“The Piece That Doesn’t Fit” is the first painting I remember making that attempted to express something more personal than reinterpreted cartoon characters from books and movies. I was thirteen, and its title was an accurate description of my social status at school. I painted my classmates as two-dimensional stick figures, playing ball and flying kites, all smiling. They were located on a solid blue background broken up into perfectly aligning puzzle pieces. One piece was missing at the bottom of the puzzle -mine. I painted myself isolated against a black negative space beneath the pleasant scene, in a puzzle piece of my own that would never fit the allotted space.
The supportive adults in my life reassured me that I was just different. My peers preferred the term “faggot.” Raised in a sheltered, conservative environment, I didn’t know what the latter meant, but I quickly learned that either option was bad. Fortunately, I had a deep-rooted passion for all things creative, and I was especially drawn to the visual arts. I tried to ascribe the qualities that made me “different” to this budding passion, sometimes successfully.
As a four-year-old, I had spent so much time at the dining room table drawing that my parents sought the advice and ultimately the mentorship of a local artist who took me under her wing and encouraged me to express myself through oil painting. Eleven years later, with “The Piece That Doesn’t Fit,” I made a breakthrough. I found that by giving my feelings—even the painful ones—a visual voice, I could discover new things about myself; and others with shared experiences seemed to understand and relate to my work.
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