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Painting = performance art?

Today I forced myself to carry out my ‘paint in public’ plan. Theoretically, it’s a great idea: I go somewhere famous and local and paint in public… people crowd around and I give them all my business card. It’s a way for me to get free and easy exposure. However, when I actually arrived at the Confucius Temple in Tainan today, having skipped breakfast,

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carrying too much junk (easel, paints, canvas, etc), drawing a lot of attention to myself wasn’t appealing. And let’s face it – as a foreigner in Taiwan, I already draw attention to myself. Setting up my easel and canvas is about the same as lighting myself on fire or screaming “LOOK AT ME!!”. Taiwanese people are naturally curious and won’t feel self-conscious about standing beside you and watching you paint – I know, I know, that’s the whole point of me being there, right?

But I’m an indoor artist. I don’t mind being in the spotlight – but painting in the spotlight… any way, I finally made myself set up, in a little corner, put on my headphones and ignore all the people that came up behind me and took pictures of me as I painted. Not very social. Definitely counter-productive to my intentions. I managed to finish this not terrible painting in a few hours – I did it without sketching or anything first. I’m trying to learn how to do impressionism; I’d like to make my own canvases rougher, darker, more alive. Obviously, I’m not that great at it yet. Next week I’ll go back and paint the same thing again, bigger, without the headphones.IMG_2806

When did I become so angry?

Someone on my Facebook page commented about my description of some paintings, “When did you become so angry?” The question itself makes me angry, so I suppose I cannot deny that I am angry. I’d like to explore what role anger plays in my painting, and where my anger comes from.

First off – am I really angry? Personally, I don’t think so. I don’t feel unpleasant or uncomfortable when talking about my art. I do have certain opinions about Jesus and about Christianity, which are strongly supported by reason and evidence, and holding these opinions does not make me upset. I am also not in any way upset towards Christians who want to practice their own beliefs, and I accept and understand that they may not like my work. I can’t paint for everyone, and I paint what I find interesting. I may be cynical, jaded, sarcastic and biting. I may say things that ‘political correctness’ and ‘propriety’, or concern for the reactions of believers, should prohibit me from saying. And perhaps, dealing with those things I want to say and those interior and exterior forms of repression which puts emotional pressure on me leads to a frustration that manifests as anger.

Feeling like I can’t express myself – can’t say the things I find funny or striking or clever – makes me angry, yes. Is Jesus such a tyrant that I am not allowed to criticize or draw attention to the social-religious conflicts inherent in modern society? I see a problem with the parallel spread of both Christianity and other symbols of Western culture like fast food restaurants, 4wheel drive jeeps, golden retrievers, red wine and cheese in a country like Taiwan that is losing it’s own national culture in favor of an assimilation of ours. I see cultural (and class) violence waiting to happen as Christianity spreads – a monotheistic, strictly intolerant religion – in a country with robust spirituality and a number of deities. Am I angry? Or am I just paying attention. Christians have always been blind to the historic-cultural repercussions of their faith, which are trivialities of no consequence in light of the absolute Truth of the gospels; this is how the native culture of the entire American continent was nearly obliterated. With out current awareness and knowledge, how can we simply allow religious conviction to drift about, to spread, grow or die, without being at least curious about whether the final result will be beneficial to the people involved?

I don’t have all the answers – I am not taking a stand or making a statement. But I am certainly willing to consider things that most people simply ignore, important things. And if I am branded a sinner, a pagan, a heretic, a blasphemer… better men than myself have been called the same and worse.

There’s art that sells well… and then there’s contemporary surrealism.

At an exhibit today I had a request for rough, impressionistic of abstract art. A repeat buyer and patron of the gallery mentioned that she and her friends would probably buy something if it were a different style; and since I paint clean, surrealistic figures, the rough abstract impressionism is just about as different as I could get. It’s a strange idea: the obvious answer would be “no, thank you”; paint what inspires you, because no serious art collector is going to buy works that were churned out just to make sales. However, there are practical considerations. I did some research and found the following information about which subjects sell the best; here they are in order:
1. Traditional landscapes.
2. Local views.
3. Modern or semi-abstract landscapes.
4. Abstracts.
5. Dogs.
6. Figure studies (excluding nudes).
7. Seascapes, harbour, and beach scenes.
8. Wildlife.
9. Impressionistic landscapes.
10. Nudes.

