Action speaks louder than words but not nearly as often.
- Mark Twain
The same weekend as my show, I also was teaching a street art workshop to 17 adults in another part of the city 8-4pm. Needless to say, this, combined with managing the set-up / logistics for my canvases, led to a very intense and engaging weekend. There is absolutely nothing like serious time constraints to really put everything into focus... including: the importance of every passing moment, the value of each and every encounter and how much you can actually DO in one day.
How I felt..
Honestly, I was humbled and honored by the presence of so many people who came from across the region (Shenzhen/HK/Guangzhou) to attend my first private gallery show. Having lived for 4.5 years in this burgeoning and evolving young metropolis, I hadn't even realized how much of a community I grew a part of during that period of time. I saw people that I hadn't seen in years. I also had people I'd just met once and still invited... they were all equally ecstatic to celebrate me in my "artist" element and impressed with my work hanging on the wall of a gallery.
As I gave short tours and answered particular questions about my canvases, I realized how much my own time and experience living in China was embedded inside these paintings. Most viewers tended to notice some of the overarching themes that interplayed between my canvases and sometimes even things I didn't expect them to catch!
As I constructed my series over the Chinese New Year, I shifted from animal portraits to humans. There is something about the dance between hands and eyes that can capture a "snapshot" of a subject's personality. For examples: Obama's 'tight-lipped' mic-drop, Bob Marley "OneLove"ing with a joint, Beijing Opera actors getting into their roles literally with their face make-up, a child sparkling (as she blows her dad a kiss). So, what does my #chinalife have to do with hands and eye combinations?? I guess that's how I get around the local neighborhood without a decent level of Chinese: I gesture a lot with my hands and speak through eye contact!
For those portraits of people I knew, I was inspired to paint them for 6-8 hours a day because of inspiration and wisdom they had given to me in some way along my life's journey. Painting each person, studying the details of their features for hours on end... I felt them alongside me in the studio. While staring into the men's eyes, I ruminated on the intensity and focus required of the Shaolin monks as I patiently mapped it out on the canvas. I thought of what my role was in others' lives whilst I mimicked delicately how Chinese or Hollywood actors staged their own presence with make-up. Everything I do, all the things I caress with a brush, become intrinsically linked to my existence and personal context.
Eastern vs. Western Responses
First impressions taken from the same piece of work can vary significantly, depending on one's culture and previous cultural access to art. While generalizing is usually dangerous, I was very intrigued by the varied responses of both Chinese and Westerners to my works. I also hadn't really considered how taking hostage such an important Chinese medium (with all of it's history and social significance) - and totally using in my own way - would inspire the intrigue that it did from my Chinese audience. I found there was much inquiry directed at the literal construction of the artwork. I had some visitors wondering why I used canvas, instead of the usual Chinese paper. I had others asking, "Which came first, the brush or the lines?" Or, why didn't I choose to use color? There was even a more startling question, "Who is this guy?" referring to Bob Marley.
Western visitors seemed more curious about my theoretical process and the meaning embedded in each canvas. Of course, whilst most were able to identify the famous Western characters [for example, every American knew immediately the historic "mic-drop" depiction of Obama], they seemed especially interested in the back stories of the less-familiar subjects. How was each one was connected to me? Who were the small children and what were they doing? Who was that looming, mysterious woman featured alone on one wall, covered in white paint? How long did it take to make this (or that) canvas?
All in all, with a line-up of commissions and some sales made from my first exhibition, I would say the overall response has been quite positive. The more I do, the more I learn.... and the more I realize how much there is left to do / learn in this lifetime.
I set out a year ago to find my 'style' ... and I am comfortable saying that this newest exploration of Chinese ink may captivate me yet for some time. The process itself (of combining slow, deliberate layering/contouring techniques that require patience ... in tandem with some 'unpredictable' water effects and spill-overs along the way) I find to be a cathartic metaphor for the way I choose to live my life. Who I am (or what defines my artwork as "mine"), despite the unpredictable twists and turns that occur along the way, is simply the constant, invisible force that connects my every intention and action together... from beginning to end.