Sending this commission off today, which took me a few months to create. Commissions always take a lot longer than I anticipate; it involves a lot more back and forth to communicate a shared vision. This piece took some time, because I spent a lot of it understand their story and the emotions behind what they wanted to convey.
A long-time friend, (whose name I’ve been asked to withhold, so let’s call her “A”) messaged me via my website and asked me to do a painting for her husband. I hadn’t seen either of them for almost 15 years, and was happy to see that they had gotten married and have a wonderful life together. Social media certainly has its drawbacks, but I’m so grateful for its ability to reconnect me with old friends and it inspires me to see so many people find their own versions of happiness. These friends are no exception: I find myself sharing their ups and downs through Facebook, and it astonishes me that I haven’t seen either of them for almost 15 years, but can still share in all their joys.
I often have trouble finding a tangible purpose for my ability to create, and commissions challenge me to empathize and understand other people. I’m continually surprised and grateful for so many people willing to share such intimate stories of their lives with me, it helps my creative process. Of course, I have also asked A if I could share her story here, so this is printed with her permission.
A’s husband’s story inspired me for various reasons. In the past 10 years, he went the prescribed path into Finance, made enough money to buy his parents a house, then dropped everything to own and run a private Kung Fu school. Battling mental illness in his family and being a primary provider, he decided to join a local police department in Los Angeles as an officer. Being in law enforcement allowed him to live his values as well as provide for his family. Since joining the police force, he has encountered life-threatening situations daily, while being deeply conflicted by those he seeks to fight and those he wants to protect. “A” shared with me her husband’s personal struggle with having to come to terms with news of police brutality, his own family member’s struggles with mental illness, his own personal values, and his devotion to his family and the people he serves. As an introspective, thoughtful person, I couldn’t imagine the daily struggle he goes through to put on his uniform every day while facing such opposition within and outside of himself.
Part of being an artist, I believe, is also being able to step outside of yourself. I’ve had my fair share of negative interactions with the police growing up as a kid in LA: Police officers have applied unnecessary force on my close family members and arrested them on zero charges. I have had my car hit by a police officer, been cited multiple times in a week for going less than 5mph over the speed limit, and have been dismissed by not one, but two trial jury panels for not being “objective enough” to rule against law enforcement. But having these personal beliefs didn’t prevent me from understanding his conflict and empathizing with his choice to stay in police force. Despite all of that, I commend my friend for having the conviction and willingness to put himself in harm’s way every day for all the ugliness that he sees in the world.
So Friends– this is for you. I wrote these phrases in my sketchbook on a couple sketches when I started your piece: “Broken armor has stood the test of time,” and “we are all imperfect vessels.” These phrases helped me develop imagery around your piece.
In addition to 4-5 sketches not-pictured here, I wrestled with the concept in various ways and took a trip to the Asian Art Museum in order to find out more about the folklore around “Guan Yu,” a legendary Chinese warrior. I did color charts to figure out what colors to use for various metal/bronze/leather objects in blueish light, and tried different compositions in order to find the right balance between symbolism and imagery.
What resulted was a fragmented, imperfect depiction of an old warrior chest plate, battle-tested and cracked, revealing only a thin blue line; ready for the next fight. It depicts an object used to protect– something tough and built to last, but hides the scars of the person wearing it. The painting itself represents stillness and solitude, a reflection of the path you’ve taken to protect your family and for strangers who you’ve never met.
Thank you, friends, for sharing your story with me and allowing me to be a part of your lives so many years later. I hope to see both of you soon.