Re-working the Past : the story behind the paintings of the 2019 Calendar
I work in a small studio and like my mother and her parents, I hate to waste. So, I decided to do this latest series of paintings on older canvases that had lost their charm and hadn't yet sold. Ten years ago, the paintings I made depicted how people shifted their behavior to fit social contexts. I painted in a more representational style because I painted from life, and because I was learning about lighting, anatomy, and enjoyed the geometric patterns I could find in landscapes and cityscapes. Fast forward ten years later, and here's how the paintings in the 2019 calendar came to be.
Near Capture by the Beast
Fifteen years ago, this wood panel showed an impasto and highly abstract painting of a cat, an experiment I made on the third floor of a cheap apartment in Ukranian Village in Chicago, (a now swanky neighborhood, the apartment building gutted) to which my roommate said, "Where is there a cat?" I began painting a pattern on top of that, of which you can still see the flower lips poking out of the ground, and the wave in the bottom left. Some houses my six hear old drew intrigued me and became the face of the creature, along with the little buildings on a hill at the top right of the painting. The narrative grew from these intuitively driven re-workings over this fifteen year period, until I saw the story, something powerful and mysterious and intriguing. I like the history, happenstance and feeling in the dark process until the moment happens when the image is just right.
In Family Underwater, you can still see one representational face in the middle right side of the canvas. In the ten year old painting, this woman was part of a cafeteria sitting area in Japantown, San Francisco. Now dark shapes close in underwater of what my son calls "skeleton fish", as a family bobs on the ocean floor. The image combines fashion illustration design with my son's 6 year old drawing language, as well as one little toe left in representational reality as a face of a woman peeks through from the background, even as she is covered over with a wave of flag-like fabric.
Walk Like an Egyptian
I remember singing this song in the back of the rear-facing seats of my friend Vanessa's station wagon. The 80s seem like a ridiculous time, but what resonates with this painting is the idea of the affect we effect with expressive posing, of dressing to be seen, calling upon fashion. Continuing the through-line of painting on ten year old canvases, the camera to the right pictured the groom at a wedding with his bride and the maid of honor. This was when digital cameras were still relatively new. Now, they are a familiar witnessing prop in any notable scene on the street. The figure seen here is fantastical and imaginative, lit up by a flash in the sky, walking on lush color with plants weaving forward, an expressive and vibrant performer.
Scar Rollercoaster Face
This was a textile painting with poofy daises and linear alien-esque figures, and as I loves a composition my son made similar to this face, I put the two together, stitching and covering over. It combines the joyous, richly saturated and creepy Halloween reference in a way I think is pretty delightful and whimsical.
Underneath here somewhere is a decent portrait painting of a 65 year old Chinese man. From there, the piece became a graphic, anxious zigzagging, with leaves fluttering down across the foreground (faced with the painting in 3D/real life, you can still see and feel the swirling underpainting, and actually can spot a patch of a leaf in the alien torso character). Ultimately, I decided, who wants to look at a painting and fee such great anxiety? And, (sing to the tune of the oldie "its my party and I'll cry if I want to") "It's my canvas and I'll paint over it even if it is a good piece." Creative destruction and tea anyone?
I kept in the dismayed feline-human face in the center which attaches, sans torso to some big fashion feet-cum-legs, and pulled in the lovely disjointed lettering of all the six year olds in my life, a wolf and sharkish character similar to those seen in other 6 year old's drawings, and starlike birds. After the piece is done, which mixes bright colors as well as softer textures at the top, I see it as part of the mental state I've been seeking in which narrative and story options swirl tangibly in front of the artist.
