Making the Impossible, Possible: The Journey to Triumph

Re-Visions Event in NYC

Creating the Tree of Spectacle Triumph has been a journey from start to finish. Just like life creating the sculpture wasn’t easy by any means. Creating this beautiful tree tested my patience, stamina and will. I jumped through hoops and didn’t let roadblocks prevent me from pushing forward. That’s the message in my story is to persevere regardless of what is thrown at you.

This journeyEdit_IMGL3627 started last fall when I entered my rose sculpture in ArtPrize, an international art competition in Grand Rapids, MI. When registration started for ArtPrize I debated entering due to the registration fee. I kept getting messages that doors would open. The messages started off as a whisper but eventually turned into a roar. I really feel my Mom was behind the messages. Even after I registered I kept getting the same message. A month after ArtPrize ended I received an email about a possible commission for an eyewear manufacturer in New York using eyewear material in the piece.

treeoflifeupdatedWhen thinking about a proposal I thought about what I wanted to create. At first I struggled. Then I thought about this tree I first started to create over ten years ago. It started off as an oil painting where half the tree was alive and the other half was dead. It represented the best parts of ourselves and the pain that we endure. The living part was the phoenix that rose from the ashes. It’s taken me many years to realize that I’m not my pain or troubles. The Tree of Triumph is my best, true self.

The inspiration for the original tree was a lilac bush that grew next to my family home. It was my pride and joy. In the spring the sweet fragrance would float throughout my home. I loved that lilac bush. Next to the lilac bush was an old corncrib. One day my father decided he was going to tear the corncrib down. Not only did he tear it down he set it ablaze. The flame was so hot that it bubbled the paint on the siding of the house. You could feel the heat inside the house. The flames were higher than our house.

Once the flames had dissipated all that was left of the lilac bush was a charred out skeleton of what use to be a beautiful, vibrant living creature. I was devastated. My father on the other hand acted like it wasn’t a big deal. It was just a bush to him, not important. He just brushed off my tears like it was nothing.

I thought all was lost. Spring wasn’t the same without those purple, fragrant blooms. The blackened skeleton was a reminder of the hurt my father caused. What I couldn’t see were the roots deep within the ground. Years later they arose from the ashes and life had sprouted again. It took some time but eventually the lilac bush grew to four times the size of its former self. It took a big portion of my adult life to realize the moral of the story.

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You can destroy my branches. You can knock me to the ground but you’ll never reach my roots. The roots represented my heart, soul and spirit. It was the first time I regained the power that I allowed others to take. No amount of hurt or pain will reach my soul. So it’s significant that the heart of the tree is surrounded by the roots.

I submitted my proposal and patiently waited for an answer. The date given passed and still no word. I had started to think I wasn’t selected. Another few weeks went by and finally I received word that I was one of seven artists selected. I was beyond ecstatic. My sculpture was going to be displayed during an art show in New York City. It was a dream come true. It’s one of the best things to ever happen to me.

Creating a sculpture using unconventional materials is a complicated, challenging process. It was my first sculpture of this size. The final sculpture was over four feet tall and four feet long. The next six months pushed me to my limit and tested my will. Creating the bark was a very tedious process of hot gluing small piece of frame onto the skeleton which was pvc. This wasn’t your typical glue gun. It was a professional glue gun that carpenters use with temperatures going past 400 degrees. Due to the intricate aspect of the branches, the quick harden time of the glue and the small frame pieces I had to use my hands to attach the pieces. So you probably can guess what occurred fairly frequently. I’m surprised I still have feelings in my hands.

Creating sculptures out of unconventional materials is very physically demanding and the tree was no different. There were times that my hands, arms and legs were covered in burns, scratches and cuts. It looked like I had been a fight with a cat and lost. Towards the end I had so many cuts on my hand that it became very painful to use my hands but I pushed through. Reaching through the branches felt like I was reaching through a briar patch.branches

There were aspects to the tree that were very tedious. Creating the bark was a very lengthy process. At times it felt like I was never finish it. Imagine gluing small pieces of frame to a large area. It was so tedious that it gave me panic attacks. Creating the leaves were also very tedious process due to the number of lenses needed to fill the space. Never in my wildest dreams did I think it would take over 3,000 lenses. Most of these were treated and hand painted. I then had to hang each one to the branches and that part took forever.

