ATB (b. June 20, 1985) is a metamodern American artist living and working in Lexington, Kentucky, USA.
His work — a lifelong vocation titled SOULED — combines elements of performance and visual art to position context as a medium.
Born in Bowling Green, Kentucky, the artist's childhood was upended at the age of eight when he witnessed his father become paralyzed in a diving accident while celebrating Father's Day and his birthday. He would grow up as both a dependent and caregiver to his father until leaving home at the age of 18.
He attended Centre College where he studied theatre (stage direction) and anthropology/sociology (media). The intersection of these domains led ATB to experiment with the media's role in shaping meaning for artist and audience in staged productions. Upon graduation, he was recognized with the college's most prestigious performing arts award — the West T. Hill Dramatic Arts Prize.
Defying expectations, including his own, he abandoned the stage shortly after to pursue a 15-year career in brand strategy and design during which he has received dozens of accolades including Best of Show at both the American Advertising Awards and AIGA's The 100 Show.
Now, an emerging artist, ATB explores the role of context in creating meaning and value through SOULED, a lifelong meditation in finitude.
April 17, 1993. Without context, it's a date floating in a pool of yesterdays. But for one person, it was significant. He was a cabinet maker, a dancer, and an outdoorsman.
To me, he was Dad. And April 17, 1993 was his 36th birthday. He had 62 days left.
That year was the first time Father’s Day fell on my birthday. I was turning eight, and to mark the occasion, my parents planned a full weekend of future memories. First up: swimming at our neighbor's pool.
Time is cloudy; it billows and swirls fictions with facts. I did forget my goggles. That much is fact. But there are competing fictions. Did I ask or did he offer to go back and get them?
He left. He returned. He jogged up to the side of the pool as I shouted from the diving board, "Throw them to me!" Instead, he clenched the goggles between his teeth, stretched his arms above his head, and dove in.
He surfaced moments later, his body bobbing — a buoy in its own wake. Dad was instantly and permanently paralyzed from the neck down, the result of a catastrophic spinal cord injury. My mom and neighbor pulled his body from the pool. He thought he was swimming the whole time.
For 36 years, he lived a life unbound by finitude. But now, his life had a new temporal context: a life expectancy of ten years — each lived motionless — bound to a wheelchair.
When you’re eight, 36 is old. It feels like enough time. But when I turned 36, it wasn't. There wasn't much left, and none of it was promised.
Paul Bowles puts the epiphanic moment to words in The Sheltering Sky. “Death is always on the way, but the fact that you don't know when it will arrive seems to take away from the finiteness of life. It's that terrible precision that we hate so much. But because we don't know, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens a certain number of times, and a very small number, really.”
We say we spend our time, but time is not a currency. The accounting is a paradox. When we spend our wealth, our balance is less. But with time, the more we spend, the more valuable our remainder becomes.
My father was given ten years, maybe enough to see his son graduate from high school. But they weren't bad years; they were good. Very good, mostly. And through sheer force of gratitude, he turned those ten into 22.
For each year he spent with us, the remainder in his ledger grew more valuable. Already he'd built his last cabinet, danced his last dance, and watched his last sunrise in the woods. But because of what he'd lost, he could see — better than I could — the value of what we had left.