Kirby Vacuum: A personal mythology

Kirby vacuum drawing, © 2000 by J. Thomson. All rights reserved.

Yesterday I embarked on a new series of artwork that I’ve actually been thinking about for many years now (more than 10), based on a “personal mythology” I’ve developed. Using imagery from my past, I am creating multi-layered installations and sculpture/paintings (I love blurring the lines between the two) out of shapes cut from canvas and sewn together.

Right now, I am collecting source imagery and doing research. These images are from a sketchbook (circa 1998 or so) with black paper and light-colored gel ink pens (so 1990’s). The drawing is of a heavy Kirby vacuum cleaner my family still has… my mother got it in 1976 when I was eight. I was fascinated by it as a child because of its intricate and shapely curves, its heft (it probably weighs more than 30 pounds!), and all of the attachments it came with. I loved taking things apart and putting them back together again. But I also wonder if there is a greater meaning to the vacuum, as I keep coming back to this particular one even though my family has owned many vacuums over the years. (Any psychoanalysts reading this? Leave me a comment below with your ideas.)

When I was in graduate school, I was interested in domesticity, which is still a common theme in my work today (usually twisted or subverted somehow). At the time I made these drawings, I was home for Christmas (the sketchbook was a present from my previous life-partner), and I made several drawings to use as source material. While I never made a glass vacuum cleaner, I did use some floorplans I drew of the houses I grew up in to create some of the glass houses that were in my MFA thesis show.

Right now, I am cutting shapes out of canvas and stitching them together to create layered works of art. The result is very theatrical, which makes sense since I spent more than 15 years in the theatre as a young man. In the future, I hope to secure grants and other funding to allow me to have the pieces laser-cut out of various materials such as colored plexiglas and thick wool felt. Today I am just content to finally have the time necessary to work on big projects like this.

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