So maybe this is our first time meeting. The following images are approximations of what I look like, to give you an idea.
My name is Ian King, and I am a transgender man,
full-time publication designer
the-rest-of-the-time mixed media artist,
mutual aid organizer,
de facto source of knowledge about American folk music,
the world’s biggest living fan of Bukka White and Libba Cotten (probably, at least compared to everyone else you’ve ever met in your life),
guy who thought that moving to New York City would help him figure out the path he wanted to go down with his art,
guy who realized every institution there already filled their obligatory trans boy artist quota (and they’re all way hotter and pass way better than him),
guy who applied for over 100 jobs and never got a single interview, maybe because the name he used on his resume wasn’t his legal name yet,
guy who got beat for an emerging artists’ open call by someone with work in the permanent collections of four major museums,
guy who spent a whole summer feeling bitter watching friends/peers/mentors/rivals/et cetera succeed while he had to walk dogs every day to at least pocket some cash, so his dad didn’t cry for him too hard,
guy who thought, “Maybe I should move to Raleigh or something,” for about 10 minutes,
guy who decided to just hunker down at his parents’ house in Jersey and hope for the best,
and somehow I found myself in this residency position before I could even turn 23. And I got that job and those benefits, but I think I spoiled that at the beginning of this list. That’s not important though. What is important, however, is the sheer amount of imposter syndrome I feel in a space like this one, especially considering what I had to overcome – internally, externally, everywhere – to get here.
I’ve watched so many of my other creative friends go through even worse than I have. At least I got to catch a break. There are other people I know who have tried for even longer than I have to generate the content they care about, and to this day they’re still just “trying.” Others had their own baggage to claim and deal with before they could even think about moving forward in their body of work. And some just don’t have it figured out at all. And then I feel racked with guilt thinking about how I can’t do more to help them redirect the course of their lives, partly because their identities as people of color, or as activist troublemakers, or as queer folks – whether they are out or trembling in the closet – create such massive targets on their backs that I could never erase it for them.
And I wonder if I’m just complaining over nothing. Just because things didn’t go into motion for me instantly doesn’t mean they were never going to, or that every opportunity was withheld from me for transphobic reasons (as I am usually inclined to believe because I am paranoid). Still, I expected to be miserable for at least, like, a year before the stars would begin aligning themselves for me. It is a lot to be faced with so suddenly when you are used to dirt.
In either case, the crushing blows of inadequacy will continue to barrel their way in.
I felt like painting a self-portrait, mostly because I wanted to practice some new techniques I’d been thinking about using for a bigger project I had in mind, and I didn’t mind muddying up this particular portrait in the worst case scenario. Not even in a self-deprecating way. I just think that making the most imperfect self-portrait possible is way more telling and symbolic than trying to make it the best work you’ve ever done.
I have a lot of weird, old print materials on hand that I need to get through; in particular to this piece, a road map dated to some time before the U.S. totally colonized Alaska and Hawaii, and a New York City tourist guidebook circa the DeBlasio years. I tore out the parts that made me think about my past and present selves and transferred them onto my face and clothing using acrylic medium. In a way, I am holding onto the dreams that I used to have before getting checked by multiple wake-up calls, but I am also asserting myself as who I am now and who I will be known as time continues onward.
Identity is a huge issue to me and to my work. So is the idea of archiving pieces of the past that get left to be forgotten. I hope we get to collect more of these moments together in the time I have in this spot. Before I write even more, I’ll leave you with the song I was just listening to, a song by someone who I absolutely consider a hero of mine, one that reminds me of the peculiar ways that the world works to put us in the places where we are. Let’s do some more chatting, about life and about my process on this piece; my handle on Instagram is @ianeking.art and I am always uploading more there. Nice to meet you.