By DR. LISA LEVY April, 2023
I have absolutely adored Colin J. Radcliffe's work from the first time I saw it years ago. He's done so many varied bodies of work, but I feel like at this point in his life, he's ready to be close to someone. He's done work about texting before, but now we are seeing figures and they are intimate! Sexy, but they really feel more about the sweet moments that he has with people during a sexual encounter—like they’re more about the cuddling than the fucking, but of course, there must have been fucking too... I think this shows emotional growth and I am proud of Colin.
I love his work so much because it is so playful, yet so serious - so light and yet so dark. I think that’s one of the things I love about him—as a person, he's so fun, so positive, yet aware so much of how our lives and circumstances suck—just let’s not worry about that right now. That’s where I see the beauty in Colin's work—it’s like raw candy. Candy that’s not candy-coated...
Dr. Lisa: I think one of the reasons your work is so successful, and a wide group of people are drawn to it, is the way you achieve the aesthetic of having it be so personal that it becomes universal. I think your process of using porcelain for its emotive and impressionable qualities to make the work has a lot to do with that you are literally making thework by touching it, you don’t use tools, and you are making the connections with figures by having them touch, all inspired by the touching of another human. That must infuse your work with some powerful sentiments.
So, I’m going to tell you what feeling I get from the piece, and you tell me what is really going on. In this piece there seems like a feeling of relief and recognition. The emotions seem very mutual and special. But Colin, seriously, why is a photo being taken? Is this a special moment that someone is afraid will get lost or forgotten?
Colin: I was away for 2 months traveling, and he and I texted and facetimed every single day I was away. He picked me up from the airport the day I got back and went to my place. Somehow being apart brought us closer together or intensified the feelings I already had for him. I had missed him so much that I just wanted to be as close to him as I could possibly be, we were inseparable. When we woke up the next morning we immediately began cuddling, I was totally immersed in that moment and without me realizing he snapped a photo of us in the mirror. I think the photo wasn’t taken out of a fear that those feelings or that special moment might disappear, but rather to capture and celebrate something meaningful. It was such a tender moment filled with so many lovely feelings, that I had to make a sculpture to celebrate it.
Dr. Lisa: I think the blue person looks a little self-involved here. The pink person (you) looks happy and good but is enjoying the attention more than sharing it. I guess this one didn’t last too long? Or did it?
Colin: I had dated a Brazilian boy for several months who ghosted me when I brought up things I was confused about and wanted to clarify our relationship. Up to that point we would cuddle every night and spend several days and nights together every week. One of the last times we saw each other he had a severe panic attack. I stayed with him and comforted him, but he seemed embarrassed or ashamed that I saw him that vulnerable. He was struggling so much with so many things, and I wanted so badly to make everything better for him. Unfortunately, we just weren’t aligned. Our attachment styles were at odds, he was avoidant while I was anxious, so the more I chased him the more he would pull away, before he ultimately ghosted me. It was a short-lived relationship, but it was intense, and I felt strongly for him. So, I made this piece to memorialize my feelings for him, and the last time we cuddled, after his panic attack. This sculpture was about a boy and our brief whirlwind Parisian romance. Smoking in France is much more accepted than not, unlike in the US where smoking is generally considered distasteful. He showed me Paris and brought me into his life right from the get-go. We both knew that it wasn’t going to last very long, and neither of us were really emotionally available for anything serious. He broke up with me over text towards the end of my 2-week trip, and although I was a bit bummed, I was grateful that he was honest and upfront, even if it was over text. We became friends and have kept in touch over the years.
Dr. Lisa: This figure looks creepy. They’re naked and the only thing that makes them real in this world is the cats. I’d say there’s some bad memories here. Maybe you’re conflicted about being angry at him, since you made him into a cute version of a ghost who cats seem to like. Colin, it’s okay to be mad at someone who’s shitty to you!
Colin: I made this piece to externalize my feelings and process that experience, so that I could move on and not feel so stuck on all those feelings that come with being ghosted–like feeling disposable or unwanted, or that self-blame of “I must have said or done something, or something is wrong with me.” We had dated for about 6 months, and he, quite unexpectedly, ghosted me not long after a Valentine’s Day date. At the time it seemed like the relationship was getting very serious and everything seemed to be going in a great direction. He had made 3 reservations at different restaurants for Valentine’s Day and asked me to pick one. He wanted to know about my past relationships at dinner, so I told him about a few and why they were impactful. It was a moment of honesty and vulnerability that I thought would have brought us closer together but seemed to be the gavel. After that date, he became very distant and then stopped talking to me. The first time I heard from him again he reached out to wish me a speedy recovery from monkeypox. Given that he reached out to me on his Birthday I had the feeling that maybe he was just hoping I would wish him a happy birthday, and the get well soon wishes was just his way in. After that we only spoke over text when I let him know about sculptures, I made of him that would be in exhibitions or that I would post online. He eventually apologized about a year later. It’s difficult to have conflicting feelings about someone, when you really like and respect them, but they’ve also hurt you. That’s a big part of why I make my work, is to fully feel and understand my experiences, get them out, and then begin the process of healing and self-growth. It’s essentially therapy for me.
Dr. Lisa: This looks like someone alone, I’m going to say it’s you, Colin, who is trying to photograph themselves. The tiger is traditionally invulnerable, but in your hands, it is beautifully humorous, charming and not quite scary. The whites of your eyes seem to show fear, but they are behind a scary sort of mask, which is a bold way of teasing someone to want to get to know you better.
Colin: Tigers are symbols of strength and power, but they're also symbols of isolation, independence, and solitude. Most adult tigers roam their territory alone, and generally only meet another tiger to mate. So, I was playing with that idea as a vehicle to critique thirst traps, which are self-portraits taken alone but with the goal of attracting someone. There's this misconception that thirst traps are attention and validation seeking, but a more empathetic perspective reveals that it's really just a contemporary form of flirting, with the goal of finding and fostering intimacy. Flirting and thirst traps are a low-risk and fun way to gauge someone else's interest in you without being too emotionally vulnerable. It's the most human thing to desire and strive for connection, so understanding that I think thirst traps should be looked at more as a playful tool in the pursuit of intimacy. WM
Lisa Levy is a comedian, conceptual artist, radio show host and self-proclaimed psychotherapist, Dr. Lisa. She started her performance career as a self-proclaimed psychotherapist in 2001, when she took the stage at HERE Arts Center in NYC with her one-woman improv show, Psychotherapy LIVE! — performing psychotherapy on audience volunteers in a psychotherapist’s office set on stage.view all articles from this author