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The Art of The Ox: The Ever-Emerging Self-Taught Artist

A huge part of recognition in the art world is self-promotion. One of the methods famous names like Andy Warhol and Clyfford Still used to become identified as great artists — beyond working hard and becoming extremely productive — was to tell the world repeatedly that they were great artists.

You would think this era of social media and overnight online hype — the very fulfillment of Warhol’s prediction that…”In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes…” — would make it easier for artists to gain notoriety. However, the wider broadcast channel also increased competition amongst artists — meaning a creator usually must gain some sort of official sanctioning from a gallery or collector to break through into the market.

That reality leaves the self-taught aspiring artist out in the cold. He or she has to knock on every possible door and window to earn whatever attention is available. The Ox – a self-taught, but prolific painter, muralist and conceptual artist working out of the greater Chicago area — can serve as the perfect test subject.

He has a busy career keeping him busy away from the art world, and The Ox uses that pseudonym to separate his visual work from causing any confusion with the “day job.” An admirer of all art, he focuses his own eye predominantly on late 19th century up to contemporary art. Lately, his work began making the rounds of regional small art shows where it caught this writer’s eye during a show of “self-taught” creators.

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“In the second half of the 19th century, photography emerged and really challenged artists to decide how they would be relevant,” The Ox said from his small Midwestern studio. “They were no longer needed as much to record reality and experience as to examine, interpret and express them. I believe that’s when you begin to see much more intimate expressions and psychological revelations by artists.”

“You see the impressionists and post-impressionists breaking down the light and color they saw into emotional elements. From then to the present day, I believe art has really been about looking to create what has not been created before in a way it has never been created before.”

The Ox explains that’s the first driving passion of his work — to find new and interesting way of making things. In fact, it’s all about “the making.” He doesn’t ask where an idea comes from, and he leaves both the judgement and interpretation of the piece to viewers.

“I think the moment I try to deduce where ideas come from could be the moment they stop coming,” The Ox said. “So, I don’t want to mess with that. I just hope people enjoy what those ideas become. Along those same lines, I don’t look to make overt statements in anything I do. That makes it possible for anyone who sees the work to put any meaning they might deduce from it.”

While The Ox acknowledges the challenges facing any self-taught artist, he is grateful for the opportunity to create his works as he likes. The Ox doesn’t have the resources art school students might have to gain exposure and make contacts, but he has complete control to paint anything he likes whenever he likes.

“I love my job, and I’m fortunate to work it,” The Ox added. “But, I have the expectations of professional discipline at my ‘official’ work. My work has ‘musts’ imposed on it. But, my art is freedom. I make art for the sheer joy of making art and hope someone sees some worth in it.”

“While I make my living working, I would continue to make art if someone told me I would never sell another piece and never gain a moment’s exposure from it, I would go on making it. That’s why I teach myself whatever I need to learn to make it.”