Creating the Tree of Triumph meant bringing my inner demons into the light. The tree represented my best self and the darkness was ruthless in trying to stop me. There were times I couldn’t even look at the sculpture because there were parts of me that still believed that I didn’t deserved it. I faced the darkness and once again pushed through.

The tough part of creating a sculpture out of unconventional material is that for a big portion of the time creating it there isn’t a clear defined picture of what the final picture will be. It’s not until the end that you start to see the picture. It wasn’t until I started to add the leaves that I was finally able to see what I had envisioned. It’s amazing how quickly the final picture comes to the surface. It’s like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon.

The art that I create is very time consuming. I like to create little biodomes. My specialty is creating creatures out of the unconventional materials. A part of the design included a little girl swinging from the tree which was based off my seven year old niece. I also included one of the creatures (the frog) from my rose sculpture. It was my way to honor where the tree came from. If it wasn’t for the rose I wouldn’t have gotten this opportunity.

Connie 236The creation of the tree was a family event. My nieces and nephew helped me paint lenses. My seven year old niece was quite the helper. She would come down frequently asking if I needed any help. My sister was my sounding board. Many of the decisions like not painting the bark came from her.  My brother in law was my technical expert and made sure the sculpture was secure during the long trip in a Uhaul to NYC. I couldn’t have created the sculpture without their help so it was really important to make them a part of tree. I had them each sign a lense and put it on the tree. It was my way of honoring their contributions and support. While they couldn’t be there with me in NYC they were definitely there in spirit.

Original Sculpture

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During this whole experience I have felt a strong connection to my Mom to the point where I would turn around thinking she was there. She was one of the person I turned to as a sounding board and I found myself physically turning to her thinking she was there. I strongly believed she brought me this opportunity.

I thought that challenging aspect was done but boy was I ever wrong. Originally it was my understanding that the sculpture would be crated. With over 3,000 lenses the sculpture was extremely heavy, at least over 200 pounds. The shipper just wanted to bubble wrap it and cover it with a furniture pad, and throw it on the truck.

cocoontreeI had spent the past six months (over 1500 hours) in creating this beautiful creature and I wasn’t about to let it get broken. I put my heart and soul into this tree. It had became a part of me because the tree represented me. I became a part of this tree and it a part of me. When I had the idea of driving it to New York City it never dawned on me how rough of a ride a Uhaul moving van is. Thankfully my brother in law came up with a system that would keep the sculpture secure in the back of the Uhaul. He attached it to a pallet and then boxed it in between the wheel wells. Finally he secured it by attaching a 2×4 to each side.

The trip was only suppose to take 10.5 hours. The client wanted it at their location at 5pm. I made sure to leave enough time for stops, etc. I had tried to fall asleep the night before but with the nerves and excitement I wasn’t able to. So I left for NYC with only 4 hours of sleep in 48 hours. I left at 4am. About 5 hours into my trip I started to become very sleepy to the point where I struggled to keep my eyes open. I did everything possible to stay awake including blaring the music and turning the air on full blast. Anyone who’s driven on highway 80 through Pennsylvania knows that the terrain is very hilly and rough. Imagine driving on it when you’re majorly sleep deprived. On top of all the hills there are many drop offs. It got to the point where I couldn’t even look at them as they made me seasick.DSCF8390

Around the fifth hour I was pulled over by a cop. He said I had went over the white line and wanted to make sure I was okay. He ended up being really cool but it just added to the nerves of the trip. Anyone who has ever driven a Uhaul knows it’s like driving a boat.

I had downed a red bull, a Starbucks cold drink and several Mountain Dews in the hopes that it would keep me awake. About into the seventh hour I went into this sleep deprived state where I felt like everything around me was warped. It was like I was on this major trip. It felt like the mountains were coming at me both in fast forward and slow motion all at once.

Towards to what I thought was the end of the trip I started to count down the hours. I counted down the hours to help comfort me. The last two hours I started to become so tired I wasn’t sure I could make it but I knew they were expecting me and I couldn’t let them down. So I continued to push through.

Eye of the Tiger came on the radio and it helped give me the steam needed to finish the trip. I finally got to New Jersey during rush hour mind you. At this point I was so tired that I was wired. I continued to count down the time until Manhatten came into sight.

