One Last Painting of 2014

As I start the year and I deliver my last commission of 2014, I am humbled by gratitude. Art is sometimes undefinable; every artist I meet struggles to define it, and his or her place in it. I am no exception, only, I know that for me, art is inspired by the people around me, and I have surrounded myself with some pretty inspirational people.

This new commission came from a good friend of many years, who celebrated the birth of his first son this year, and came to me with an idea with a gift for his wife. As a requisite to new Dad-dom, Phil took up photography, and took a beautiful, quiet, and sensitive photo of Laura and their son, Asher, by the window of their home.  A simple photo with little detail, I loved the intimacy of the photo, and was touched by the the adoration and love from both the viewer and the subject.

Phil Lehman Photography

Photo by Phil Lehman

Phil shared this photo with me, asked me if I would be interested in painting something as a gift to his wife this year. I said yes. Normally, this type of photo wouldn’t give enough information for a reference, but I was happy to take on the challenge.

As I mentioned before, my decision process for commissions boils down to a few things, one of them being a narrative. So much of how I feel about art comes from the story, and this one was no exception. Laura happens to be a bad ass lead singer of the band, “LoveFool” and has an incredibly beautiful singing voice. Phil sent me off to brainstorm with this quote of his: “Hurry home to me darling, I miss your voice,” a sentiment I wanted to incorporate into the piece.

What resulted was a subtle nod to intervals and cadences to her music in a monochromatic neutral palette to reinforce the quiet mood, a visual interpretation of an intimate lullaby shared by all the members of their small, loving family. And Phil, you win husband of the year, for commissioning such a great piece. It was definitely made with love (and a healthy dose of frustration).

For Laura

“Hurry home to me darling, I miss your voice,” (2014) Oil on Canvas 16″ x 20″ From the Private Collection of Asher Lehman

**Special thanks to John Wentz, for giving me informal critiques throughout the process. Can’t wait to get one of your pieces in my collection!

And to all my friends investing in my art career: Thank you SO, so very much. Please know that your investment in me isn’t taken lightly, I really can’t even tell you how much I appreciate it. Also know that the money I earn from art goes right back into the art pie, because it’s one that could use some growing!

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Montara State Beach

For the most part, I enjoy doing commissions. I get approached from time to time to do them (mostly by friends and family), and I find myself having to be fairly choosy when it comes to which ones I want to take. To me, my decisions come down to three criteria: the story, technical challenge, and cost in terms of time and materials.

When the Shelton Family asked me to do this commission back in August, I was first struck by their story. The piece comes from a memory of when they were engaged at Montara State Beach, a beautiful moment situated right before a scary diagnosis that was foreshadowed by a sudden hospital stay in November.

As Jessica recounted her memory of her walk with Kevin down the beach at sunset, she shared this with me (published here with their consent):

He told me to look out over the ocean. He still had pain in his side from the November ER stay, so in order to get down on one knee I could feel his hands progress down my back, then my thigh, then my knee as he supported himself to get down to the sand.

I said Yes immediately and joined him on the sand and we sat and watched the ocean until it was almost dark.  It was nice because no-one knew but us.  He hadn’t told his parents, and hadn’t asked mine, so it was just ours.  

And it was so quiet.  Very insulated.  And we thought that the medical stuff was behind us.  So it was very much time out of mind, if that makes sense.

Very shortly after their engagement, Kevin was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer that had spread, making it Stage 4.  He’s now been through 8 rounds of chemo and surgery and, I’m happy to report, the outlook is good.  However, they didn’t know that a year ago. Instead of wedding planning, they had the turbulence of a year flying back and forth across the country to receive treatment, finding laughter and joy wherever, and as often, they could. They embarked on a journey supporting each other through what would be both the scariest times, and some of the happiest times (they got married in April 🙂 in their lives.

I sobbed when I heard their story (yeah, I cry a lot – so what), but I realized what Jessica wanted in the painting, was for it to be an eternalized memory of that fleeting, magical moment… a time without worry, and a moment that was only theirs. Jessica described the scene as having an ethereal pinkish glow… which I assured her was probably something she made up– but I struggled to incorporate it successfully into the painting.

I also struggled with depicting their profoundly moving emotions, but I wanted to encapsulate what Jessica had told me when describing that afternoon on the beach:

…Similar to that space between sleep and waking, where you’re totally relaxed and smiling at something whimsical in your dream that you, now that you think of it … you can’t quite remember … before you wake up and remember the scary truth of what’s going on.  

… a break from the scariness and uncertainty that we thought at the time we’d just overcome, coupled with celebrating our whole life together, just around the bend.

As the scarecrow said, though: I think it’s going to get darker before it gets lighter.

We didn’t know that, then.  And it got a whole helluva lot darker.

