As an artist-in-residence for five years at Hygienic Art Galleries in New London, Casey Spec wrote a novel about a young Connecticut man with a troubled childhood.
"It's about growing up weird, feeling isolated, always having an antagonist in your life, always having issues with your family," says Spec, 32.
Spec, a native of Norwich and graduate of Massachusetts College of Art, then asked 28 artist friends to help him interpret it through illustrations.
The result is an unusual exhibit at his place of "residence." Hygienic has wallpapered the gallery with large-scale printouts of pages from Spec's self-published novel. On top of each chapter, artworks illustrating that chapter are hung. Copies of the novel, titled "Queef," are for sale in the gallery.
The novel is tempestuous. "Sam is a strange child. His single mother is an alcoholic. His sister dies. He felt his sister left him with his mom. He feels very alone," he says. "He's gay. He feels he wasn't wanted, he was just a thing that happened."
Spec illustrated the book with his own works, which are literal in depicting events of each chapter. Other artists are abstract, conceptual or symbolic in their inspirations, which are presented in a wide variety of media. One artist is Diane Barcello, Spec's former teacher, the first teacher he came out to when he was young.
Some of the artworks are spooky, such as John Curran's "The Deterioration of Mommy," a series of four faces molded from a baby doll. Others are mysterious, such as Liisa Lang's "Conversation," an image of a phone off the hook. Some focus on other characters in the
book, such as Susan Hickman's "The Witch," based on Sam's best friend. Nike Desis' "XTINE6" tells the story of Sam's sister metaphorically, with a White Castle wrapper, gumdrops, an orange, a gemstone and other items, on a background of gold bubble wrap. Justin Richard Anderson's illustrations depict young boys with haloes on their heads.
In the gallery, the chapters are marked by empty wine bottles. The exhibit culminates in an installation depicting Sam's mother's easy chair, which sits in front of a TV, surrounded by empty bottles.
The artworks' installation seems a bit scattershot. Sarah McKay, the Hygienic gallerist, said that was intentional. "They are haphazardly put up. That is in context with the nature of the book," she said.
Spec is looking for a publisher for his book. Meanwhile, his "day job" is as director of operations at New London's Spark Makerspace, where his fiancee, John, also works. The two will get married on Aug. 26 at the art park adjacent to Hygienic, with some of his artist friends in attendance.
Other artists in the exhibit include Fionn McCabe, Aly Maderson-Quinlog, Kendra Plumley, Sodapop Clientele, Gabrielle Shea, Elisha Schauer, Coco Roy, Kat Murphy, Terri Bakowski, Ashby Carlisle, Chad Cocilo, Emily Mack, Lori Lynn Lynn, Travis Lynn, Morgan Snyder, Ben Kosznik, Maggie Bard, Sgott Mckenzie, Alice Amy Tam, Christelle Lachapelle, Erin McNeill, John Kane and Allen Glidden.
ARTWORKS INSPIRED BY CASEY SPEC is at Hygienic Art Gallery, 79 Bank St. in New London, until Aug. 31. hygienic.org.