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Circling the Brain

By Jim Stoten

Artist Jim Stoten takes us on an odyssey through his creative process with a detour into his subconscious.


As a person who grew up during the 1980s on a rich diet of cheaply made TV shows and Birds Eye potato waffles, I have always been attracted to the lurid imagery and often subversive nature of cartoons, comics, and films. I am interested in the juxtaposition of the adult’s perspective with the child’s perspective—in particular, the seemingly fine line between the vivid colors, moral messages, and otherworldly characters associated with children’s entertainment and the anecdotal testimonies of chemically induced hallucinogenic experiences. I’m intrigued by the strong visual component present in both forms of escapism: mascots that represent brands, figures that in hallucinations or dreams represent parts of our subconscious, and bold, sometimes flashing colors.

I explore these elements in my sketchbook, which is the subject of this short film. The work in my sketchbook is a fundamental part of my practice. In my investigation of visual form and human experience, I am attracted to iconic elements of pop culture that have withstood the test of time to become a distinctive language that describes the past. Americana in particular has provided society with countless icons that have become synonymous with pop-culture history; they almost single-handedly tell the story of commercialism and its effects, both good and bad, on Western civilization.

Throughout my sketchbook, I am translating or recording impressions of my daily reality, as they pass through my subconscious—and I’m continually aware that I find it much easier to record something if I use an icon from TV or films as a starting point. I’ll start by thinking about certain scenes or characters and then I’ll add or take away elements to capture the narrative or feeling of my day.

Part of what drives my creative work—whether for a client or a personal project—is the way in which an image can have both a communal meaning and a personal one, and this is an important undercurrent in my drawings. Many of the images in my sketchbooks contain coded information that only I can interpret, and yet they also have resonance for viewers who wouldn’t know my personal iconography. I believe that part of what makes a work magnetic is the way that personal language and cultural narratives are mostly dissonant yet can lend each other power.

While working, I am also interested in focusing on fleeting thoughts and feelings, in an effort to discover a deeper understanding of the world around me, as well as my own inner world. Though the action of sitting down to draw is a meditative process for me, the idea of focusing on one’s own mental activity goes against what I understand conventional meditation to be—namely the allowing of thoughts and feelings to drift by without analysis, in the attempt to experience a heightened state of consciousness. Conversely, I embrace the chaos of the working mind. I find it to be entertaining and satisfying to occupy my mind with a constant and personalized mode of problem solving. I hope this film brings to life the mystery that is integral to that process. ❤

Jim Stoten is an Illustrator, artist, and musician currently living and working between Hastings, UK, and Venice, Italy.

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