Following is a text from an event Pechakucha Night Hamptons Vol. 1 at Parrish Art Museum on Thursday, September 20, 2012.
Thank you for inviting me today. I would like to talk about making sculptures. The first step is to come up with the basic idea for it. This is a tricky process because I am interested in an experience without words, stories or symbols. What I am interested in is to make you feel like you belong to the vast universe that is within the tiny cells we are made of reaching out to the edge of the space out there. It can be a scary feeling. You are all alone just floating in the unknown vastness. You might be stuck with something you don’t understand. Or you might feel like you are nothing. You might be lonely and afraid. But I believe good art can let you feel the vastness and the mystery without the fear. It welcomes you with open arms. And remind you that you belong to that reality. It can be a moment when you look at a painting you love. Or it can last for a whole song when you listen to a great song. Or it can last for a whole chapter of a book. What it does is that it can become a bridge between that part of you and you buried in our everyday life. It gives us the courage to go on and it gives us the courage to embrace the unknown with curiosity and excitement.
Making process is a weird thing. You open yourself in certain ways at the same time you let go of other things. It’s not like solving a math problem where you add a fixed number to a fixed number for instance. Most of the time you can’t even see all the numbers you are adding. And the missing numbers can only be seen with your heart and soul. For an average man in mid 40s, jaded, cynical and disillusioned, it is not easy. As soon as I think I caught something, it’s gone. It’s like building something with my eyes closed. The things I can count on the most in this complicated process are persistence and time. Good work requires breaking rules that I have cultivated over the years. It requires additional trials and errors that allow me to see the new possibilities. I have to be patient in sticking to the goal.
The process is very slow and it’s done with my tiny brain with yet smaller art window looking out where the work sits. I go around the work so many times trying to look through the window mostly failing to see what’s out there. But eventually I succeed in mapping the area. I slowly build the work. I try to feel my way through every inch of the surface. In fact, it’s much less than an inch. Sometimes a tiny dot might make a big difference, like a tiny sparkle in somebody’s eye that can make him come alive. But it gets complicated when the work doesn’t even have an eye or a face. It’s a very time consuming process. But when the work is done. It’s very obvious. I am at a special place only with my work and myself. Nothing else matters and I am completely at peace, or completely excited.
So how do I go about it? My approach is to start from drawings. That’s my map to guide me to where I will be struggling. The lines, subtle shades of tones, shapes, these things can imply the vast process that I will be going through. I keep my sketchbook with me all the time. I try to brain storm on papers and come up with recurring shapes that literally ask me to work on as it starts to appear as a three dimensional piece in my imagination. Or sometime it just pops right on the page and I’m certain that I have to work on it.
I started out as a painter so building structures can be rather crude with lots of trials and errors. I mostly use materials you can find at a hardware store: Wood, insulation foam, burlap, plaster, roofing tar, spray paint, and so on. And using newer, more exotic materials has been an interesting challenge today.
The surface treatment brings up the characters of the piece, It defines the shape, it gives a static object movements, rhythm, surprises, and visual narratives. Or it can even tell you an imaginary history of a catastrophic event, reconciliation, or just endless calmness and richness of unbroken cycle of nature. I have fun going along with the flow. I take chances. I try to see things I didn’t see before. The result, when it works, always surprises me with a fresh presence of its own.
Following images were shown during the talk–20 images, each shown for 20 seconds.
Pechakucha Night Hamptons Vol. 1 Thursday, September 20, 2012 – 6:00pm to 9:00pm
Last year I was interviewed by January Biannual: A beautiful crowd-funded publication with no advertisements. I enjoyed answering the questions very much.
Here is how they describe themselves:
“JANUARYbiannual is a publication with small dreams. We are inspired to touch just a few, but in a way that is lasting and profound.
JANUARYbiannual is fascinated by substance, by depth, by fortitude, and by integrity.
It is our humble ambition to slow things down, for just a little while”.
I think that’s wonderful. Please check out the publication.
Last week I was helping a painter friend, Connie Fox, document her work for a magazine article. It’s always nice to feel a connection through what artists do in our studios. Quite often, the generation gap, cultural gap, or anything that usually could be in between two people just vanishes when we talk about art. Since I wrote a bit last week about what I want my work to do, I was curious what she’d say about the artist’s contribution. She’s survived as an artist much longer than I have. In fact she turns 88 this year. And she is still a very active painter.
I heard what she said and I decided to record it so that I could remember. Here is what I recorded:
“The artist is involved with the spirit of the human being. And it’s very necessary to have that part of human life be in existence in any society to help keep it on the track so it’s not all matter of who wins, who loses, who makes the most profit, who comes out on top or who has the most power”.
