Behind the Brushstrokes: The Memories and Stories that inspired Personal Vision of Hell
The primary catalyst for my newest work is simple: My personal story and relationships strengthened by story-telling. The sole thought in my mind as I began the process of painting my own visual autobiography was, "By telling my story and sharing this work, I become you and you become me. We become each other."
As Personal Vision of Hell (PVOH) becomes the property of those who have now experienced it in person and online, one thing that does not meet the eye of the beholder are the stories. Although clearly motivated and inspired by bigger ideas, the works were intentionally created without explicit (read: obvious or cliche) overtures to the stories and memories of my life which inspired them. I have compiled these recollections for posterity and your own point of reference. As you attempt to make sense of these pieces, I hope they will provide you with important insights into their significance and my own personal archaeology, as well as how they may be interpreted within the context of your own experience. This is my life, in my own words, for the first time ever. I suspect it is not too different from your own.
Christopher D. La Fleur
Smoke Dancing [Self Portrait 7], 2020, 48" x 60", acrylic and charcoal on hand-stretched single-primed Belgian linen
THE MEMORY: “On July 15th, 2018, I killed myself. I had, in my heart and my eyes, stopped living any sort of meaningful or fulfilling life. I reasoned, coldly and very logically, following a drug-fueled weeks-long bender if this is all there is then what’s the fucking point? Three days later, after an intentional poly-pharmaceutical overdose and accidental ingestion of Fentanyl, I suffered several concussions in my home. Subsequently, I waited for three days before being found on the floor of my apartment by first responders. I was incapacitated, unable to use my telephone, speak, walk, or call for help. Unable to do something as simple as eat or walk to the restroom, I sat in my own waste and waited to die. The last person I spoke to was a debt collector to whom I appealed for help. “Please, help me. Call someone.” Most of my vital organs, including the kidneys, liver, and thyroid, shut down. I was revived in the back of an ambulance having been legally deceased for just under two minutes. Regarding death I know first hand: there is nothing waiting for you. There are no angels or trumpets. You will not be judged. It’s cold, it’s black, and that’s all you get for the hard work you put into this life. Consider 'Smoke Dancing (Self Portrait 7)' a celebration. Many ask me what gives me purpose. It is the joy of every day, the fact that I wake up breathing, the sun and the snow, the doves and the ravens, the people I reach through my work. I push myself hard because I know without a doubt: this is all you get. There are no refunds for a life poorly lived. The fact of your existence is the absolute proof of your magnificence. It is a mathematical improbability so uncommon that you have a better chance of winning the lottery four hundred million times in a row before your exact combination of atoms should ever exist.
Make it fucking count.”
ABOUT THIS WORK: This self-portrait is the second work that was completed during the creation of PVOH. It is a direct reference to ‘Still I Rise’ by the celebrated African American poet Maya Angelou. It's something of a defiant memento mori: both an assertion of the inevitability of death and the inevitability of life after it. It proclaims, “I have destroyed and rebuilt myself 1,000 times. I am still rising.” Drawing on familiar religious tropes of rebirth, genesis, and transformation, it visually depicts my life after death and the many years it has taken to become the person I was always intended to be. From the beginning, I refused to rebuild my life. Rather I made up my mind to create a new one.
Apotheosis [Self Portrait 8], 2020, 60" x 60", acrylic and charcoal on hand-stretched single-primed Belgian linen
THE STORY: “At critical moments in our lives we will find ourselves in crisis; lacking strength, lacking willpower, lacking a will to carry on. In those moments, I believe we do one of two things: we crumble or we transform. After my suicide, I chose to transform. I never intended to 'rebuild' a cheap imitation of my old life. Rather, I knew that in order to skip repeating the mistakes of the past I would necessarily need to create a new vision and set of values to support my new life. This is absolutely not to say I chose to forget those mistakes. I genuinely try, as often as possible, to reflect on them so as never to forget them. Creating my new life is the best decision I have ever made, and it is the story behind this very, very special work.”
ABOUT THIS WORK: This self-portrait depicts me prone and utterly exposed. During its creation, the work became unusually close to my heart. While I enjoy much of my work, I generally do not grow attached to it in sentimental ways. I tend to joke with friends and client, "I usually fall in love with a piece for five days. Then I dump it." However, when I view this work, I feel a part of myself that too often gets tucked away. A softer, gentler, more vulnerable side. For all of these reasons, the work will not be offered for sale. Instead, it will serve as a reminder of who I am, why I am, and the quiet power of tender moments.
The piece deliberately references the familiar iconography of Michelangelo’s Pietà to generate a narrative regarding the transformative role of creativity in my rebirth following my suicide.
