Life is the Story We Tell Ourselves | Ian North 

February, 2021

“Whatever you think my art means, or anyone’s art, whatever you think, you are right.”

Ian North feels that many people are afraid of contemporary art – they worry they’ll get it wrong; that they won’t understand what it means, that they’ll embarrass themselves – which is why he feels so strongly about his message above. “Whatever you think my art means, or anyone’s art, whatever you think, you are right.” 

Therefore, North often begins a work not knowing its meaning or intention. He makes art because he feels a need to create, not because he wants to fulfill a concept. North says he intentionally tries not to think about a meaning, hoping that his subconscious will send him a message, a message that will lead him to thoughts or ideas that he might not have contemplated. Although he doesn’t have preconceived notions of what his art work means, he often receives inspiration in unconventional ways. Once North was guided by a dream in which several amorphic creatures told him to build machines for them. They said, “These crude machines will not work, until we arrive.” Upon waking, he thought, “It was only a dream… an inspiring idea for a series of pieces… but hey, you never know.” So, Ian began to build useless machines in response: a Teletransporter, with a coin slot (don’t plan on going anywhere unless you have quarter); a Time Machine for four people (not working but sold “as-is” for parts); a Ghost Detector; an AlienTelevision; and a Micro Antenna Communications Tower. 

Similarly, found materials often guide his process. North collectes materials from yard sales, the trash, old magazines, and detritus, like lizard skeletons found by the side of the road, rusted metal and surprisingly, a cat’s skull.  He assembles these objects  thoughtfully by using glue, usually epoxy, rusty nails, and thick daubs of acrylic paint. He will often disassemble and rip apart work to reuse for other pieces or to start fresh with a new idea. “I torture my canvasses for years; pounding, bending, tearing, sawing, cutting, burning. My work is intentionally imperfect; cracked, broken, and time worn.” 

Another artistic medium playing a large role in North’s process is music. When Ian was in his twenties, he pursued a music career and released several albums. While living in London between 1974 and 1980, he recorded an album with his band, Milk’n’Cookies and another called “Ian North/Neo. When he returned to New York he recorded the album “My Girlfriend’s Dead” resulting in an appearance on MTV for his music video “Only Love Is Left Alive.” Throughout these busy music years, he continued to expand his portfolio in the visual arts and the two often influenced one another. In this exhibit, “Life is the Story We Tell Ourselves,” each piece of visual art is accompanied by a uniquely composed piece of music, which can be digitally downloaded.

Ian North’s art and this show are an invitation for the viewer to consider what they think the art means and to tell themselves a story.  This body of art encompasses a lifetime of work, beginning with “Light Bulb Man” from 1970, to the present. The meaning can change with time. North says “Rather than search for meaning, the ‘Big Answer,’ I believe we  create meaning in our lives through our thoughts and ideas, where it may not exist.” Life is the stories we tell ourselves.