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193 posts categorized "Thinking Out Loud"

August 22, 2017


Subversion of Freedom


OkeefeI was recently at a fabulous dinner party with artist and professor friends hosted by my art mentor and friend, Darlene. On one of her walls was a print of a nude photo of Georgia O'Keeffe that had been taken by photographer Alfred Stieglitz. I had known of O'Keeffe's flower paintings but I had no idea that she had allowed so many nudes of herself to be taken through the artistic eye of Stieglitz.

Within the Expressionist movement ... where tensions that were leading to WW1 were rising, many artists including painters  like Paul Gaugin wanted to return to primitivism and find freedom. Freedom from the forces of war, freedom from social convention ... just freedom plain and pure. This revolt against worldwide tension caused artists like Gauguin to start painting nudes as they viewed nudes to be the ultimate reflection of freedom.

Prior to Expressionism, Impressionist artists like Édouard Manet also painted nudes but with much more controversy as the viewing public felt shocked by the kind of vivid nudity that Manet painted.

After the dinner party with Darlene and friends, I looked up the photos of Georgia O'Keeffe which are just so achingly beautiful. The photos were also used to reference to make many beautiful paintings.

Earlier this year when I turned 50 years old, I also had my first nude photos taken through the artistic eye of @narcissusholmes. I had always thought of getting nudes taken and I think at the age of 50 I thought to myself: "Life is short ... let's do this." Though at the time I hadn't known of O'Keeffe's nude photos, I in hindsight feel an extra connection with O'Keeffe. I understand why she had so many taken. Because she likely felt what I felt from the process and the product ... which is freedom from social convention ... freedom plain and pure.

There's always controversy when it comes to freedom. Manet felt it when he released his paintings of nudes ... and perhaps it's less so today but controversy and judgement still exist ... which is why I go to the trouble of editing the photos (sepia tones of O'Keeffe and black&whites of me to not be kicked off of social media). There's something about the audacity of freedom that is inherently unnerving to convention. True freedom is always subversive.

August 21, 2017


Vincent's Empathy & Activism


VincentI get choked up when thinking about Vincent van Gogh. A Post-Impressionist artist who painted a huge body of work. Surprisingly, he painted for only 10 years ... his last 10 years of his life. And it is through the act of painting that he finally felt that he had found a way to do something good for humankind. Previous to his painting life, he had been kicked out of the clergy for being overly empathetic to the poor. That he cared too much for them.

Though many of his works are of landscapes and flowers and even scenes of the bourgeoisie, his work also encompasses paintings of poor laborers and families working in the fields.

I get choked up because he didn't have to go out of his way to find subjects like poor field workers with dark skin. It would have been more convenient (and perhaps more lucrative) for him to depict just the convenient. But by taking the time to paint the poor working class, he was making a statement. He was championing humanism ... to make the case to the world with his strokes and pigments that all humans, even the marginalized, have value. We look at his body of work today and think what a genius he was but in his lifetime, he didn't enjoy the applause nor the sales of the viewing audience. I think he sold only one painting during his life.

Ironically, within the Post-Impressionist period, there is a movement called Art Nouveau that emerged in Belgium, where everything was about making everything pretty, in an effort to champion decorative arts. Certainly not a movement that would make room for paintings of poor people working in the fields.

Truthfully, I like seeing it all. The pretty, the troubling, the realistic, the decorative, the abstract. I feel for van Gogh who was so tortured by his unusual degree of empathy that ultimately became debilitating ... and I admire him for painting and being the activist that he was, regardless of the lack of acclaim or sales.

Perhaps the person who recently wrote me and asked that I keep politics out of my art might not realize that when she is looking at a van Gogh, she IS looking at politics. And she IS looking at his activism.

Sometimes it might feel that activism looks and feels a certain way. Loud. Shocking. Bubbling with outrage. What van Gogh teaches me is that at other times, activism feels different ... a kind of feeling that perplexes some because the work isn't super pretty or decorative ... just quietly reflective of a reality that is beyond the convenient yet steeped in the outrage just the same.

(PS: I also think loud and shocking activist art has value. I'll talk about that in another post)

#artandactivismlog

August 20, 2017


Peace = Radical Nuclear Disarmament


Peace

The peace sign is a universally loved symbol. Maybe it's because it seems today to symbolize a zen-like energy ... not too radical, not too activist, not too political ... especially if it's made with dried rose petals ... or adorned with other design elements that don't rock the boat. Like ... peace and good vibes and all you need is love dude ... and let's keep politics out of it, dude.

Interestingly, the symbol was created in 1958 by British artist, Gerald Holtom, as a form of activism to denounce war and nuclear weapons. Specifically, it was to support and unite the Aldermaston March which took place in the UK, which drew thousands of marchers calling for nuclear disarmament. Quite radical. Quite political.

Holtom cleverly used the Naval Flag Semaphore characters to design the peace sign. At sea, flags (one in each hand) are held by a person in different ways to signal different letters. The Letter N is communicated when a person holds the flags so both arms are straight and positioned in equidistance from the body, with the flags pointing downward.