Now that we’ve fought through everything this past year, I guess what this painting – or that place – represents to me is a respite.  A break from being scared.  A place where things might be okay – but, more than that, a place where the problems don’t even exist so you don’t have to focus on just not thinking about it.  It’s a world apart.

It’s my red dress from ‘Requiem for a Dream,’  my Jodie Foster moment at the end of ‘Contact. ‘

Thank you, Jessica and Kevin, for letting me be a part of such a special moment in your lives. Thank you, also for referencing “Requiem for a Dream,” which might actually be one of my favorite movies of all time. And Kevin, I sometimes have a hard time expressing in words how happy I am for you both right now, so the best I can do is give my love and care into creating this piece for you. I hope you take care of each other for ever and ever. I’ll be here, too.

Love,

Cindy

18" x 36"  Oil on Canvas  Commissioned by the Shelton Family

18″ x 36″
Oil on Canvas
Commissioned by the Shelton Family


What is Beyond “Awareness?”

Irises

“Tear to Mend” (2012) Watercolor Pencil on Paper (c) Cindy Shih

I am Asian (surprise!), which means: I don’t create waves, I don’t stand out, I don’t have emotions. But I went to bed angry last night, and I woke up today feeling profoundly sad. I don’t think I was alone, because if you’re even remotely a thinking person in the world today, you realize what a sad world we live in. But Anger? What good does that do?

I’ve learned to appreciate Anger, because I find it more motivating than Sadness. Depression runs deep in my family, I’ve always known that, so through the years, I’ve found ways to bring myself out of the never-ending spirals of despair and powerlessness. That’s just how my brain is wired, that’s all. But Anger? It’s there. But how the fuck do you use such a raw emotion constructively?

I’ll get to that. But perhaps the saddest thing of all though, is our Cynicism. Scratch that- MY cynicism. Blame it on social media, on fear, on circumstances, whatever it may be– but it’s easier to climb onto my Facebook soapbox and pass judgment on every small gesture, every feeble attempt to build a community, than to put myself out there and do something about it. Ha, that artist brings arts and crafts to the inner city children every weekend? Naive. That dude that writes a poem for everyone on the street? Desperate. “That’s the shit I did in high school,” “how typical,” “that’s so Asian.” Even the self-aware, liberal progressive types are branded as”#Stuffwhitepeoplelike” and makes a mockery of people trying, in their own small way, to bridge the gap between communities and use their own unique strengths to make things just a little bit better.

As an artist, I’m constantly consumed by self-doubt and live in fear of what Amanda Palmer would call, the “fraud police.” Truth is, everyone does. We don’t need each other to tell us how powerless we are, we have the media, our government, and ourselves to do that for us. In short: we’re already vulnerable. Yesterday’s decision made us more vulnerable; it stripped away any illusions that we are protected, we’re naked– and we’re angry. 

What now? We’re encouraged to protest when we’re angry. Protests unite; Protests work to create awareness. But we’re past awareness now. We know shit is fucked up. We’re angry because this isn’t the world we want to live in. We’re angry because we’re vulnerable, we’re angry because we’re powerless.

So what’s past awareness? Social media is a powerful tool, but it can only do so much until the next anger-inducing thing comes along. (There are so many!) It’s also a lazy substitution for meaningful, human connection. What we need now is a collective understanding of our powerlessness, a focus on what we can do to help in our little way: make art, sing a song, volunteer at a soup kitchen, write a letter: free from judgment from others, and fear of being called out as a fraud.

I’m writing this as my personal offering, it’s my attempt to connect: so if you feel the same way, make something, find a way to make a meaningful connection, and help others do the same. If we’re afraid of each others’ judgment, we won’t connect. Now is a time to connect and rebuild, we’ve done enough destroying.

Do something small, something stupid, anything–I won’t pass judgment, and in my own small way, I will help. We have a long fight ahead of us, folks. Nothing we do or say will fix the problem overnight. Little, stupid, small, seemingly inconsequential things to help build the community may be the only chance we’ve got to make a difference. Let’s help make our communities better.


Just Observe.

If you’re paying attention, you may have noticed the onslaught of notifications regarding SF Open Studios from me. Well, now it’s over- at least for me, but there is one more week left of #SFOS next weekend. *Plug: If you want to see some art, let me know. I’ll take you around, personally. The talent in this City is just too good to waste by not seeing it for yourself.

