Joseph DeCommer Turns Anguish into Artwork

In a Midtown studio apartment adorned with paintings on every inch of its walls, Joseph DeCommer, 35, figuratively lives and breathes art. He sleeps in the same room he creates, merging pop culture and realism with critically-endangered species and apocalyptic scenarios. He’s been at it for five years and has been steadily exhibiting his work throughout Michigan and beyond — even as far out as New York City.

When did you decide you wanted to be a painter?

I was in a worthless relationship for six years and decided to end it before it was too late. Having been with someone for so long, and then suddenly having them not around, causes a person to look for something to do. In 2010, instead of killing myself, or booze and drugs, I chose painting. I poured myself into it and have never stopped.

Are there any re-occurring themes in your paintings?

The theme I would like people to most consider is love. I have lost a lot in my life. I have no family that I speak to and have lost what I thought was real love in relationships a few times. For instance, if you see my skeletons with hearts paintings called Resilient; those are about my idea of the heart’s ability to withstand great punishment. The skeletons are 10,000 years old but their heart is still there.

You will have your self-portrait at ArtPrize this year — what’s the story behind it?

It’s called “Self with Skull/Remember Me.” The skull is a representation of my dead self and people who have been important to me over the years who are no longer in my life: My mother, father, romantic relationships, sibling and friends. I’m including a notebook for people to share their similar stories of lost love and family.

Where has your work been exhibited?

My mainstay is ArtPrize. I have done it every year except the first because I wasn’t painting yet. It’s fun and it leads to pretty good exposure. I never go in it thinking about winning, it is purely for fun. Other than that, I have a gallery show coming up Sept. 11 at Lansing Art Gallery as a part of their Time|Space exhibition. Also, I try to do as many art festivals as I can.

What are you up to when you’re not painting?

I’m thinking about painting. I wish I were joking but I’m not. It really is all I think about. Well, art in general. To some it makes me dull but to others there is a fascination. To be honest, if I didn’t have this I would probably want to die. I think the world is amazing and sometimes too powerful to take — and also really sad.

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