I remember telling my mom about 10 years ago “I am NOT going to paint abstract or landscapes – or pretty pictures that people like. I’m going to paint ART”. I still pretty much agree with that statement. Yes, people like to buy landscapes and abstracts. However very, very few contemporary artists (at least the younger, my generation ones) are doing them. In fact, the successful young artists of the world or mostly doing pseudo-surrealism, absurd, conceptual stuff that I really appreciate. The people who paint landscapes or abstracts probably make a good living – but they won’t attract much fame and fortune because it’s just too hard to make recognizable work in those subjects. And honestly – I LOVE painting what I paint, I think my paintings are amazing, and I enjoy them continuously while and after painting them. People of the “REAL” art world recognize in my paintings all the features required of ART.

At the same time… I have buyers who are basically asking me for a style they like and are willing to pay for it. I’ve done portraits on commission before – how would that be different from painting a few abstracts for private clients? Most working artists have gone through periods where they paint things on demand for customers – their ‘legacy’ have been side works. Let’s not forget that Da Vinci and many other of the world’s greatest artists worked almost exclusively at the requests of rich patrons. Why not paint some custom pieces that a different breed of collectors would buy? (OK – I know this reeks of opportunism; I’m merely trying to explore an issue that many artists will come to face).

And frankly, the request peaked my curiosity. I tried an abstract piece once and failed miserably. However – I love the rich depth, the texture, the drips and splatters of abstract expressionism. I’ve noticed that kind of wild abandon and sloppiness in contemporary paintings and I’ve wished I could put some into my own work; I’ve wished my paintings were faster, rougher, more ‘raw’ and charged with emotion. And so – merely as an exercise to satisfy my own curiosity – I’ve decided to go ahead and paint a very limited series of abstracts. These will in no way interfere with what I consider my primary subjects (I’m working on two brilliant Jesus paintings now and a ghost-money-chicken-costume kid) and will give me a chance to practice some of the techniques I admire without ruining an idea. I’ll do 5, one each in the next 5 days. I will vary them, inspired by different abstract expressionistic paintings I like, and see which style I’m the best at.

I feel that my previous work has been focused exclusively on representing the idea of the painting; however what I’d like to do is also put in those stylistic elements that are not about the idea, but just call to the heart – forms, void, color, shape, light and dark, motion; these are the things that could be consciously enhanced to make my pieces even stronger (not just good ideas, but great paintings.) Picture a blend of El Greco, Magritte, Da Vinci and a bit of Rothko…

What distinguishes me as an artist?

Tomorrow I’m opening a solo exhibition in Tainan, Taiwan. This year has been a big step forward. I did most of my paintings when I was younger, and then stopped, foolishly, because I didn’t want to paint any more until I started selling the old ones. The folly in that statement is just one of the things I’ve learned recently, and I’m not determined to paint, and keep painting, even if they canvases pile up so much they have to be used as furniture.

Another thing I had trouble with was pricing, and I just learned last week a valuable system of pricing by size which the gallery owner assures me is the ‘standard’ system for pricing in Taiwan. This is great and takes a huge load off. Plus, because many of my paintings are very large, they are suddenly ‘worth’ much more than I expected to ask for them.

As I begin to get a hang of the business end of being an artist, I’m also becoming much clearer about how I am as an artist. What makes me different, unique? What do I need to work on? Here are some of the things I think I offer as an artist:

1) My art deals with concepts. The vast majority of art is either representational or abstract; I tend to prefer representational art but that’s a personal preference. I adore beautiful landscapes, and especially very technical portraits – but with these subjects you rarely see anything shocking or innovative. They are ‘nice to look at’ and can be very stylistic and some artists are great at doing them. Me personally, I’d get bored. Painting something because it’s beautiful, or to paint something nice to look it, has no intrigue for me.

Most artwork claims to be conceptual – the work of most modern contemporary artists is rough, raw, powerful, messy… but when you get down to it it’s mostly representational, and although it may have a neat theme or idea, and include fantastical elements, it’s usually ‘interesting’ or charming or cute or catchy. But it isn’t a commentary, it has no opinion – and for this reason it cannot be brought into the viewer’s own life. There is simply no point of reference, no bridge between these ‘interesting’ fantastical paintings and the real world of viewers.

In contrast, my paintings almost always present items that are familiar with viewers being used in ways that challenge their existing expectations and associations; they demand a response and a judgment, or a reexamination. My paintings can be interpreted; they lend themselves to dialog.

Each of my paintings presents a very bizarre combination of images, or a ridiculous scene; they usually reference ironic or conflicting elements of culture or society. And – for me at least – they are funny. Rarely do I paint something that doesn’t trigger my (very dark and sarcastic) funny bone. My paintings should make viewers laugh; and after that make them think – this makes them extremely unforgetable. They impact, they surprise, they wow.