Finally I could see the city. I wasn’t ever so happy to see a city landscape. It was around 5pm when I drove into the city limits, so you can imagine how crazy it was. The traffic went from a slow pace to a crawl. I was stuck in a traffic jam. I was only 15 minutes away from my destination and only one mile from my next exit which was the Lincoln tunnel. What I didn’t know that there was an accident up ahead.lincoln+tunnel+traffic

It took over ten minutes to move .05 of a mile, if that. Anyone that’s driven in a major city knows that traffic jams are inevitable. About an hour into the traffic jam I started to lose hope in getting to my destination in a timely matter. I had already missed my time to drop off the sculpture. At this point I just wanted to get to the dinner that evening with all the artists but as the time crept by I realized there was no way I was going to make it. All of a sudden I hear this bang. Someone rear ended me. I was like great how can this day get any worse. Thankfully there was no damage to the Uhaul and the only damage to his vehicle was to his license plate which was bent in half on the ground. How does one hit a huge moving truck with the brake lights on and stopped???

Finally after four hours in the traffic jam I was back on track. At this point I thought the plan was for me to go to the hotel and drop off the sculpture in the morning but when I contacted the client I was told that it needed to be delivered tonight. I was told if it wasn’t delivered tonight it wouldn’t be in the show. The next thirty minutes I pretty much circled time square over and over in a Uhaul. I was starting to panic. Imagine driving a huge truck at 11pm at night in Time Square. I was sure I was going to hit something or someone. There were people all over. They crossed the streets in mobs like ants out of a ant hill. Eventually I said heck with it and started driving like a mad man.time-squares-at-night-wallpaper-2

I finally made it. I should have known the night wasn’t going to get any easier. Earlier I had a bad feeling. There was one point during the traffic jam where I almost turned around to head home. When I opened the back of the truck the first thing said was it’s not going to fit. I could also tell they really didn’t want to have to move the sculpture. I have always been upfront with them on the size and weight.

We get the sculpture into the main lobby and I’m dumbfounded when I see the elevator. The door was extremely narrow. I honestly never saw an elevator so small. There was some discussion about getting the sculpture into the elevator. Someone suggested leaving it in the lobby. I wish I had pushed for that. I was informed that they learned the day before that the freight elevator was broken.

My sculpture was at least four feet tall and four feet across. The elevator door couldn’t been bigger than three feet across. I suggested angling the sculpture into the elevator. They got the sculpture in the elevator but getting it out was another story. I couldn’t watch them try to get it out. I honestly was done with the whole situation so I sat in the conference room knowing something bad was going to happen. Never in my worst nightmare did I imagine what I would walk into…

Every branch was broken and lying at the base of the sculpture. They had tried to fix it by shoving branches into the wrong holes. They basically decapitated the tree. It was like they dropped it from the top of the building. I was in complete shock. In just a matter of minutes they had destroyed something that took 1500 hours to complete. Until you see the pictures of the demolished piece you can’t begin to understand how badly it was broken. In a sculpture that size a strong foundation and structure is crucial in securing the piece. Individually plastic lenses don’t weigh that much but when you use thousands of them they become very heavy.

Broken Sculpture

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On top of them destroying something I put my heart and soul into I wasn’t treated very well. One of the employees started to take his frustrations out on me, accusing me of lying about being stuck in the traffic jam. I was dumbfounded by the whole situation. If I wasn’t so out of it and delirious I would have never let them put it in that small elevator. After spending over twenty hours in a Uhaul my night ended with them doing the worst thing you can do to an artist. I was told that they could fix it. I didn’t have a lot of faith. We agreed to come back the next day which was the day of the event.

I didn’t get checked into my hotel until 1am. Thankfully my good friend lives in New York City and came over to my hotel. I don’t think anyone would have questioned if I did have a meltdown but I was surprisingly calm. I obviously was upset but I didn’t let it destroy me. Prior to my Mom passing away I would have totally turned into Chicken Little. I posted on Facebook that the breaking of my sculpture didn’t even make my top ten list of bad things that had happened to me. When my friend left I had accepted that my sculpture was destroyed. I had come to terms with the fact that I was going to show a broken piece.

