120 Painted Heads
Video Installation
Limited Prints
Book Release


You’re walking up the street. It’s been dark for hours but it isn’t cold. Maybe not the right time of year. Maybe you’ve been there once before but you left so disoriented you can’t quite place it. Either way you’re relieved when he calls your name from across the block and while walking overyou wonder how you’d missed it. House plants grown too large for the house. Neon falling out an open door. You’re led inside and are given a brief tour and a couple of beers. 350s are fixed on a backdrop of flat white paper and the floor is lined with plastic. What you would vaguely describe as walls heave with distended stacks of paint cans and bundles of wigs wrapped in sparkling twine.

He drops a bucket at your feet and explains that it’s easier if you do this part yourself. It’s only now you realize you’ve started. Your clothes are off and you’re on your knees. You cup your hands and grab a bit of clay from inside the bucket and nervously runyour hands along the top of your bowed head. Water drips down your face. He says he needs you to do more, really get into it. It feels somehow primordial. You grab a glob of it and pull it across your forehead and chin. He’s getting giddy. He wants more. You cover your shoulders, your chest, your abdomen. He says it’s great but he still needs more. A belt is tied around your neck. You feel thick cold paint hit the top of your head. It curls into your eyes and mouth. You need ears, he says, he wants you to have big ugly ears. So you kneel down and start patting clay onto the sides of your head. You figure out quick how to keep the stuff on. You can’t hear very well. Paint continues to fall down the front of your face and drip off the end of your nose. He’s taken by tangents of inspiration and improvisation. He informs you he’s going to squirt some fake blood into your mouth. He suggest you hold your breath before he raises an open palm of glitter and blows furiously. He covers you with wedding veils and glass eyes.

About ten minutes in, you can’t see much and about five minutes later you can’t see anything. Where you once felt nervous you are beginning to feel a momentum. You laugh because the feathers he’s sticking on tickle. They laugh and she insists you keep smiling. He says bigger. They scream at you to cackle, implore you to snarl. You can feel him adding things but you aren’t sure what they are. Sometimes he’ll tell you, in a thinking out loud sort of way, but otherwise you have no idea. There’s something freeing in it. You know it’s all distorted and amended, that it’s not really you and that for once it really is ideal to be weird and to be ugly. To be ravenous and gross and spit on yourself. Or to be delicate and dignified and battle ready....

The train car starts up and you catch your reflection in the window. A stripe of electric blue still runs down your neck and speckles of fluorescent pink are all over your shoes. A bit of tinsel is stuck in your hair and when you pull it out you see you must have missed quite a bit back there. Someone across from you smiles curiously and the person next to you moves seats. You briefly consider painting yourself like a warrior every day. The train screams through the tunnel. You’re in the window looking at your reflection, making funny faces at yourself.  — Ryan Cartwright