 

Peace3

The letter D is made when one arm is pointed straight up and the other straight down so that we see the person with flags as a straight vertical line.

Peace2

Holtom combined these two letters: N and D to create the peace sign, to signify Nuclear Disarmament.

I'm always surprised when I occasionally get someone who I barely know to write me and say "I love your art. Please don't put politics in it." To which I say:

  • I don't exist to do things to make your life feel more convenient
  • Whether you can see it or not, everything is political ... even seemingly innocuous decorative art is political ...in terms of who makes it/with what supplies it is made/during what time of day it is made ... and who ends up acquiring it.

I believe the language of art is multi-faceted. Those who allow it to communicate activism (like Holtom) do so with great effort to create original content that can trigger contemplation. Activist art frequently makes people uneasy ... but I believe it always leads to increased contemplation, which is wonderful, and powerful. Because I think what precedes peace is justice and what precedes justice is the presentation of details of a topic (whether it's about bombs, race, gender, class, environment, health, education, etc.) that sometimes takes a lifetime to really discuss and understand.

#artandactivismlog

August 13, 2017


Cubism and the Tomato


TomatoCubism is the movement that preceded abstract expressionism ... incubating the grand rebellion against realism ... a rebellion that still exists in contemporary art. Basically, cubists argued that a still life painting of a tomato fell short of showing the entire truth of that tomato and that the way to remedy that was to show all aspects of the fruit all at the same time. And in order to do that, the tomato needed to be shattered/fragmented and then all its parts and pieces painted on the canvas all at the same time. If a tomato were made of delicate glass, the analogy would be more vivid, as the shattered pieces of a glass tomato (rather than a real one with juice and seeds) would better reflect the pointed angles found in cubist work. 

I appreciate the experimental nature of Cubism (and its sister movement, Futurism). I respect and admire experimentalism in general. The criticism I have is in the notion that there are only things to gain and nothing to lose by shattering and distorting a subject. Indeed, there are things to gain. I mean, I really dig it when I can actually see the nude woman walking down a staircase (as in Marcel Duchamp's famous painting: Nude Descending a Staircase) when at first glance it appears to be just a bunch of lines and shatterings.

But that doesn't mean that a representational work that shows only one view of the woman descending a staircase doesn't offer certain truths relevant to that woman.

Rendering an object by shattering it and showing all pieces simultaneously allows artists a new and magical way of looking at the subject. What we lose in the process is perspective, depth, and certain nuances that can only be captured when we take one perspective at a time. Some time in the future in my painting practice I hope I find an opportunity to render a subject in the Cubist style. But I don't think I'll be surprised to learn that by trying to show everything all at the same time, I gain wondrous things, and I lose wondrous things. And ain't that life?

#artandactivismlog

August 10, 2017


Fork, Frida, and Freedom


FridaValuing the element of Chance as championed by Dadaism became adopted by Surrealism ... where artists like Max Ernst, Salvador Dali and Andre Breton were pursuing art that emerged from the unconscious dream-state rather than the conscious state. Dali went as far as wearing a folded fork as a necklace so that when he nodded off to sleep while seated, the fork would poke him awake at the chin, allowing him to quickly capture images from his dream.

One such Dali painting ... of a landscape with melting clocks sure does seem like a dream. Nevertheless, it is a painting that works because he had the technical skills to paint that landscape and melting clocks. Skills that were acquired in a conscious reality.

Though surrealists wanted to induct Frida Kahlo into the fold as they saw her dreamy paintings as surrealist in nature, Kahlo is famous for saying to surrealist leaders that she never painted dreams but that she painted her reality ... of bottomless pain, heartache and agony.

Surrealism was in tandem to Abstract Expressionism which caught fire in the US after WWII when experimental artists from the world moved to the US to pursue freedom of expression, and rebel against the stranglehold that reverence for realism (and end product) had on the art world.

Whereas painters of realism were more about methods that would let the work speak and the artist be silent, abstract expressionists like Jackson Pollock wanted to be heard, his process to be heard, and for the process to gain equal or even more important footing than the end result. 

There is this balance in my art practice that makes me relate to the idea of rebelling against strict rules and methods like surrealists and abstract expressionists. Like leave me alone already ... and don't tell me what do do or how to do it. But the other side of that for me is that if in fact in my dream state or my imagination I see melting clocks ... or a boat with a ladder to the moon or something even more unconventional, I need to have the skills to do so ... if I want others see what I see. 

So what is freedom? My ability to do what I want? My ability to learn and practice new skills? I think both are elements of it. Freedom, that is.

#artandactivismlog

 

August 05, 2017


Captures in the Wild


BlacklivesmatterI've been reading about the history of photography. Did you know that in its infancy (the early 1800s), photography sought to mimic paintings which is why early photos show models posed the way painters would have posed them? It isn't until the late 1800s that the photograph development process evolved from a wet to dry process, allowing photographers to leave the studio and shoot images in the wild ... less like traditional paintings. Such advances allowed photographers to become artists/activists and present startling images ... scenes from wars, The Great Depression, crimes, riots, etc. These images that I think are simultaneously science and art, beautiful and ugly, real and (as Susan Sontag would argue) edited and framed (like everything in the world). 

