A painting by the artist Chad Cortez Everett is taking shape.
Against a mash-up of gold and bronze hues an ebony hand holds a cross aloft. It doubles as a puppeteer’s control bar and manipulates a man’s torso that’s affixed to a tabletop. Nearby is a thick stack of C-notes, a cherry pie with a slice removed, and a trophy cup. Floating in the midst of these images is a curled banner that reads: “The American Dream.”
“My art is mainly a story about myself and what I’m feeling,” Everett said. “It’s very narrative.”
But when Everett paints, he’s doing much more than crafting a surrealist yarn. As a husband and father of a 3-year-old, his 4:30 a.m. paint sessions double for personal reflection. “Once I finish painting, it clears my mind and it gets rid of the cobwebs,” he said.
Everett isn’t alone. The notion that adults need to be creative or take time to play has gained new traction. Beyond the familiar staples of amateur sports leagues, adults are buying age-appropriate coloring books, frequenting playgrounds, and there’s even a pricy adult preschool in Brooklyn, called Preschool Mastermind, that offers a mature, playful environment for more than $300 a class.
It’s as if the culture has reached a collective understanding of the importance of playful creativity to psychologically re-set, so when we return to the fray, we’ve got fresh chops.
And for Everett, that re-set happens a minimum of three times a week inside the utility closet of his basement when oil meets canvas. “As I paint, I go through a meditative stage where it’s just me and the painting,” he said. “My art gives me an opportunity to vent and to reflect on what I’m doing with myself in general.”
Everett, 42, teaches art at a middle school in Landenberg, Pa., which is about an hour’s drive from downtown Philadelphia. He came of age when the messages of “The Cosby Show” and “A Different World” persuasively pitched that college degrees would provide a smooth passage to middle class life and happiness. “I followed those steps and I’m happy,” he said. “But at the same time, I’m constantly, always struggling to maintain the happiness that I have.”
Many artists often have a signature theme or image they’re associated with, like Salvador Dali’s melting clocks. In Everett’s work, the man affixed to the tabletop is always present. “In some ways, that’s like my avatar,” he said. “I created that figure many years ago because I wanted to create something that represented me at that point, and it still does.”
The tabletop man represents how circumstances in life often box us in, and force us to confront the realities we have instead of the ones we hope for. “But he’s always looking for a solution, what I call the promise land,” Everett said. “And he’s looking to get there by any means necessary.”
Everett insists the figure isn’t beat down. “People always ask me that because he’s a part of me. No, he’s always trying to figure it out.”
In his current work about the American Dream, the hand holding the cross that acts like a puppeteer represents a higher power exerting control over us. The bills equate wealth, the trophy exemplifies the personal and communal markers of success. And, everyone wants a piece of the proverbial pie.
In each brush stroke of Everett’s passion, there’s therapy, self-analysis, and creative drive, as he wrestles with the meaning of success for himself and the rest of us.
“Once you get the American Dream, you have to work really hard to keep it, because if you don’t, you’ll fall really fast,” he said.
Share what you’re thinking, leave a comment. Stay connected with the Thinking Good community.