I told her that that’s pretty much what I wrote last week. We laughed. I felt good sharing a moment with her standing on the same ground, believing what we do. Very special moment actually.
Then, of course, it made me think if we’ve done any good… She was born in the 1920s. She’s seen the whole growth of corporate domination and the expansion of western neo-colonialism. And in our cultural sphere, she’s seen the whole process of the mystery of our being and our sacred relationship to the universe being replaced with the substanceless marketing ploy of mystique which ultimately serves the status quo of our time: commercialism, militarism, alienation and apathy. Where are we going? As artists, and as a species?
But seeing 87 year old Connie proclaiming her vision was more than enough to make all those concerns irrelevant for the moment. I should also mention that her husband, Bill King, is also an artist–a wonderful sculptor, still very active. He is also turning 88 this year. I should write about them sometime. I sometimes think of them with a sense of awe and reverence. They are the living proof of art providing life with beauty and dignity.
A few months ago a friend of mine called to tell me that he saw art works at an art fair that could only be described as copies of my work. I saw the photos and to my surprise, the artist used many vocabularies I use–not just one, two or three–and with unmistakable resemblance, and the result should be described as nothing short of genuine ripoff. I was fascinated as to why anyone would do such a thing. What is the point of putting that much effort in repeating what someone else already has done when we have a rich abundant source of awe and amazement buried in our psyche waiting to be shared and added to our collective asset of art. Then it took me about 3 seconds to realize that this person was probably hoping to capitalize on my efforts. Knowing how hard that would be myself, I told myself “well good luck with that lol”. My friend kindly wrote to the artist and to his gallery pointing out what was going on. He received a reply from the artist basically saying that he will stay away from pursuing those works.
I was not going to make the incident public but I realized that it is important that we be open about problems in art communities so that we are given opportunities to contemplate and self-regulate ourselves for smoother and more productive interactions.
Art making, whether it’s literature, music, visual art or any other form, to me, is one of the most important humanistic attempts to reconcile the gap between our secular, practical self and that being which nature endowed as a powerful, mysterious existence as big and complex as nature itself. I take it seriously although with a great amount of playfulness and freedom.
The art world or art community has a peculiar position in today’s societies. Although some artists or art works function with significant weight in corporate dominated societies, most of us–artists and art lovers–do not participate with much power. The art market is not regulated with the same standards based on rule of law as other fields would be. The infamous financial system recklessly putting forth its self-serving agendas to our political system, judicial system, and economic system seems rather orderly when you look at how selected art works are priced to function as something which they were never meant for or how big art institutions collude with financial powers to set agendas regardless of intrinsic values of art they show, often involving financial gains of parties involved. And beyond all the fanciness and the ugliness, there are countless artists, art dealers, curators and all the people who love art trying to make sense out of our daily struggles often encountering shadiness which you are less likely to face in other fields.
The reason why I’m talking about our predicament is not to despair or even to suggest the need for governmental regulations. We are outsiders. But with the power. We are connected to the power to guide our future based on our intrinsic values deriving from the mystery of nature. I hear people laughing. I hear people renouncing the cruelty of the society. But there is no way around the fact that we are special with the power. Let’s respect that fact. And let’s be respectful to each other. And when we share, do share with courtesy and intention to contribute to our collective asset of art. We are here to ground humanity to the depth and richness of the universe which only our hearts can touch.
Here is a surprising development with #75. A few months ago I noticed a sculpture by a friend, Kim Matthews, which had an interesting color and texture. She described to me that she casted paper pulp to make the shape and she used a special paint which had metal powder in it. The painted surface reacted with rusting agent to make beautiful orange and brown rusty surface. The result was very effective in creating a curious blend of rough paper surface with rusty metallic hue. I’ve been wanting to try it out and when I thought of making #75, I knew it was going to be the piece. It’s a rather small piece but it also has a large, monumental feel to it. I thought the weight of rusty metallic look might be perfect for it. And it looks like it’s working very well.
Drawing has been always an essential part of making for me. It can be a sketch to remember ideas. It can be a brainstorming process to come up
with ideas. It allows me to be physically connected to visual ideas. It’s fun. It’s also a making process to share the results of course. In fact, that’s
how I started. But I haven’t been so productive in that way lately. My drawings became paintings and they became sculptures. But I’ve been hoping
that I can bring back some drawing. They are faster and more flexible. It might show me more ways to explore. Here are a couple of such attempts.
The first one was published in “Sensorium”, a first publication by Skowhegan Alliance.