After I had dropped the Uhaul off in the Bronx I headed to the office. I wasn’t sure what I was going to walk into. I had four hours to salvage my piece. The event started at 7pm. Thankfully one of the employees was experienced with construction and offered to help me put it back together. I had used pvc to build the structure. When they broke the piece they not only broke apart the branches they broke the connecting pieces. So you couldn’t just connect pieces anymore because there was big chunks missing.

Thankfully I had packed my glue gun and brought a lot of supplies just in case. If I hadn’t brought my glue gun I’m not sure we could have put it back together because we used the glue to connect the pieces together. After a few hours he was able to rebuild the structure the best he could. There were still three main branches that we couldn’t put back together which left a lot of holes. I had put a lot of effort in creating the shape of the tree.

When I finished the sculpture I was relieved to be done. I had very little energy left in me. I felt accomplished for finishing it but I was also relieved to not have to work on it again. So once again I was forced to give more than I had and rebuild something that took countless hours to create. I got on the floor and began to work my magic which again meant burning myself with that boiling hot glue.

I worked on the sculpture until the very last minute. I did what I could to rebuild it. Most everything on the sculpture had something wrong with it. The wire butterflies were bent out of shape. The iris was broken, so was the dragonfly and girl. Thankfully the damages to the creatures were minor and I was able to fix them.

We had done the impossible and was able to put back together the broken pieces. The salvaged sculpture was a lot more rough and exposed than before. The shape of the tree was also drastically altered. I was relieved to have a finished piece to show. There wasn’t anything else I could do.

Salvaged Sculpture

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The event was amazing. I met so many wonderful people, many who had no idea that earlier that day it was a broken mess. I wove the whole experience into the theme of the piece. It’s not coincidental that of all the pieces that were broken the roots weren’t touched. I was able to weave what happened into the story of the piece which many of the guests at the event were able to connect to. I talked to many people who themselves also had moments in their life when they felt broken. Without the sculpture breaking I’m not sure the impact would have been as strong.

It was very symbolic that the sculpture was broken. The theme of the piece is resiliency, rising above the difficult times in our lives. There have been times in my life that I have felt just like that broken sculpture. When something traumatic happens we are forced to pick up the broken pieces.brokentree14

While I wouldn’t want to relive this experience ever again there is a part of me that is glad that it happened. It was a major confidence boost. I could have given up. I could have thrown a fit. I could have went home with my tail between my legs but I didn’t. I pushed forward and didn’t let anyone stand in my way of getting what I wanted and deserved. There have been many times I have cowered down in defeat. This wasn’t one of those moments. This was my moment of triumph.

Like the tree I was strong. Stronger than anything that ever happened to me. You can cut my branches. You can cut my bark. You can even knock me to the ground. You’ll never reach my roots and I will always rise from the ashes.

I’m not alone. There are so many people out in the world who themselves feel broken. After my Mom died I wasn’t sure I could go on. It felt so broken that I didn’t believe I could be put back together. That’s why my sculpture breaking wasn’t really a big deal because I had already gone through something a million times worse. This was nothing. It was also out of my control. I couldn’t bring my Mom back, neither could I undo my sculpture breaking.

The sculpture breaking just added to the depth of the piece. It multiplied the strength of the piece exponentially. The Tree of Triumph is confirmation that the impossible is possible. We are never truly broken as our soul always remains in tact. No power or force will ever reach that. So say what you want to me, it won’t hurt or affect me.

So many people have been apart of this journey. This has been the best part of this experience. I have received so much love and support it’s lifted me up from depression and my troubles. It has proved that I deserve so much more. Losing sight of your dreams makes for a very dreary world. This journey has proved that our dreams can come true. Just keep moving forward. Even at a snail’s pace you’ll reach your destination. Our trials and tribulations make us into who we are today. I wouldn’t have been able to handle this journey if I walked down an easy road.

Check out my new artist website:  http://www.derekstephens.net

Progress Pictures

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Re-Visions of Art Show in NYC

Last year I was in ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, Michigan. ArtPrize is an international art competition. About a month after the art show had ended I was contacted about a potential commision. I had to submit a proposal of my idea. My design was one of eight selected.

My sculpture named The Tree of Life will be displayed at an art show August 5th in New York City. I’m very excited at the opportunity to show one of my works of art.

