Conquering Perfectionism: A Conversation with Adam Bianchin
Sometimes art makes you uncomfortable enough to stop and listen. The first time I saw Adam's art, I was in that boat – a bit intrigued, a bit unsettled. But as I heard his story and creative process, I walked away with a new perspective. I hope Adam's story challenges you, inspires you, and finds some resemblance with your own.
I grew up drawing, and my mom always pushed my art. But I probably started giving up art around 15 when my parents divorced. Art wasn't enjoyable anymore, and things became a lot more serious in my life. I actually took two art classes because I liked a girl… but by the time I graduated high school, I didn't even want to touch a pencil or anything. I put down every creative sense and every opportunity to create.
I grew up in the skateboard world too, so there was a lot of being that delinquent, that rough kid, that outcast… being punked. With that territory comes a lot of “screw religion, screw God” kind of stuff. But in 2013, my buddy wanted me to go to a men's retreat, and I'm like, “Nah that sounds weird man, a bunch of dudes, all together singing kumbayah”… But I go, and I end up meeting Jesus and devoting my life there, and I get this peace on me that I've never experienced.
After that, I was in church a lot. I did an internship at a church that was focused on establishing the leader within your passion. I was passionate about art, and I realized how important it was in my life. I was like, “If I'm gonna lead in art, what's going to be my first step, what's going to be my commitment level?” So I ended up locking myself away, in isolation every day for two hours, to start drawing again. That's kinda how I picked it back up.
I actually threw my first art show at that church. They helped take all their pieces down, hang all my pieces up, and let me have that night. They were really great. My church was very open minded to creativity as a whole and whatever that looked like.
DESTROYING ‘PERFECTIONISM’ WITH ABSTRACT EXPRESSIONISM
When I started pursuing art again, I had to figure out how to plan something that's going to be successful. Since I have a huge passion for Disney, I thought, “Why don't I just draw for Disney?” And that turned into this huge pressure for perfectionism that I put on myself. I look back and it baffles me because art should never feel that way. This is the most fun time I ever have, and painting these things has been such a great thing for me.
It came to the point that art wasn’t fun, and I had to sit down and draw everyday so I didn’t lose any technique or muscle memory or any skill. So I hated it – it would just stress me out thinking, “I have to go draw,” you know, “I gotta do this.”
Then I fell in love with Jean Michel Basquiat. I watched his documentary on Youtube one day, and I thought it was so great and unique. My world was opened to a whole new level of art that was totally free. I decided to try and paint a little like him. Instead of using painting as a tool to have a career in the future, I used it as a tool to release a lot of anxiety and issues that I was dealing with.
But I found that perfectionism was still a part of me. So I would paint pictures, fall in love with them, and then I would deliberately put a line through it, or deliberately do something to mess it up. When I started to fall in love with something, and began feeling, “I don't want to push further because I don't want to mess it up,” or, “I know it's not done, but I need to do more … but I love it so much, if I make one little mistake, I'll ruin it,” I would push myself to do something I’d hate about it, to push me off the cliff and keep going.
For me, it was very releasing and relieving to purposely mess up, and practice killing the perfectionism in me. Art is a process, and I wasn't really working toward a finished product. I knew I would get there, but I knew that if I followed the moment and what I was feeling in that moment, then whatever I needed to get out would come out, and I would be done when I'm done.
If it was a big yellow painting, and I didn't want to add green, I would literally add green on the side, to push myself further, to force myself to fix the imperfection. It was cool because it brought back the joy and excitement of painting, making it unpredictable. I started painting for hours and time would fly, instead of trying to draw for hours while time would be the slowest thing in the world.
There's a story behind most paintings, but I never foresee or predict any of them. They happen on the spot. I’m all over the place – I'll paint something, I'll hear something, or see something. And that's where the painting you see develops from.
I started this started with the yellow ochre on the left. I ended up going up all the way to the top, and then I covered it with blue spray paint. Then I didn't like the blue spray paint, so I covered it back up with the yellow ochre. I painted something here with little red spots to represent a heart, and I thought it was too cliché so I covered it. I was messing with shapes on the bottom-right, and I had this black shape that was gunna be a face of some dude, but I couldn't get the face right. So I decided to screw it and go huge… I'll just give him a little body, why not?
All of a sudden I'm painting this piece, and all I hear is, “It was never a love affair, it was always greed.” It kinda stopped me and I sat on the floor. I realized from the age of 15, I’d been jumping from relationship to relationship to relationship. And when I was 15, my parents got divorced. So for me to prove to myself that my parents divorce wasn’t my fault, I would try and sustain a relationship. And when it was good, it would be a subconscious affirmation of my self esteem, saying, “See, the divorce wasn't my fault – I can hold a relationship, so their relationship wasn't my fault.”
I left out “it was never a love affair” because I don't ever want my paintings to be crystal clear, where you can look at it for a few seconds and just move forward. I want there to be questions. I want there to be conversation. There needs to be a conversation when I do art, and there needs to be some sort of dialogue with the audience.
I use a lot of subtle symbolism in my paintings. For example, I think a lot of people will relate the green eyes to greed. But that's not my point at all. Green eyes are just a statement that this is me as a person, because I have green eyes. The three lines under his eyes represent just how tired and sick of being greedy with relationships makes me – there's nothing rewarding and it's always exhausting.