Pietà was created to portray the religious vision of abandonment before resurrection. It remains the only work Michelangelo ever signed. True to that narrative, this depiction of the creative spark is quite literally that which personally resurrected me, helping me find my purpose on the way to rebirth.
The intentionally unfinished treatment of the work suggests the unfinished nature of its subject and creator. The expression is, like Pietà, serene while the pose itself is deeply vulnerable. The right hand, my dominant hand, is open and facing up, a symbol of those open to receiving.
My Violent Heart, 2020, 48" x 60", acrylic and charcoal on hand-stretched single-primed Belgian linen
THE STORY: “In many ways, this work is a kind of personal manifesto. I am the destroyer of worlds. I am the creator of them. For a long time, I existed within notions which were defined for me by people with a sincere interest in my total compliance. I began to wonder, both about myself and the world writ large, are you a slave to the machine, or are you a slave to the world you have created for yourself? What have you created for yourself, does it feed you, or does it merely feed your ego? But more than that, what have you destroyed in order to get another hit? Do you, do I, have the courage to free my mind, suspend my belief, and blaze my own trail or...am I satisfied with this addiction to feeding my ego and playing small? Thus the subject is portrayed in bondage, paradoxically hanging powerless before these powerful, self-fulfilling prophecies.”
Feminine Aspect, 2020, 48" x 60", acrylic and charcoal on hand-stretched single-primed Belgian linen
THE MEMORY: “Growing up was really tough. I lived in a small town where boys were boys and girls were girls. If you didn’t fit in, life was hard. They called me a faggot, they called me sissy, they called me homo….it was rough. I was too young know what I was or why it made me so bad. I only knew that it was fundamentally, inescapably wrong. After a while I grew pretty used to it. Once you embrace part of who you are, once you own the things people call you, the names don’t hurt as much. I do remember one afternoon, though. My dad and the neighborhood guys used to gather in the garage for beers, football, trash talk, whatever. We had a very flamboyant gay neighbor. He’d never come around before, but for whatever reason, that evening he did. The entire mood of the gathering changed. I had been lurking in the back of the garage when my father, unprovoked and belligerently drunk, looked at the gay man and said, ‘You faggots are disgusting. Disgusting. Did you come around here trying to hit on us...mess with us?’ Then, my father turned to me and he said, ‘If I had a son that turned out like you, I’d disown him. My daughter would be more of a man. All you fags are the same, fucking with guys like us. Get out of my face and off my property before I show you how men fight. I’ll shoot you if you don’t get off my property.’ I ran inside, hot tears streaming down my face, and hid in my bedroom. At that moment I knew: I would never be the son my father wanted. My father and I became estranged for nearly four years after I left home to go to school. Following a period of intense introspection and courageous personal growth, he reconciled his feelings on masculinity, homosexuality, and his only blood-son. To this day, I look up to my father for his work ethic, his hard-nosed dedication to his principles, and his demonstration that even the most deeply held beliefs, prejudices, and biases can change. He is, truly, one of my heroes.”
ABOUT THIS WORK: This work honors the feminine, the femmes, the female-identified, the sissies, the women, the womxn, the girls, the nonbinary, the non-comforming, and the half of every male that is also female. Sensual, delicate pinks and iridescent creme tones compliment the subject: an empowered, ascendant femme. Regardless of who, or what, she is told she must be, she rises. She transcends traditional roles, opens doors, obliterates stereotypes, and embodies the vitality and femininity that is, by the fact of its existence, a radical challenge to established systems of control. Fuck the patriarchy. We do not demand more, we create more. We do not seek forgiveness or apologize for being.
The Reflecting God, 2020, 48" x 60", acrylic and charcoal on hand-stretched single-primed Belgian linen
THE STORY: “I grew up in pain. Not only was I rejected, at a fundamental level for the person I was born to be, I also hated myself. I was awkward looking. Anorexia and bulimia were my coping mechanisms. Self-harm came with the territory. At my smallest, I was just 98 pounds. I thought that, surely, adulthood would be easier.
The sinister truth of the matter is that it’s most definitely not. I’ve been rejector and rejectee. In both circumstances it is so often rejection at a fundamental level. Sorry, you’re too black for me. Sorry, you’re too femme for me. Sorry, you’re too old for me. Etc, etc. This fairly straightforward (and confrontational) composition presents the viewer, specifically gay men, with issues of validation, self-loathing, the toxic culture around sex apps, the state of constantly being “looking”, exclusion, and the disposability and commodification of one another.
It is high time we stop doing violence to ourselves, quantifying ourselves, and categorizing ourselves. We have reduced each other to the basest elements, and have therefore done the work for our opponents. We must do better.”