I also have a new website for my art. You can view my art and purchase my art.

http://www.derekstephens.net

MarchonFlyerHere is my proposal.treeoflifeupdated

Vote For My Skull Flower Design on Threadless

I’ve recently started to focus my energy on my art. My dream has always to have a career where I am able to use my creativity. Threadless is a tshirt company where all the tshirts are design by artists from all over the world.

My Skull Flower design which I created for the Tattoo design challenge on Threadless will be up for voting for the next seven days. Help get my design printed by scoring a 5 on my design.

https://www.threadless.com/designs/skull-flower-3

Please give my design a 5 scored. Thanks

Please give my design a 5 score. Thanks

Bullying… It won’t stop until adults stop doing it!

So I have a love/hate relationship with RuPaul’s Drag Race…  I love all things Drag but after watching the first episode of  the All Star edition it reminded me of all the things about the show I dislike… I know it is TV but I find myself asking myself, REALLY???

If I personally hadn’t dabbled in drag for about six months I wouldn’t have the insight that I do about many things. In that short time I learned A LOT about the Drag community. Honestly the show is very much real life. You have the heathers (the ones who think they are better than everyone else)… You have the clowns (the comedy/camp queens), the ones that everyone makes fun… You have the beauty queens (the pageant queens). The misfits (Sharon Needles, Tammie Brown, etc). I mean it all just like High School, even with teachers who also do their own bullying… SANTINO!!!

This week episode confirms quite a few things about the show and the queens in it…  It reminded me how as adults we bully each other just as much as kids bully other kids, if not more… Where do you think they learn it from? Their family, friends, media, etc… I know that drag has a level of reading, but there is a line.

I think many of the queens miss out on the real prize and it isn’t the $100,000 grand prize or the fame. It is the experience they have and what they learn from it. RuPaul is notorious for saying “If you don’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?” This goes both ways and it isn’t just for romantic love. An ego can be confused for love as well.

During the Untucked episode (which is all the behind the scene footage)  most of the drags (over 10) bullied one of the drag queens, some very viciously. I know it is tv, and it makes for good television but what message are you sending the world? For me, it takes away not only the illusion but the art of drag itself.

What I see is a bunch of broken individuals who feel the only way they can get the spotlight is by extinguishing someone else’s light. I found this own during my own time as Puddin Pie. Some drag queens were so desperate to get into the spotlight they didn’t care whoever they walked all over. All they wanted was the fame and attention.

Another problem I have had with RPDR in general is this idea of what real drag is. Anyone who has watched the show can see it is obvious what they feel is acceptable and normal. I am honestly shocked ( well maybe not really) that Sharon Needles won… but again she wasn’t a comedy/camp queen either. That is the genre of drag that I feel they really stick their noses down at. Just look at any critiques, especially from Santino… I am sorry but the whole stick with a comedy queen is not high fashion, that is not who they are… Again Santino was knocking Pandora Boxx down for her clothing. People go to see these queens not for what they where, they go for their personalities and what they present on stage. Honestly I think people are intimidated by comedy queens because it takes a lot of nerve and talent to do what they do. They don’t just rely on pretty, and honestly with makeup… ANYBODY CAN BE PRETTY!!!

Not everyone can be funny.

Even how they gave Pandora and Mimi their group name “Mandora” set them up…

The other thing I have found interesting about RPDR is that they judge a lot of the show on superficial things. The only time you see them perform is when they lip sync for their lives. Rarely do you get to see them perform live. Isn’t stage presence an important part of being a drag queen? But this isn’t really what my blog post is about…

Sure RuPaul is probably one of the most famous drag queens but she is about the only one of her genre of drag who was famous, other than comedy queens prior to RPDR. What do Varla, Lady Bunny, Jackie Beat, Lily Savage, Coco, Dame Edna, and Divine all have in common? Comedy… They became famous for their acts not for being on some reality competition.

Watching that show last night made me angry, I am still fuming!!!

Even during Mimi’s lip sync versus Chad Michaels, Chad didn’t even compare. Mimi out performed Chad hands down, she even changed outfits during the number. She gave personality that I didn’t see with Chad. Yet her and Pandora was the one sent home. I mean did I miss something? I believe it boils down to styles of drag, and it is obvious they don’t like Pandora or Mimi’s style. The biggest question why have them on there??? Like RuPaul says she has the ultimate say… I have to wonder how big of an ego RuPaul has… That is another topic for another day…

Even the queens I had come to love like Latrice, JuJu, Pandora, etc I was disgusted with. Sure some weren’t as vocal in the bullying but they certainly didn’t stand up. All they appeared to me to be were a bunch of children preying on the weakest link. Not to mention Pandora’s attitude being paired with Mimi…

I left the show not caring to ever watch it again. I have also unliked all these so called queens facebook pages.