That said, if you read my last post here, you will know that I had conflicting emotions about opening up my private space to the public, selling my work, etc, etc. Well, I’m happy to report that that specific issue is now over, and since artists make it their business to collect observations, here are mine:

  • Part of the job of an artist is never to be satisfied, perhaps with anything- ever. This goes with your own work, other’s work, other’s perception of your work, the nature of the business, the list goes on. I’m fairly certain that the crippling, heartbreaking sadness of never quite being happy is somehow an integral of your creative growth. Knowing this can make you feel like severely depressed, an awful ingrate, or just annoying to be around, because you know you might never be actually happy- even if you’re wildly famous and enormously wealthy. As for me, I choose to compartmentalize and ignore it 99.1% of the time because I’m good at doing that.
  • People get it. One of the coolest, mind-blowing, and most humbling moments are when people become emotional in front of your work. This happened three separate times with three strangers, in response to three different paintings. I was stunned. One woman teared up when telling me what she saw in “Regrets Only.” Another man told me about his guilt when he saw “Lilac Wine.” When I finally asked them to explain what they saw in the painting, they fucking NAILED it. I’m not kidding, those emotions were real, and we shared it. Except that mine was outside of my body, and theirs was, well–within. From this, I gathered one of two things: 1. Maybe my art is too heavy-handed, or 2–STOP over-analyzing it already, your work actually matters to somebody. Also, don’t ever underestimate how much people understand.
  • Dualities exist, and that’s the beauty of it. Being an “artist” is both simultaneously liberating as well as stifling, and the art world is frustratingly small, yet crazy intimidatingly vast. Maybe that’s why we keep coming back to it. Because in that moment where you see a piece that is so amazing and genius that you tell yourself that you might as well pack up your shit and go home because you’ll never get to that point–you realize that you’re also doing the same thing they are; that maybe you’re at the same point on a different continuum or on a different point, but holy shit–you’re all in it together. And the next time you see their work, you’ll feel infinitesimally small again, but your ego might grow ten sizes larger: because you are getting that close to something brilliant.

I’m not there yet, and I may never be completely satisfied if I ever were– but collecting these observations makes me feel like it’s getting me closer. Thanks to all that came to support me and my work last weekend, I had a blast.

Open Studios 2014

From Left: Bob, Sandy, Me, Katrina, and Jude 


Paining

Painting:

The typo would be ‘paining.’
(To abrade)

–From, Robert Hass, “Time and Materials”

I have a signed copy of this poem up in my house, and revisit it from time to time when I need the inspiration. Poetry can be pretentious, as art can be: I think, mostly because people make it loftier than it really needs to be; its really as human as playing basketball (to borrow from Hass again). Too bad I can’t do either of those very well.

I haven’t written in awhile, possibly because I haven’t quite had the physical capacity for insomnia these days–it’s been quite busy. This month is Open Studios in SF, which means every artist opens up their working space for one weekend out of the month- our protected little creative worlds on display to the public. It’s a vulnerable place to put one’s pain(t) on display, but it is also necessary to make a living.

3
To score, to scar, to smear, to streak,
To smudge, to blur, to gouge, to scrape.

“Action painting,” i.e.,
The painter gets to behave like time.

The layers upon layers of decisions, thought, and time we lay out for everyone to see. Sometimes I go to shows of other artists and see only beauty from pain, something I once told a friend that I felt was an artist’s superpower. It made me feel impervious to pain: Invincible, because I can spin it into beauty for the world. Well, at least I can try.

That same friend told me she never realized I was ever sad, which means I’m doing well being me, I guess. I guess I also can’t really afford to be sad these days–it doesn’t motivate me anymore. Perhaps in another time, when I’m not trying to fulfill commissions, plan lessons, train, keep drawing, teach two gigs, order prints, frame, paint, and figure out how to make ends meet.

I’m not complaining, this is the life I’ve chosen to take since I jumped off the deep-end of the grid. It helps to re-read what I wrote a few years back, about the Lonely Work. And that it is–it’s a constant push and pull of isolation and being on display, ups and downs of trying to fulfill a life’s value with something as cheap as the paper symbol of currency. What a crazy thing to want to do with one’s intellect and potential. It’s easy to make fun of myself.

What is hard, is putting on that passion aside to say, “Come see this! Here are some pieces of canvas you can buy for $___ because!” Truth is, art will never be a necessity, but it adds something inexplicable to a space. I promise. You’re not buying a defined measurement of oil on canvas: it’s a battery of human life, charged with boundless energy confined within a space.

OK, I can stop being corny now. It’s 5am, past the time to be melodramatic and time to go kick some ass. Come to my Open Studios the weekend of October 25th and 26th, or come drink with me at the preview party on Friday, the 24th from 6-9.

1360 Mission Street, San Francisco

Let’s hang out.


Gratitude.

I Wish You Love

“I Wish You Love” – Oil, Graphite Powder, Watercolor and Glitter on Canvas

August 19th, 2014

There are ups and downs in any type of work you do, and lately, it’s been pretty down. People often tell me I’m “living the dream,” and I’ll have to I agree– but I’ll admit: some days, painting is draining, exhausting, and downright painful. I literally need to force myself to sit my ass down to paint. Nothing can be created from not showing up, right?