The skin tone is basically stating that I'm not looking deeper.. I'm not trying to have a relationship because I wanna love someone. It’s just the surface layer of this “I’m in a relationship I'm doing good” mentality.
The ear tag is like the ones cows and farm animals have. That's saying, “I belong here.” Like a branding… a, “This is where I'll stay,” kinda thing. The x’s on the shoulders are for feeling like I can't break free, like I have no mobility anymore, like I'm just stuck there. It's saying my past, my parents' divorce will follow me forever, and relationships will never work out. I'll always end up where I came from. I'm stuck in this pattern of dating to prove something to myself.
And then the bottom red area is more of the redemptive process. That clay mud color is representing that God made me from the dirt. There's always redemption, always restorativeness in there. The blacked out part in the top left was funny. It said, “It was always greed,” over and over again in different size lettering. So I blacked it out because it looked like garbage, like some suburban white mom's text décor.
ART IN THE CHURCH
Eventually, I started feeling very limited as an artist in the church. As great as mine was to help empower the artist within me, I don't know if church is really ready for art.
As an artist whose job to push boundaries, I start feeling really limited when someone says, “Oh… I love this, but you don't really need to put this there to explain that.” The beauty of art, for me, is the fact that there's no limitations for me to express what I need to express, and that there's nothing that's going to be wrong. So when you have a creative element that can't really be censored or suppressed, and someone says, “No, that's actually not how we should do this,” well, that's a lot of the mindset of the church right now.
I don’t think the church is very conscious of how they're presenting themselves to the world. Culture doesn’t really want anything safe, they just want something refreshing, you know?
This one's not as deep, I would say. I was reading Daniel and it was talking about Nebuchadnezzar… it says his face became distorted with rage. I thought that was really profound, so I wanted to paint what that scene looked like in my head. It looks like he's almost leaning forward and yelling. He’s kind of melting, like Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, when they open up the holy grail. It's kind of what I tried to capture here. He’s becoming distorted and kind of melting away.
I've got the seven on his forehead, and the 'N' is for Nebuchadnezzar. I think it's a piece on ego. I don't really have a lot of explanation for it now, I just knew I had to paint it.
Is there any of you in this?
I don't think I'm in this at all. I'm not really egotistical, I just think it's always something I keep in the front of my mind, like, “Hey, don't blow yourself up, don't boast about yourself over other people, don’t think you're better if you do become successful.”
Before explaining this piece, Adam asked me to form my own response. What do you see in this piece? What is your reaction? Can you relate to anything?
This painting is really cool. But yellow and green is a hard color for me … I hate yellow and green! But everybody loves this one, so I'm always curious to see what people think.
I’m a very external processor and so internally, what happens is I get a lot of turmoil, and I end up talking to myself. So this ghost guy is the inner voice and what it's telling me. This week, it's been like, “I'm going to San Francisco to do this art show, and if I don't sell anything, then what's the point of even doing art after this?” But I've been telling myself, “Actually, my art is not for money... I’m doing this because it's something I'm very passionate about and believe in."
I wanted to capture that instant moment right before you say, “Actually,” like before you turned it around, before you say, “No, I'm going to be amazing. I'm going to do good.” I wanted to capture that moment of feeling the weight of everything, feeling that pressure – to feel like he just ripped the skin off this dude and you can see inside.
If you're letting yourself listen to the lies and false truths about yourself, like, “Oh, I won't be successful, I'll never be married, I'll never have kids, I'll never be a good father," then you won't be successful, you won't get married and you won't be a good father. If you counter those and say, “I actually am going to be successful and work hard and do the best I can,” it physically changes you to do better, stand better, and think better. It's how you train yourself to move forward and push past all of the lies and the whispers.
UNPREDICTABLE ART IN A PREDICTABLE ENVIRONMENT
I think we have a lot of visionaries trying to predict and control where the church should go. And art can never be predicted on where it should go; it's almost followed where it is going. So those two things don't really mix well.
I see painters on stage in church, and I can bet on one hand it's gonna be something predictable: a lion, keys, a word that says joy, hope, love, peace, or the other fruits of the Spirit. For me at least, if I’m in a deep hole struggling with something, I’m not going to have any connection to it. I’ll be like, “Good for you, you feel this way! But for me, I need something that I can relate with to get my breakthrough.”
There's a while where I struggled with my art, thinking, “Ugh, it's got this shadowy effect to it, it feels a little too dark, and all my issues are out on the canvas … what am I doing? I'm not even glorifying God.” And I had this moment of revelation where I just sat back and said, "My paintings may not be lions, or keys, or ballerinas or doves or anything like that, but they show something that I struggle with, and my struggles will bring people with the same struggles out and show them that they're not alone.”
The biggest thing that keeps us in the dark is feeling like we have no one we can talk to about it. So I can paint something and show you, “Hey, there's actually more of us out there than you think.”
ART FOR CONVERSATION
At my art shows I have a ton of people asking me, "What's this piece mean?" I always do what I did with you. I ask, “What do you see, how does it make you feel?" I wanna know how I'm communicating with my audience.
I love not wanting my paintings to be understood too easily. I want them to be generic enough where someone like you, or anybody, can look at this painting and get something completely different. Maybe it will trigger something in you from your past, or what you're dealing with right now, and say, “Oh crap … Maybe I was greedy in this area all my life. I need to change that.” Person to person, it's going to mean different things and I love hearing people's perspectives.