What is “Freestyle Qualism”?

I had thought I made up the word “qualism”, especially because my auto-editor keeps trying to change it when I type it. And Google says, “did you mean …. ‘quality?'”. But I eventually found it pre-existing as the title of a book published in 2010 by Todd C. Hughes who, according to the Amazon review, arrives at a sensible and intuitive way to conceive of consciousness. I’m supposing his book derives from the study of “qualia” which are experiential properties of sensations, feelings, perceptions and, more controversially, thoughts and desires as well.

When I wrote my artist’s statement, I had never heard of the word “qualia”. I’ve been painting non-physical, intangible things such as personalities and emotions, but I couldn’t find any art movements or words to describe this, so instead I described the types of emotions I painted and that I painted the human spirit (which still seems terribly arrogant to me, but it’s the closest meaning I could find).

It took four years of hearing the question “what style is this?” plus the wonderful input of Facebook friends, Instagram followers, studio visitors and collectors (who taught me about Synesthesia, psychology, neurology, the pros and cons of naming one’s style, and other cool art stuff) to come up with this .

Freestyle Qualism is the name I created to describe my particular painting style, which is based on the idea of painting the uniqueness of the human spirit and it’s interaction with the world. Out of respect for the author Mr. Hughes, I added the word “freestyle”. It’s like painting how a person might look at a given moment in time on the inside, rather than on the physical outside. It’s different from the style called “Synthetism” (1880-1890; Paul Gauguin for example), which contains the artist’s feelings around a subject.

Can you paint an emotion? Sure, why not. I think shapes and colors can definitely be feelings, complex, contradictory and multi-layered. People with Synesthesia, depending on what type you have, can see colors with numbers or sounds, taste words and feel music, so why can’t we interpret art in this way? I think we’ve been doing it all along anyway.

Regarding the roots of this painting style, it began in 2012 when I learned to improvise from painter Jesse Reno, who is self taught and paints what his brain tells him to paint; if he doesn’t like it, he paints over it. And that’s what I do, too, but he and I get a different result. Jesse’s work is highly influenced by his interest in ancient cultures and results in beautiful mythic narratives. Mine is influenced by a deep fascination with the uniqueness of individuals and how we experience life.

Some artists think that putting your work into some pre-packaged, category label is bullsh#t. But I think it’s fun!

Maybe I’m the only one in this category called “Freestyle Qualism”. Maybe the intent of it already exists under another name, in another language in some far flung village. Or more embarrassingly, maybe it’s a very important pre-existing category in an art book I haven’t read yet. But for now it’s a much more fun answer than “I don’t know” or “well, it’s sorta, kinda like abstract expressionism, but it’s not exactly.”

It’s Freestyle Qualism. A category of one artist. Or maybe thousands. Who knows.

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