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Focus and Passion (and a New Name)
There’s nothing like a good story, and the story about the change of my name at the bottom of this article is a great one. Why I have done this is now a script that is to be produced in Vancouver’s PAL Studio Theatre in April of 2013.
I have kept my name Chris(topher) Tyrell and added Loranger (that’s “lor-on-zhay” and not “lor-an-jere.”). Loranger was my name for almost the first two full years of my life, and my initial time with my birth mother left me with a profound love of the French language and all things French. The Tyrells adopted me but my new adopted mother soon became depressed and paralyzed; she was eventually institutionalized, so much of my life was spent alone or only with my father.
In mid-life, I was reunited with my glorious and flamboyant Quebecoise birth mother. Our reunion was overpowering and it included the goodwill of my adopted father. Both of them are deceased now, but the change in my name keeps them both with me and all feels right in the world. Although it is a bit strange in some ways to change my name so late in my life, it also absolutely thrills me to have my French name back. I am very proud of my true heritage.
Originally, I expected to keep teaching and writing as just Chris Tyrell, but I want a simple life and a single identity; I have decided only to use my new name (but all three names professionally because the “Chris Tyrell” brand is so strong in my field of visual art professional development).
I did not bond with my adopted family, although that would come as my father and I aged together. However, the sudden loss of my birth mother one day and the abrupt change to a new life followed by the collapse of my adopted mother’s health became how I defined myself. Although I was adopted, I was still feeling and thinking like an orphan. I was a stranger in a strange land and that feeling never left me.
I became obsessed with the concept of identity and about orphans. Orphans are western literature’s dominant literary personality after gods; our most super comic heroes and some of literature’s most iconic characters (Harry Potter to Quasimodo) are orphans. I read a lot of those stories and about identity. I read academic papers about twins and twins separated at birth and my dreams and many of my interests, such as plant grafting and acting, were all driven by my obsession with identity.
The disruptions of my early life left me with a permanent legacy of sadness and a sense of not belonging, but these emotions have fueled a lifetime of creative work that has richly fulfilled me. My sense of being “outside” so much of life, informs every single creative endeavor of my career. Consequently, the discourse of my career has been rich with imagery derived from my research and my dreams. My statements and interviews, my explanations and insights have always been well received because my story is passionately told, emotional and interesting.
As I have so often said, the narrative attached to our artworks is as important as the artwork itself. The public wants narrative: that is why there are curatorial and artist statements and why we have critics. They all help the public understand what we do and why we do it; they link stories to our creations and the more compelling the story, the more we value the work to which it is attached.
The importance of narrative is a strong component of my teaching and although I have confidence in my teaching and I get good feedback from my students, one always finds the reassurance of objective voices very reassuring. Consequently, I was thrilled to discover the website, Significant Objects (SO) that I wrote about here in July 2010. SO was an experiment that proved just how valuable stories can be when we sell sacred objects like our artwork.
You may remember that people involved with SO conscripted an impressive roster of writers and asked them to create narrative to add value to items selected from a second hand store. Then they sold the items on eBay and the combined resale prices were between 2,700% and 2,860% higher than the combined cost prices; this is very dramatic proof of the power and value of narrative.
We are storytellers, so when we buy art we get a great deal of our satisfaction from our art purchases when we have a great story to tell when visitors to our home admire the piece. Everything we display in our homes has a story attached to it; test my theory for yourself by going home and looking at what you display. Ask yourself, “Why have I put this object on display in my home?” I think that you will find that each object you have on view provokes a story that you really like to tell.
Art buyers attach narrative to every piece in their collection. There is a compelling reason for each choice they make and that reason comes from the buyers experience or the artists. When the artist’s story is vital and interesting, their art becomes an artifact of the narrative for the buyer; the more interesting the story, the happier the buyer is.
And when the story of your life not only is manifest in your art, but also in your personality, behavior, dreams and often in your conscious thoughts like my obsession with identity, you will develop a cohesive body of work over time that gets more and more interesting as your career progresses. Over time, obsessives like me develop a rich language of symbols and an expertise in the telling of our story and that makes for great art making, a compelling experience for your audience and great sales.
About Chris Tyrell
Chris is an artist and the successful writer of the book Artist Survival Skills. He teaches two courses at Emily Carr, gives workshops throughout the lower mainland, and maintains a lively community at his website: www.artistsurvivalskills.com.