Luckily, this is exactly what art is supposed to do, and also luckily, I have no shortage of inspiration; my ideas keep getting better, stronger, more “crazy”. Maybe I am going crazy. Maybe society is. At any rate I think it’s clear my art doesn’t blend in. It doesn’t fit comfortably with what other contemporary artists are doing. My painting’s bright colors, strong lines and shocking concepts don’t get along with the muted, speckled, or stylized paintings that most other contemporary artists are doing (at least in Taiwan), which I’ll admit, makes me self-conscious at times. However,  I must be doing something right because the buzz is growing and I’m getting gallery bookings.

Art in Asia: Contemporary Asian Art Galleries, Artists and Events

I found a great resource – it’s the ‘art in Asia’ website (

Focusing on 7 majors cities (Honkong, Beijing, Shanghai, Taipei, Tokyo, Seoul, and Singapore), Art in Asia has up to date event listings so you can know which artists are displaying at which galleries, and when.

You can also browse the top contemporary Asian artists (currently 206) and get a feel for what’s going on in the Asian Art scene.

ART TAIPEI 2009 台北國際藝術博覽會

This August I attended “Art Taipei 2009” (台北國際藝術博覽會), a massive 3 day contemporary art fair featuring established and emerging Asian artists from Taiwan, Japan, Korea and some other Asian countries.

The event was part of our 4 day tour of contemporary Asian (Taiwanese) art and fashion, for the ‘Taiwan’s Best Trip‘ competition.  There were some truly great pieces there; it was inspiring for me and it will be a personal goal to be included in Art Taipei 2010 (or 11, 12, etc…)

A lot of the paintings are shown in the video.



Contemporary Taiwanese Asian Art 台灣當代藝術

I’ve recently become a contemporary Asian artist. Although I still use Western themes (especially religious themes and icons) I do so only to the extent that they can be found in Taiwan, interfering or interacting with Taiwanese culture. Moreover, I also use many images from Asian culture and specifically Taiwanese culture; ghost money, temple art, traditional Chinese characters… my art has become a commentary that in some ways can only be understood by Asian/Taiwanese viewers.
Rather than single myself out, I’d like to become part of the ‘contemporary Asian art’ movement (which is a little challenging, because I’m white and because my Chinese isn’t good enough to talk about art theory or the meaning of contemporary art). However, I like what artists in Taiwan are doing – and I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback on my work as well.
The following are a few of the top websites for Taiwanese contemporary art.
The following is a link to our Taiwan’s best trip page; we were selected to go to the Taipei Art 2009 contemporary art fair.

Critique of modern and contemporary art

I was just looking over the artwork featured in a big New York gallery… I’m not impressed. More than that, I’m almost sickened that what passes for art hasn’t changed in the last 10, or even 20, years. “Contemporary Art” should mean what’s new right now. Instead, contemporary art is a vague copy of modern abstract pieces.

They are bold, they are bright, they have deep splashes of crimson. They are messy, textured, abstract, full of lines and squiggles and roughness. But very rarely do they evershowanything. They are not pictures of anything, they are really just a bunch of paint thrown on a canvas. And they are paint thrown on a canvas a different way. And artists will take about how this painting “is a statement about the psycho-reductive nuances of the subconscious” and viewer and buyers will eat it up because a) we are pattern seekers, and you can see anything you want in an abstract piece and b) if it wasn’t really good, it wouldn’t be in this beautiful gallery for so much money.

And these pieces keep selling because they look good on a wall without really saying anything, they offend no one, they are impossible to criticize, and there are lots more of them. And that’s great. Would that I could be that kind of painter and make 20 nearly identical paintings a month and sell them all for loads of money.

But I’m not. Luckily – there are lots of people who appreciate my paintings.

My paintings will make you smarter

Apparently, a new study suggests that when humans feel discomfort or panic in the face of a nonsense (something that doesn’t make sense), they automatically refocus their brains on discovering and establishing more patterns; “this same sensation may prime the brain to sense patterns it would otherwise miss — in mathematical equations, in language, in the world at large.”

Subjects were asked to read a ridiculous story, and afterward given some sequences of ‘random’ numbers. Those who had read the story’s pattern making ability increased by 30%! The urge to find a coherent pattern makes it more likely that the brain will find one.

“The new research supports what many experimental artists, habitual travelers and other novel seekers have always insisted: at least some of the time, disorientation begets creative thinking.”

So to become more intelligent, all you need to do is buy a print or poster and put it up where you’ll see it every morning.