Diluted Nostalgia

Diluted Nostalgia is a series of self portraits adapted from family photographs taken from 1993-2001. These contemporary paintings analyze the American condition, investigate personal identity, and question our ability to remember.

Works on Paper

Diluted Nostalgia Series Statement

The American Child exists in a world specifically designed for him or her. They are saturated with their own TV shows, commercials, movies, happy meal toys, sugary snacks, books, playgrounds and theme parks. Children are worshiped annually on their birthdays, and are presented with gifts and offerings on Christmas and Halloween. For many of us, there is never a time in our lives in which we are more cherished.  In addition to our child-centric culture and economy, a child’s underdeveloped self awareness makes children believe themselves to be gods. Diluted Nostalgia investigates the cult of American Childhood and examines its rituals through my personal experiences.

The paintings of birthdays, Christmases, tea parties, and newborn babies come exclusively from my own family’s photographs.  I delved into photo albums and dusted off shoeboxes of 5x7 Kodak prints for hours on end. I carefully selected the photographs I would use which dated from 1993-2000, when I was born until I turned 7.  Furthermore, Diluted Nostalgia is about my personal mythology which consists of memories, stories, people, places, and experiences that shape who I believe I am according to my own idealized version of the past.   

Every piece within this body of work contains me as a central image.  In this way, the paintings are a form of self portraiture that can take the form of a religious narrative; which references and critiques my religious upbringing.  When I depict myself and my family in large-scale paintings, I imbue an importance to my personal history. Throughout history in every culture, only the very wealthy and powerful had artwork made to commemorate moments in their life.  But by using Christian imagery, I elevate my common American experience to match the childish delusions of grandeur I had in my youth.

Nevertheless, the ordinariness of these photographs are still clearly evident.  Dad’s Birthday places the figures in an extremely typical American kitchen that includes everyday objects which are both in the painting and resting on top of it.  Sometimes, these objects are all I remember of a photograph from my childhood. I remember the particular color of the bedroom wall, the light coming from a window on a summer day, the texture of a plastic tablecloth, or the way dust collects on Venetian blinds.  

Within the past year, the inclusion of ordinary relics from my childhood has brought a contemporary dynamic to my work.  Because I have lived in the same house my whole life, it is usual for an object to evoke specific memories. The curtains and blinds that veil several paintings are found objects from my family’s home.  

Not only have I included pieces of my childhood home in the paintings, but I have installed them on its walls.  I took down family photographs and replaced them with my altered, reconstructed versions. They hung amongst the objects and spaces the memories were made in as a glimpse into the past. When the artwork is finished, I gaze at a past version of myself and allow the artwork to act as a mirror which reflects a small aspect of myself back to me.

Diluted Nostalgia marks the end of an era in my life.  Like many other millennials, I find myself moving out of my parent’s house at the same age they were starting a family.   While I was orchestrating the next steps of my life this past year, I was also packing away the accumulated clutter from my childhood home which may be sold or foreclosed in the next year.  Diluted Nostalgia allowed me to investigate my self identity, experiment with contemporary practices in painting, and question the feasibility of the American Dream.  

-Jake Foster

September 2018