The Vandal Blog Chuck Russell  Years ago, I came across a copy of Herman Melville’s final novel, ‘The Confidence Man’. The description on the back told me about a strange character that had boarded a steamboat headed for New Orleans. This man changed shape, and his motives were unclear. The blurb said that this character could be the Devil; it also said that this last novel of Melville’s was strange, obtuse, and heavy on the allegory. 

I didn’t read it at the time.

But it stuck with me. That title. That description. A multi-dimensional character capable of becoming whatever the moment demanded. Thus, the seeds of a series were planted.
It would be years before I began to flesh out that germ of an idea with paint. At the end of 2003, I had a one-man show at a museum in Texas. The paintings from that show are VERY large, multi-paneled, colorful, stream-of-consciousness narratives about the South (the American south, where I grew up). I was mulling over where to go next in my work. I felt like I wanted to tell a story.

A long one.

At the same time, I was working my way through Cormac McCarthy’s ‘Blood Meridian’ again, and I began to envision a painting of a man on a horse beneath the night sky. But this sky was ordered. Magical. The stars had aligned themselves into the shapes of the Zodiac. The man on the horse was riding beneath a dream. Then I remembered Melville.
And something clicked.

The idea of the American West had been a fascination of mine for a while. Its lawless, dusty tundra was perfect fodder for the dreamlike wastes I wanted my character to wander through. It didn’t hurt that I was living in Santa Fe, New Mexico at the time, either. Seeing those mountains and having tumbleweeds catch under your car on an almost daily basis, reminded me that I was living in another world.
The West.

What began as an idea culled from the back of a Herman Melville novel soon turned into something else. A few paintings in, I began to mash up several genres along with the Western: science fiction, fantasy, horror, and Southern Gothic romance, to name a few. I treated the series like a novel. I thought about it like one. The larger arc of the story began to broaden. Soon, there were other characters, an ever-evolving back-story, and themes and symbols that I would keep returning to in painting after painting. As of now, there are over 60 Confidence Man paintings. His story has been on a bit of a hiatus, as of late, but it’s not over. There are many worlds left to explore, and I desperately want to see how it all ends.

Today’s guest blogger: Chuck Russell

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