Fusion Landscape Design, Overhead View This was once a painting of a Chinese restaurant on Balboa Street I'd go to with my partner on our lazy nights, often while laundry was cycling at the laundromat across the street. I used acrylic paint and it's the one medium I have never found a way to like or to paint well in. So, time to paint over it! I made this cutout looking design on it at first and felt satisfied. Only, after looking at it for a while, it felt unlike me, too plain, and not satisfying enough - kind of how I feel about Chinese food. Meanwhile, another textile design painting nearby had been re-colored and painted by me three to four times. So, out with scissors and the two paintings were pasted together. Its a crowded piece now, but I do find it more dynamic once I combined the different language of the shapes together. Et voila, like the benefits of fusion food, and diversity in general, here an order up of fusion painting.
This older gentleman walking up balboa street in the Richmond district where I lived twenty years ago as part of a landscape that despite being painted fairly well was as dull and sleepy a painting as the neighborhood itself. I'm glad I held onto the piece, just so I could add in the rocketship and elements of sun, swirling and countdown that my son knows are more interesting elements to consider.
Fifteen years ago I think there was a cityscape plein aire painting at the base of this canvas:) Then, I made a rushed attempt at a birthday gift for a friend and colleague who taught kids soccer in her spare time and didn't finish it in time. Finally, combined with a textile design, it worked.
Home, Where It All Begins
Beyond layering new designs on old canvases, this painting was the breakthrough into the more important theme of this series, which is narrative device and symbolic storytelling in drawing age 5-6. My son is an avid reader and drawer, and makes his own comic books, with borders, flip books, people leaping off the pages, dialogue boxes standing in for characters, and even expressive "type"-ography. I have loved the raw and direct approach of drawings by kids at this age (and younger), and have always sought to paint from the place. Its the opposite of a style I don't much appreciate - the type that aims to copy or "repreesent" what is already in front of you. I just don't admire nature more than I admire what people take from it. I see the more raw approach as weighing heavily the importance of speaking directly about what you noticed, the exciting story you want to tell. Not - pardon me - mimicry, adulation, sentimental romantic figurative retch.
This underpainting was a textile design that would have been successful but it didn't make the deadline for its textile application, I whipped it into a different direction and that boldness won me an exciting series I had been wanting to do for a while. The series draws inspiration from both the energy in my son's drawings, but more vitally, his ability to make up a story, and then just draw it, little translation needed between the idea and its conception. The energy shines through his pieces, and in this painting, I borrowed from him to get myself started.
Winter Tango and Puddle Jumping
A foray into combining oil painting and narrative textile design.
The Mother Behind
Here's a piece where a portrait from fifteen years back did get to remain in the piece. As somewhat dull as I find figurative painting, there's a lot of inspiring information in that real body, real moment, and so I didn't want to lose what was captured in that style, even if as a representational painting, it's still not striking enough to cut the mustard in that technique. As this wild child came into the foreground, I thought about the calm and stoic fortitude of the parent behind the powerful force that is the child's experience. We are the grounding, containing (loving, nurturing, yes, yes) background for them to break into their wild child dance.
This painting made me feel like I'd brought together many of the elements I love in oil painting and in art in general. I love the lush and loose floral pattern in the bottom and remind me of the exhilaration I've always felt faced with Cy Twombly's dripping flower paintings (which have a lot in common with kid's drawings/paintings as well). On top is a linear and colorful matrix inspired by the activity on a school playground, all the unique and goofy and vital twists and turns kids make with their lithe, noodling bodies. There are so many more pieces I'd like to have painted for this year's calendar but this was a joyful last piece to complete before the timer buzzed.
There are many painting that didn't make the cut and since I can't share them all, I'll show just a couple:
This one was a textile design, which, once it became an oil painting, lacked luster. I decided to play around with washi tapes one day, and it began to sparkle, literally and figuratively speaking.
Landscape in Motion
Sometimes we can forget that a drawing on a rectangle has a border. Once you draw this border, you become aware of the moment you are pointing to and trying to capture within your rectangle. I wanted to show this space in motion, receding wobbly through space. This piece of masonite has been through a lot, painted on 15 years ago, a textile design showing through in the bottom of the landscape within the rectangle, and as it becomes a pictorial image here.