Mr. Pickens was born and raised in Toledo. He attended Toledo School for the Arts between 2001-2007. In December of 2011, he completed his bachelor of fine arts degree in digital arts at Bowling Green State University; in 2015, he earned his master of fine arts degree at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. Mr. Pickens now lives in Kokomo, Ind., and is an assistant professor of fine arts and new media at Indiana University Kokomo. Both his plein air paintings and toy still-life paintings have been accepted into juried exhibitions throughout the United States.
Toys have been central to my visual vocabulary as a painter. They can be transformed to comment on a wide range of issues using both metaphor and allegory. My aim is to use the familiar imagery of toys to ultimately entice the viewer to look beyond the lighthearted veneer these objects create and acknowledge the often weighty concept that informed each painting.
When designing a new painting, I begin to assemble a still life in a child-like manner with objects associated with playtime. Each arrangement is governed by a simple interest in color and form, as well as the narrative or concept I wish to address. Once I am satisfied with the formal arrangement and narrative of each diorama, I begin the process of building the image with paint. I always seek to create immersive paintings that emphasize light and the materiality of the depicted objects.
Over the past few years, the underlying theme for my toy-based work has shifted towards developing a self-reflective, sub-series. Most recently, “Judgment Cray” amplifies this creative investigation by using self-deprecating humor to explore the feelings associated with constant evaluation and critique. Within the gallery, eight ominous toy portraits are arranged around both the audience and an effigy of myself, a three-dimensional self-portrait entitled, “Blockhead,” with the intent of creating a confrontational experience.
The use of playful imagery (toys, primary colors, crayons) is intended to reinforce a feeling of inadequacy and a child-like naivete when judged by others. This type of ridicule has become ubiquitous, especially if one has a point of view that deviates from the dogmatic positions held by many and institutions of authority. The fear of belittlement and ostracization inherently leads to self-censorship for the sake of self-preservation. Unfortunately, these strenuous social dynamics lead to fluctuations between self-confidence and self-doubt simmering in one’s headspace.
To complement the obsessive, slow-paced nature of my toy tableaux still lifes, the practice of alla prima plein air painting forces me to work with a sense of urgency. Each small field study is a depiction of a specific time and place, and how I perceived those passing moments both visually and emotionally. Every painting is an adventure in battling the elements, simplifying the complexity of nature, and faithfully recording color relationships to describe an accurate sense of light. These compositions evolve organically, without premeditation or any conceptual agenda. Consequently, working this way yields to a sincerity in the paintings that is difficult to achieve otherwise. Although this process is in stark contrast to my toy tableaux paintings, it is critical in energizing my practice as a realist painter by honing my eye and allowing me to play with the application of paint.
(The phrase “alla prima” refers to creating a painting in a single sitting or session, and “plein air” is a French phrase for “in the open air,” and refers to painting outdoors.)