Fast forward to now ... where practically everybody has the ability to capture and share images.

As a painter, I find it fascinating ... the circling back ... where my practice utilizes photos that I reference to make paintings. Of course there is also an artistic license that a painter holds ... to exaggerate or abstract the reference, and perhaps invoke magical realism to then cause the photo reference to be one of the many ingredients to create a new work of art altogether.

Last night I saw a one-woman art performance by Vivian Bang, where she revisits the complex facets of the 1992 LA Riots, where the world was inundated with photos and videos from the wild ... of police brutality suffered by Rodney King ... of that brutality shockingly exonerated by a jury ... of the violence that erupted after the exoneration ... of that violence being ironically and tragically targeted toward Korean Americans and their businesses ... and all that. 

This year, there was the Women's March that I proudly participated in. Of the many photos from the march that I saw, this one made me weep. This one of young Asian Americans holding a Love = #blacklivesmatter poster. It made me weep because I wanted to hug the parents of these youth who have raised them right. That in spite of ironic conflicts among minority communities in the past (fueled by irrational skapegoating), it is still the right thing to do to teach our youth what is right and what is wrong. It makes me wonder ... what will these youth be doing 10 0r 20 years from now when a photographer captures them in a new frame? Standing up for right, is my guess. My hope. 

(PC: Nick Holmes, Women's March Los Angeles 2017 book)

 

 

July 06, 2017


All I need is: more than love.


LoveIt's gotten a lot easier over the last couple of decades but honestly, I feel awkward when someone says "I love you" to me and even more awkward when I say "I love you" back to someone. Which is why I rarely say it.  I'm pretty sure it's a cultural thing.

Most people who are culturally Korean don't really say "I love you." We experience this other thing called jeong that we sometimes admit is happening to us ... but not very loudly nor publicly (unlike the Pharisees), and never in ALL CAPS. The definition of jeong is multifaceted and can include esteem, regard, affection, respect, attachment, and more ... including strands of love.

The reason I bring this up is because when our society is debating a delicate and complex matter I notice there's frequently someone who says "all we need is love." And though I respect the intent, I find that after that sentiment is spoken, the critical  thinking, contemplation, analysis, and debate slow down ... not in a good way.

It reminds me of when I was at this event and engaged in an important discussion with a person. We were interrupted by a third person who came up and put a piece of paper into my hand and then left. The paper said "dream big." It could have just as well said "all you need is love" or "be brave" or "shine bright" or "live love laugh." Lordy.

I do love love. Especially the compassionate-for-the-disenfranchized-and-poor-strand. But I need more than love on a strip of paper. I need tenacious audacity of those willing to speak truth to power, I need scientists and academics who research and study things for years and then share their findings, I need analysis, I need discipline, I need practice, I need competence, I need expertise, I need room for doubt, I need freedom to dissent ... I need a culture sensitive enough to realize that "I love you" doesn't make everyone feel exactly the same.

June 02, 2017


#resistancelog (contemplation issue)


ContemplateSometimes, in response to what I see happen in the world, I find my art responding. The response could be:

  • an illustration of 22 pink balloons floating into the sky as I contemplate the lives that were lost by a radicalized suicide bomber in #Manchester, England.
  • an oil portrait of a 15-year-old #JordanEdwards as I contemplate how another unarmed Black male was shot to death by a cop in Dallas, Texas.
  • an illustration made with crumpled receipts to point out the ironies of my ecologically-aware yet consumption-driven lifestyle.

Sometimes I hear people ask "What's the solution?"

And I guess what I want to say in response to that is that I don't know, AND
I don't think solutions are linear or simple. X + Y doesn't necessarily = Z.

With social problems so deep-rooted, I wonder if an artist's ability to feel and express and contemplate increases our ability to empathize and better understand matters. And perhaps this is a mightily high service that art delivers to the world ... a service that inspires critical thinking and deep-end feeling ... and moments of honest contemplation ... about society and about self. 

#manchesterunited #blacklivesmatter #contemplation #artandactivism #resistancelog

May 13, 2017


Art Actually


Art actuallyWhen I am in a studio space with artists ... either as teacher or learner ... there's this thing that happens. Where we relate ... we struggle ... we share ... we experience ... and this thing is an experiential relationship that feels intense for a period of time ... either confined to the studio space or it continues into the wild as other collaborative things flower from it. And maybe paintings get produced in the process ... and I've been wondering ... couldn't the relationship that happens the ACTUAL art and the thing that gets produced (e.g., paintings, sketches, etc.) actually a byproduct of art? #bathroomstallmeditation #artactually

April 19, 2017


Free, not brave.


Thank you to everyone at Redline Design Studio for producing this interview of me. I'm honored.

A Conversation with...Jenny Doh from Sarah G. Stevenson on Vimeo.

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