Win the Lottery by Making a Drawing

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As a follow up to my previous post, I thought it would be interesting to discuss a few more drawings that deal with the lottery, in more detail – how I thought through them in terms of process, and how I translated the ideas I have about the lottery into works that both reflect these ideas and transform them into the stuff of drawings. What do these ideas look like? I’m really interested in the visual form of those things that don’t obviously look like anything. What does fear look like? How do feelings manifest in shapes? Is there a color to desire?

In my work, I’m not attempting to illustrate these ideas as they feel to me, at the moment of drawing, but am trying to transform, more objectively, the data related to these concepts. How can an intangible human attribute be translated into shapes, forms, patterns, colors, etc.? In this sense, I’m trying to distill concrete forms from a shifting abstract feeling, emotion, or need. Where our feelings, thoughts, and actions are generated (their origins) is most intriguing to me. Do we act on our own accord, or does environment dictate our intentions? Where does our own consciousness and humanness end – within our minds or bodies? Or does it extend into the objects and spaces around us?

This method of drawing has also become a way for me to process the immense amount of information we’re presented within each minute of each day. I wanted my art to be useful as a tool with which to decipher the world – how and why we act as we do as humans. My work is also an attempt to find patterns in the external world, both the everyday / mundane and more broadly across history, nature, politics, and science. I collect data and information, and then experiment with ways to plot this in a drawing. As each step unfolds, I observe, evaluate, react, and then make my next move. I never know where a piece will take me, much like the way unpredictable natural forces operate. I just go along for the ride.

WEATHER MAP – This was the first drawing I made that began to deal with the lottery as a concept. I made this in my summer at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, in 2000. Before that summer, I had been making work utilizing chance operations almost exclusively. During that summer I began to explore many more diverse ideas I had about the world in general in my work. In this specific piece, the lottery component came as a conclusion of sorts. The entire process was pretty convoluted, and I began with no idea of where it would take me. I was interested in our need to predict the future, and the futility inherent in this act. I thought of weather prediction as a primary example of this – we can generally know what the weather will be like, but the exact temperature each day eludes us. So, I recorded the predicted high and low temperatures for 4 cities (NYC / Skowhegan, ME / Westfield, MA / Los Angeles) for 3 consecutive days, and then compared those with the actual temperatures that occurred. I used the difference (human error) as my data points and noted all of my thinking and processing on the surface of the paper, like a diagram. So, I had this temperature information but didn’t know what to do with it, so I looked around my studio, and saw my Rubik’s cube. I closed my eyes, tossed the cube in the air, and turned it the same number of times of each temperature error. I then recorded the patterns that resulted onto the drawing. I then counted the squares, the spaces in between each color, and the shapes those spaces made. I measured these shapes and translated these measurements into letters (A=1, B=2, etc.). I then entered these letters into my pocket dictionary and it came up with the closest approximated word – KIDDED. I then turned that word back into numbers (11,9,4,4,5,4) and played the local lottery with these numbers. I lost, of course, but thought it would be amazing if I could have generated winning numbers via such a convoluted art-making process derived from a human foible. This started my continuing investigation of the lottery as a social and scientific concept, which continues to this day.

PAY TO PLAY –  This work was my attempt to visualize what winning the lottery would feel like. I began it by sketching and gridding out the main oval shape. I then compiled the winning lottery numbers for all of 2006 from different states across the country – an immense amount of information.  I started with the NY State Lottery and used the last set of 5 winning numbers to generate a new zip code (lottery number into zip code), which then led me to another state. I then compiled the winning numbers from that state, and again used the last 5 numbers to generate a new zip code. I continued this until the drawing was finished. To form the central shape’s patterns, I created different color-based “codes” as a way to represent the numbers visually. I changed the color system as the pattern reached the center and with each lottery / state shift, creating a strata-like progression in visual complexity – for the outer layer, each color denotes a specific number, while for the innermost layer, colors only signify even or odd numbers. – like the pattern gets less specific as you reach the pattern’s core.

Simultaneously, I translated these same numbers into words. I set up a text-based encoding system based on the alphabet’s numerical equivalents. As each winning set of numbers generated a random set of letters, I then entered these random letters into my pocket dictionary, which searched for the closest approximated word.  I then wrote these words around the central form, creating a (sort of) hand-written halo.

Lottery Grid Collaborations – While making the “Pay to Play” drawing in my small studio in Queens, my retired landlord (Joe), lived in the basement, and, unbeknownst to me, was recording lottery numbers in an attempt to predict the winners. When I went downstairs to pay my rent, I saw stacks of graph paper with numbers jotted all over them. When I asked Joe what these were, he first told me to mind my own business, but after several months of pestering, he relented and told me what he was up to. It was bizarre – he was in the basement recording lottery numbers while I was upstairs doing the same. I asked him what he did with the graph papers when he was finished and he said he threw them out. I asked if he could save them for me and he eventually did. I sat with them for months, looking for his patterns and trying to understand his systems. One night while lying on the couch, I decided to color code them by filling in the even numbers with a warm color and the odd numbers with cool colors. I thought of these as collaborations and they were my attempt to render his thinking and predicting visible and more understandable. I did about 30 and a few are below.


* Each drawing is 2010 and acrylic ink on graph paper

Lottery Ticket Drawings – I continue to make small drawings on lottery tickets, in which I mark the winning numbers for a day and then connect them into a shape. This is what winning looks like! A few are below.

* Each, colored pencil on lottery ticket

You Can’t Win – I built this work from the bottom to the top

In doing so, I invented ways of translating many different types of information about the lottery – social commentary, winning numbers, losing predictions, odds of winning, etc.  into forms, shapes and patterns.  My process was additive, incremental and adaptive.

The main conceptual / information-based layers of the work, from bottom to top, are:

  1. Incorrect predictions of winning lottery numbers, which I translated into words via a simple system (each number corresponded to a letter – A=1, B=2, etc.)
  2. Purely random numbers (I translated them into numbers of shapes and patterns, colors, etc.)
  3. Representations of religious symbols / crosses – signs of faith
  4. Various written descriptions of the social implications of the lottery as described by various sociologists
  5. Actual winning numbers for NY lottery
  6. Average percentage chance of winning the lottery

I thought of the whole thing as my building / drawing of a very unstable tower of sorts, based on the idea and implications of the lottery as a hollow mechanism of social mobility.