Statement (What my paintings are about)

“After the initial confusion and surprise, when the rational mind shuts down its ability to comprehend and accepts the mystery or non-meaning of the painting, a spontaneous chuckle at the ridiculousness of the figures is appropriate”

My paintings expose my optimistic nature, my dark cynicisms, and my deep spirituality. I am awed at the power in the world, tickled by its implicit joy and angered by the perpetuation of ideological rubbish. Strong beliefs are the electric fences of the world: labeling, distinguishing, separating, condemning. As long as I don’t have them I have no criteria with which to judge others or praise myself.

I hope that in toying with sensitive issues I can draw attention to the emotional barricades that define us. I am floating beyond certainty and being romanced by forces with secret motives. I live in constant struggle to make peace between my warring halves, and the canvas is the forum where each side stakes its claim. Inevitably, I am a product of my time, and all I can do is share my vision of the world.

I started painting in my hometown of Portland, Oregon and have been painting bizarre, contemporary surrealist art for over 10 years. My paintings aim to shock viewers into bypassing their normal associations and experience a non-rational awareness of limiting beliefs and preconceptions. When I was studying classical realism in Florence, Italy and theology on the Mediterranean island of Malta, I focused mainly on challenging Christianity. Now that I live in Taiwan, my work plays more with Eastern religions, post-modernism, globalization and personal identity.

As a foreign artist working and living in Taiwan, my paintings offer a insight into themes of culture shock, language barriers, international communication, and globalization. More broadly, my previous exhibitions have used the absurd and the surreal to challenge untested assumptions and mental bridges, in the eternal artistic pursuit of Truth.

Two recent exhibitions, “Misfits” and “Asianity”, focused on issues of cultural identity and belonging. In a globalized and increasingly Westernized Taiwan, the barriers between race and culture are being broken down. Even family and racial distinctions become blurred, leading to an acute crisis in self-identity – both for native Taiwanese and for long-term international residents. Misfits – or blended identities formed from many diverse sources – no longer find refuge in familiar herd thinking of only one group. They are the proverbial black sheep; and they may soon be the majority.

What I hope to achieve through painting

From an early age, people absorb very definitive ideas about the universe. They make mental associations and categorize the relationships between things into an overarching structure of ‘reality’ that is almost never challenged. Those lucky enough to travel extensively (to very foreign countries) and experience the birth pains of culture shock are in fact going through the process of expanding or relinquishing their ideological structure.

At the same time, there are countless examples of items in our everyday experience that our minds simply refuse to associate. Things like religious beliefs, fast food restaurants, technological gadgets and popular media pop up daily in a synthesized post-modern experience around us, but for all their geographical nearness, we make no ideological connections between them.

My paintings serve two functions: the first is to break the ideological expectations of the viewer. Seeing familiar symbols or images – particularly ones supported by strong emotional responses – mixed with unfamiliar, base or vulgar scenes or experiences from daily life, momentarily breaks the continuum of assumed beliefs and ideological framework. For a moment, the sky falls, all connections fail, the mind stutters. It’s like shutting down a computer or jamming a paperclip into an electronic circuit. During those briefs moments, where the mind – reaching for familiar ground – stumbles over its failure to associate, there is an opportunity to see things fresh, in a whole new way, without our socially-biased reference systems.

The second function of my paintings is to draw attention to relationships between common experiences that exist but are never cognitively recognized; symbols are blended and given equal weight, encouraging viewers to reevaluate their dissociative idiosyncrasies and appreciate the convoluted nuance of globalized society.

Why I need an artist’s statement

Incidentally, I’ve always rebelled against the idea of letting a statement give viewers a supporting paradigm with which to view my paintings. A great painting should have an intimate effect on a person which is completely isolated from the influence of its creator – “a painting that has a message is propaganda” I’ve told friends. Not that I’m changing my mind, but I’m beginning to see how the artist’s frame of mind is an important reference for understanding the paintings. Likewise, I used to refrain from posting a description of paintings or answering questions like “what does this painting mean?” or “what were you thinking when you made this” – but I’ve found that entering into a conversation with viewers and providing them with possible sites of interpretation helps them to identify and respond to my work.

What IS art?

And perhaps I’ve misunderstood what art is: although my own concept of art is indistinguishable from Magritte’s philosophical explanations on the meaning of power, mystery and silence, it seems most great artists fall into a clear, historical movement with solid ideological constraints and motivations. And I am part of a movement. I can recognize it in other contemporary artists.

It is the postmodern conflict of ideologies; it is the lack of any majority narrative; it is the process of de-marginalization wherein the peculiar becomes the champion; it is the modern struggle between science and religion – there is no longer any external cause that rallies nations together, only ideological frameworks and special interest groups.

A more literary (poetic) statement

I wrote the following statement almost a decade ago; it may sound presumptuous but it still fits my work well, so I’m sharing it with you:

I am a tragic poet. We have fiery wings, crafted in heaven and set aflame in hell, and the harder we beat them, striving with all our soul’s desire for high Truth, the more we fan the flames. I am Keats. I am Byron, and Shelley, mad with love for beauty, mad with desire for wisdom, angry at the world for being dirty, stupid and petty, frustrated by sickness, misfortune and other distractions from the noble appreciation of the good. I was a made poet from my early life, until I reached a mature age; I no longer regard evil as evil in itself, but a misjudged goodness. Having found an herbal tonic to sooth the flames of my passions, I have lost that tragic necessity and lost cause of striving after the mysterious remedy; I have no frantic hurry to arrive. I enjoy as much as I can, and aspirin dulls the pain, antibiotics heal the body, poverty is unknown to me and I am (no longer) scorned in love. I have no need, no unsatisfied longing, suffering, quest for Truth and Meaning. I am content. And yet, only stop a day’s herbal soother, and my mind is on fire again, a furnace of energy, driven, tense, my fist violently clutches my pen and I scribble my thoughts down for hours, I read, absorbing thousands of pages, for weeks on end. When I was young I made a promise, Truth over contentment, wisdom over happiness. Since then I’ve sought to undue that promise, no longer willing to suffer tragedy. I refuse it. I will not allow it… And yet, I have a purpose not of this world; this I know. I am a voice, a bard, a prophet. Something is speaking through me, pouring through my body, melting myself down and becoming, becoming.