I Shot Myself in the Foot
Mixed media-
Polymers, plaster, oak, acrylics and oil

I had a fever. My neck had been sore for the past two weeks. I had a cold that wouldn’t go away and the only thing that seemed capable of making my headaches go away would be to bore a giant hole in my forehead. Earlier in the week, after waking in a cold sweat, I looked up the symptoms for the West Nile virus. I recognized several of its symptoms, but reading further I saw that only one in a hundred and fifty cases became serious enough to require medical attention, whereupon I decided I would be fine regardless of whatever might have been ailing me.

When Warren Zevon passed away, an obituary on National Public Radio played a clip from the musician’s conversation with David Letterman, concerning his recently diagnosed lung cancer. “…It may have been a tactical error in not going to a physician in the past twenty years. It’s one of my phobias that didn’t pay off.”

The clip captured a moment of grace and humor from the dying musician, and for me, like Zevon a smoker, a moment for self reflection. Art, like life, is a series of decisions. In retrospect, often to be judged good or bad. Sometimes I learned from these experiences; sometimes I ignored them. A week later, I was fine. My hunch, reasoning -- good or bad -- was right. I didn’t need to see a doctor. Maybe I had West Nile virus - but it was harmless.

The photograph, I shot myself in the foot,1 was part of a grant application. It was my first grant application and though I had few expectations of receiving any of the funds, the process of incorporating my work into the grant process seemed like an interesting challenge. My artwork tends to start off as autobiographical but often moves in other directions. Sometimes I use a fictitious character named David in my stead. Figuring this removes me of any of the responsibilities or ties to the truth; I can manipulate David and take him in directions I never actually ventured. Whether themes were universal or absurd in nature, I wanted to offer the reader something to walk away with. David’s been married and divorced. He’s been a drunk, a coal miner, an office worker, a woman, and he’s been an explorer. David sometimes was the mirror image of me. Other times he might represent the antithesis of my character. Often he ventured into the reckless behavior I was struggling to avoid. He can show courage and stupidity beyond my

grasp. He is an outlet for my dreams and fears. Most importantly, he gave my stories plausible deniability. And now David was applying for an artist’s grant.

A year later my headaches returned. After a few months of abusing over-the-counter painkillers, possibly bringing an ulcer about, I finally went to see a doctor. One of the first things I told him was that I thought the headaches were caused by my sinuses. Unfortunately, I let the headaches continue so long unchecked, they were asymptomatic. Migraines, sensitivity to light, and lack of nasal discharge were indicative of something else. After the visit to the doctor, I could do little more than lie in bed and hope the medication prescribed for me would have some positive effect. Weeks, I lay in bed, my symptoms confounding the doctor, after my third visit; he ordered a CAT scan. It showed I had a case of severe sinusitis. The illness I had let drag on so long was treated with strong antibiotics and was gone within a week.

Besides submitting slides of my work, the grant application required an artist statement. Once, a torturous process requiring self examination and clarity of purpose, my artist statements had become much easier for me to write since they became tongue-n-cheek rebuttals of the artist statement process. I loved the idea that my artwork might match the color in someone’s living room or compliment the couch. If someone found some deeper meaning, that would be great too, but goddamnit, it wasn’t going to come from looking at any statement. I found alternative uses for the Artist Statement. Statements as red herring. Statements as an interesting, but irrelevant aside. Statements as a means of self-deprecation. Statements as self-grandising. Statements as inside jokes.

In retrospect, I have to admit they were still all artist statements of a sort, offering insight I was oblivious to.2 The truth being: beyond the immediate gut or base reaction to my artwork, I do not have any certain or clear answers to their meaning. I am constantly questioning and reinterpreting everything I create. If it wasn’t for boredom and the passage of time, I would never stop.3

Maybe I took my earnestness a little too seriously and carried the irony a bit far, but during the application process, I began to develop a confidence that I would get the grant. I started to imagine how I might spend the money and looking for other grants I could apply for. I Shot Myself in the Foot was a winner! Writing in my heartfelt, yet irreverent manner, I spoke of Warren Zavon. I spoke of creativity and I spoke of my experiences - learning and not learning from them. Art could be a narrative vehicle, open for all to ride along with. Although you might relate from your own personal experiences and tragedies, here you could trip and fall alongside the artist, get up, brush yourself off and go on, without requiring hospitalization or years of therapy. David did that for you. In my artist statement I spoke of David. The journey he was going to make -- and I ended with David at some point in the future, reflecting on the decisions he had made and weighing the choices he would have to make.

In a landscape of a Mediterranean beach, copious alcohol, drugs and transvestite prostitutes, David stood staring at a handful of dollar bills. He no longer had the money for a ticket home and just yesterday he had abandoned his belongings in a hotel room, unable to pay the bill. The money was the last of an artist’s grant he had received several months before. What at first he had planned as a journey to the holy land had become an exploration into alcohol and drugs to fight his persisting headaches. In a postcard to a friend, he jokingly referred to this as his Hemingway/Bukowski period. “I am headed to Spain next to fight the bulls…” But that phase of his life had come to an end and he feared all he had to show for it was a brain tumor. In the distance he saw a family strolling down the beach and he

headed in their direction. David was hungry and he didn’t care for the smell of urine which seemed to follow him around. He wondered if he had any minutes left on his calling card. He wondered who might send him money. His eyes were bloodshot and the expression on his face hollow; he had known better, and yet here he was. David had another decision to make.4



1 The painting is a reproduction of the photograph.

2 This is one of those cute little happenstances that make you go “oh my,” but I wasn’t sure if oblivious was the word I wanted to use here. Looking for my dictionary, I finally found it lying on the floor. One page had turned out and was lying to the side. On it was Oblivious. I wouldn’t read anything into it. I’m not.

3 Except for my painting “Blue” which is simply blue, please don’t try read anything else into it.

4 I did not get the grant.




All work © 2006 Bradley Bowers
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