Blog / 2023 / Shapely and Shapeless

August 29, 2023

[video transcript]

I talk more about external validation and why it’s so vital for artists in general—even the ones with a stable sense of self—in this video. If you like the rainbow eyeball in this painting and you’re curious about how it represents my artist self, check out this video.

If you want to see more of Everything’s Fine, you can click through to the online gallery or, if you’re in the Princeton area, you can see the work in person at the library!

Princeton Public Library
65 Witherspoon
Princeton, NJ 08542

Open: now through October 15th
Hours: every day, visit PPL site for times

Hands-on art workshop for teens
Saturday September 30th from 3p to 4:30p
Register here!

The original octopus piece is for sale for $1200 plus shipping (and tax if you live in New Jersey), and there are prints and pretty things here in my print shop.

grey octopus, holding a rainbow eyeball balloon, surrealist art about an unstable self-image
Gwenn Seemel
If I Were You, I’d Call Me Us
acrylic on panel
14 x 11 inches

Singular reality. That’s how I used to describe them, the people in my life who act like their perspective is the only true one. I think now the closest term to describe these people would be that they gaslight others. Singular reality people tend to forcefully convey their version of the world, to a degree where many of us end up questioning our own perspective.

Throughout my life there have been people who have made me believe that I am who they say I am. They’d tell me that things I say are dumb, making me less likely to speak up again. Or they’d let me know, in no uncertain terms, that something about me embarrasses them. There’d usually be a part of me that didn’t agree with their version of reality, but it was always hard for me to hold onto my sense of self when the messages I was receiving were, by and large, negative.

I think it’s actually why I became an artist. I wanted to break off little pieces of myself and put them into the world so that people who didn’t know me personally could still see me, and they could, hopefully, reinforce my idea of myself as someone who had interesting things to say instead of only dumb things—or as someone who wasn’t embarrassing, just different. For the record, I don’t think that dealing with having an unstable self-image by asking for external validation is necessarily a healthy way to do things. I’m just saying it’s something I’ve done.

And it’s what this painting is about. Of all the images from Everything’s Fine, my series of surreal paintings about mental health, this is the most like a self-portrait. The octopus—that creature who’s at once shapely and shapeless—is me. My limbs reach off the ends of the frame and appear again on the other side: where am I even? I may not know, but I hold up the artist me—the rainbow eyeball that sees all the colors—because it’s the part of me that I want everyone to notice.

I almost didn’t include this painting in the series, because the imagery feels so specific to me. But then I asked a few friends what they thought of the piece, and they each had their own story about it. None of it exactly what I intended, but some of it pretty close all the same. And it made me think that maybe the ambiguity of this image is precisely what is necessary in this case, when it’s a painting about having an unstable self-image.

This video is made with love and microdonations from my community!

Maybe this post made you think of something you want to share with me? Or perhaps you have a question about my art? I’d love to hear from you!


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