The answer is a resounding no, and will always be. Then why is it that I invoke the image of cigarettes on this very blog, and take it upon myself as a moniker? Aside from the obvious interpretation, I’ve also heard it taken as a reference to the gender neutral pronoun sie, and you could even make the case that it refers to the German word sieg, meaning “victory” and most infamously heard in the Nazi salute sieg heil! (hail victory!).
The truth? It’s a joke. An irony packed into a image already loaded with symbolism, subverting the associations while at the same time embracing them. Both of my parents are smokers, and have been for the entirety of my memory. As I told my high school art teacher, it’s my way of continuing the “proud family tradition of smoking”.
Even from a young age, I’ve lived with the smell of smoke. It’s possible that I’ve breathed in enough secondhand smoke to be categorized as a light smoker myself. Though my mother smokes more causally, she is in a perpetual state of “quitting”, giving it up for periods of time only to return during times of stress. Up until recently, my father has been persistent with his habit, however. He’s been a hard man to relate to for most of my life: he seems unable to adapt to the rapidly changing paradigms of this country, he’s stubborn and strong headed, and he comes from a masculine culture that prefers a more dominating approaching which at times makes it seem as if the social values are caught in the gears of the ’50s. The damage done to him by cigarettes never helped endear him to me either: the permanently yellowed teeth, the rank breath, and constant odor of smoke created an aura that begged for distance. Combined with the perpetual absence of his presence for a significant part of my childhood due to work reasons, there was a physical and emotional gap that grew. Cigarettes didn’t do that damage, but they sure did help.
So I laugh. Not in an attempt to brush away the associations and memories that cigarettes incur, but to embrace them and all the ironic double meanings and symbolism ground and rolled into them. I understand it. I understand the appeal of the cigarette, the “beauty” of the act of smoking one. The ritual of tapping the pack, sliding the cig to your lips and shielding them as you ignite the end. The first breath. Taking the fire and smoke into yourself as it crackles inside you lungs and consumes the tension of your body. Releasing the stress as an intangible cloud of smoke. It’s a tactile and emotional pleasure, as well as an aesthetic one.
Cigarettes are a microcosmic pleasure. They are living through dying. Each breath of cigarette is a piece of Death. As human beings we seek stimulation, and laying our eyes on the form of Death is one of the most potent forms of stimulation. We know we are killing ourselves, and yet we continue, as if we’ve been ingrained with a subconscious, society wide, perpetual death wish.
Enter the femme fatale. A film noir archetypical woman, viciously attractive, and always with a secret to hide. Stepping purposefully through the haze of the room, cigarette in hand, she will be the undoing of the protagonist. She is the parallel to the cigarette, she is Lady Death: fatal, but nonetheless bewitching.
This is where the aesthetic and symbolic play enters the world of my artwork. “ashen siegarettes” originated in the moniker”cigarettes”, which I took on as I began to become obsessed with the medium of ink and pens as well as black and white high contrast imagery. It first worked itself into my work via my game “candlelight”, a simple black and white game where players would place seeds that would grow into one of three types of trees, and inevitably be burned away by the candle in the center of the area. From there it worked its way into various other pieces I created. From there it evolved into “ashen siegarettes”, at first a play on words designed to skirt the fake name filters of Facebook and provide entries to the first and last name boxes of internet forms.
When I finally created the first draft of my website, I associated the name with an image on a burning cigarette on an ashtray. Here the cancerous toxins of a cigarette collected in ashes, and scattered across the atmosphere in an ethereal cloud of smoke as the light from the still lit flame reflected of the transparent surface of the tray. It’s a mood that continually presents itself in my work: the linework both defined by the hard edges of graphite and pen, yet only suggesting a form through the loose hand used. I draw to reflect upon my subjects, not to represent them. I aim for the greys between the harsh blacks and whites.
So then, What is ashen siegarettes? ashen siegarettes is a collection of what I love. It is a collection of double meanings, irony, gray areas, and manic moods. ashen siegarettes is a pitch black joke told with the brightest of smiles. It is self-righteous, self-important, and self-depreciating at the same time. Not one audience member knows whether to applaud, to laugh, or to tell the fucker to get off the stage.
So the, Who is siegarettes? siegarettes is the reconciliation of every persona I have every created. siegarettes is self-analyzing, self-confident, psychosexual, poetic. A downtrodden cynic and an optimist. siegarettes is the paradox and conflict of being a person who will continually be in a state of flux. siegarettes is my super superego. siegarettes is my voice.
siegarettes is about being a human being.
siegarettes should NEVER be capitalized.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, all of this has got me rather stressed.
I need a fucking smoke.