganic forms in nature are dictated by processes, in the same way that organic forms are determined by function so that, when we see a canyon for example, our first impression might be its beauty, then its size or the peculiarity of its shape. But its beauty and form, in contrast to that of a bird, have no function, they’re merely the subjective result of chemical and geological processes.

So my drive to find symbolism or meaning in animal and human-made forms—such as in the 2008 series Characteristics—was the result of not being able to find any in the inorganic. (As someone who read Camus as a teen, I didn’t need the lack of meaning in nature reinforced.) There’s one piece in Characteristics that, even if it didn’t solve the problem of form, rendered it moot: a woodpecker with a sharp, blade-like bill that had grown an axe out of its neck. The woodpecker’s beak evolved to drill into trees and the axe’s shape took the wedge form most effective for splitting. What else was there to discover?

In the meantime, I had been working on collecting the names for “All Known Metal Bands”, which was an attempt to assemble an alphabetical list of every heavy metal band name that ever existed since the genre’s creation in 1969 by Black Sabbath. This was the first of several ideas that were based in exploring space, as it were, in looking to lists and statistics and numbers as signs of movement and a spatial guide to history. AKMB itself was sort of a compromise idea for encompassing what couldn’t be encompassed, i.e. the whole of a huge subculture. (A compromise because originally I’d intended to spend a month counting grains of sand.) Creating the book was certainly an attempt to assemble a complete body of information that would have an effect on the reader, but it also interested me in terms of process: more engaging than creating colorful, pretty shapes that are just variations on what we’re assaulted by every day.

So I’d definitely moved beyond the purely visual by the time I was wrapping up the Blood series. But what the piece does share with things like AKMB is in finding what’s left when you isolate a single small something out of the general mess. As brilliant as Pascal was, his thought definitely reflects certain assumptions, and does have a reductionist tone, which may or may not have been intentional. There’s something vaguely oppressive about Pascal’s thinking, which comes partially from the strictures of Christianity. Even what is comforting about religion (at least to the non-religious) is stifling and smothering.

For this work, I employed this reductionist approach as a limitation. The Blood is a kind of theoretical challenge to the viewer to find anything in human life that cannot be addressed through religion, violence, vanity, chance, passion, or philosophy. As opposed to more drawings and paintings with the trendy but empty symbolism of antlers, birds, and rainbow splashes, I wanted to filter all of human reality through big ideas that start with capital letters. Those ideas seemed big and empty enough to accommodate the personal experiences of the viewer.

Instead of crawling deeper into my brain while making art–and either “exploring” rarified academic subjects (things that are presumably only cooked up for an artist statement in aid of the show’s marketing push) or digging deeper into highly specific modes of self-expression that are a different breed of esoteric–I tried to crawl out of myself and turn those ideas inside out.