I find it ironic that what they were berating Mimi for, was the exact same thing they were doing. I also love this whole we are sisters crap, yeah maybe wicked step sisters like Cinderella had. You can’t pick and chose the parts of family you believe in. Let’s be clear most of them see it as a competition and will do WHATEVER it takes to win. Even if it means making someone cry.

Which reminds me of the season of the HEATHERS. Which embodies this whole nose turning down thing. How low do you have to feel to be like this? Anyone who is in drag knows of the term booger queen. What makes anyone the ultimate queen of what is and isn’t acceptable drag??? Plus everyone starts somewhere. If you look at a lot of these polished queens they weren’t always like that. Rather than constantly beat others down, why don’t we try to build them up???

I guess watching RPDR really turns me off towards drag, and that is a shame. I know I am not alone. I almost think there RuPaul is her own genre… She/he doesn’t speak for everyone, nor is he the end all of Drag… I just think with all the bullying going on and the teenagers killing themselves over it we have a responsibility as the gay peers of the community. Whether they want it or not, they are in the limelight and they could do so much good for the world, yet they choose not to. They are totally missing the mark…

Even drag queens like Latrice Royale who spent time in prison didn’t treat Mimi with the same kind of compassion. I wonder how that is? If anyone should know what it is like to overcome a bad choice it should be him!!! People make mistakes, it is apart of life. Sure Mimi picking up her competitor during their lip sync for their life was wrong but she got kicked off for it. A lot of the queens were like Mimi shouldn’t be here… yada, yada, yada…. What is it to them? They are their and if they believe that she isn’t on their level, it just means one less spot to the 100k! The only reason they point it out, is for face. Just to cause drama.

Then I think of the concept of the All Stars being paired with another queen for the rest of the show, and both being kicked off. If they were in pursuit of the best All Star they would never do this. For one, each queen has their different style and two if one queen doesn’t perform to par the other goes down with the ship. Lets be real, you knew that none of those queens would have picked Mimi or Pandora… Okay!!!! So they might as well set them up… If RuPaul was all about lifting people up, why would he set them up to fail??? There are flaws there… cracks in her makeup if you might say…

Even queens like JuJu who wasn’t the most fashion forward or popular to the judges the first time around, now all of a sudden was best friends with Raven? Raven isn’t known for her niceness. It reminds me of in high school when those who team up with the bullies in order to not get bullied themselves.

With all the bullying and teen suicides happening don’t we as a community have a responsibility to them? Kids learn what they see and not just from their family. RuPaul and her show has put a famous face to the gay community. I guess this whole philosophy that Ru has doesn’t fit into line with the concept of the show because a lot of what goes on has nothing to do with love. It is about tearing down someone else.

I am angry, FUCKING angry. I think partially because it reminds me of my own experience and how others in the past have made me feel for being different. So now when I see injustices I just want to SCREAM!!! I want to say wake the fuck up people.

I think what if a gay youth happens to see the show? What will they think??? I don’t think they will feel good about their own personal experiences.

If they really want to be true superstars not only do they have to have talent and charisma but they have to have heart. Honestly I don’t see much of that on RPDR. Just a bunch of mimi-rupaul wannabes… and those feeling left out because they don’t fit into that mold…

That is when you step out of that mold and realize that you will never fit into their realities because not only is it built for them but often times it is skewed.

And during that whole incident with Mimi, not one person stood up and said enough is enough… Not one person!!! Which reminds me of what happens when a kid is bullied, that happens all the time. All it takes is one person to step up, just one… Kids have an excuse, they are young and impressionable. Adults on the other hand, DO NOT!!!

I will not be watching another episode of All Stars and I am considering not watching the new season of the regular edition. It has become to difficult to stomach. So I will take a stand and say enough is enough. The only shade I find comforting is under a big old tree during a hot sunny day.

A star is a light that is meant to shine brightly. It is meant to bring light to the world, not burn those they encounter…