But something happened lately that inspired, touched, and motivated me a few days ago. A dear, old friend emailed me after seeing images of my latest series: Abstractions of Song,” a series of abstract paintings I created based on songs that resonated with me. She was particularly drawn to the piece, “I Wish You Love.” Having gone through a particularly difficult time in her life, she sent me this (which I got her permission to share):

it’s so funny, that song has been on a loop in my home and in my car… it’s on a rotation of 5 songs i listen to constantly — sometimes sad, sometimes crying but a lot of times just hopeful and reflective.  i thought that song was my little secret i listened to and i was astonished to open my facebook and see it right there in your post….and not only that, see it accompanied by a beautiful piece of art that indescribably captures everything i feel when i hear it. it’s so weird.  i know it’s a personal piece of work for yourself but it’s so funny how i can look at it — even on a computer screen, not even live! — and automatically feel like it was meant for me.  but i guess that’s the beauty of great art, right? 

While I can’t say I know what “great art” is, I am overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude for her sentiments. Knowing her story personally, it was clear to me that she understood everything I wanted to communicate in this painting. I also knew almost too intimately and painfully, how she has been feeling– because I’ve been there. Painting this series meant having to revisit some of my lonelier, introspective times. These paintings were also ambitious– I wanted to capture conflicting, complicated, elusive emotions and materialize them with only composition, color, marks, and paint. I wanted to work in the abstract, because sometimes, symbolism only flattens the depth of the emotions one feels.

I never paint with the intention of imposing my views, or even expect others to understand it fully. But, it is something I always silently hope to achieve. Hearing this from my old friend validated what I’ve been working toward: to reach others through my art, wordlessly, holistically, and to say things that now never need to be said. I am so grateful for being able to challenge myself through my work and be rewarded this way, it is a privilege I hope to never take for granted. Everything about this fills me with gratitude, thank you for being a part of it.


My Latest Series: Abstractions of Song

Song Abstract Series

Music is very often a part of the highest and the lowest points of my day. Lyrics give me words when I don’t have my own, and music expresses emotions I sometimes don’t know I have. I suspect music inspires the same in others, which is why so many people find solace in the same songs, sharing the need to reinterpret and pay homage to songs of the past.

In my new series, I revisited songs that have been interpreted by various artists, songs I have discovered/rediscovered at various points in my life. Because so much of what I paint is representational, I wanted to challenge myself to simply paint in the abstract- completely devoid of symbolism. I wanted to test my ability to convey a certain sense of feeling in each, that can’t be expressed in lyrics or words–even by some of the greatest musicians in history. I also wanted to share the meaning they’ve created in their reinterpretations of the same song, and be a part of the tradition through the process of creation. These paintings are my dedication to my times of love, loss, obsession, and heartbreak. I hope it resonates with you.

This series was recently shown at the Asian American Women Artist Association’s show, “A PLACE OF HER OWN” at the SEED Gallery at the Thoreau Center for Sustainability in the Presidio, San Francisco from Thursday, June 12 to Friday, July 25th, 2014. Thank you to all who made it to the show, I am forever grateful for your support. 


wishyoulove

“I wish you health But more than wealth I wish you love My breaking heart and I agree That you and I could never be So with my best My very best I set you free.” From, “I Wish You Love”

Title: I Wish You Love

Materials: Oil, Graphite Powder, Watercolor and Clear Glitter on Canvas

Description: My visual interpretation of Rachael Yamagata’s rendition of, “I Wish You Love,” is a wide chasm of longing, touched with the earnestness of hope, leading to a glimmering horizon.  This particular song has significance to me, as it carried me through some of my deepest heartaches. There are layers of warmth beneath the ice, and the only way to get to it is through the path toward the cracked ice above. To me, it is a song of heartbreak, loss, but overwhelming and  encompassing love.

Play: “I Wish You Love,” Rachael Yamagata 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

Lilac Wine

“I made wine from the lilac tree Put my heart in its recipe It makes me see what I want to see and be what I want to be When I think more than I want to think Do things I never should do I drink much more that I ought to drink Because (it) brings me back you… Lilac wine, I feel unsteady, like my love Listen to me… I cannot see clearly Lilac wine, I feel unsteady, where’s my love? Listen to me, why is everything so hazy?” –From “Lilac Wine”

Title: Lilac Wine

Materials: Oil, Graphite Powder, Watercolor and Enamel on Canvas

Description: Based on Jeff Buckley’s interpretation of “Lilac Wine,” I imagined the dynamic push and pull of syrupy wine legs against the shadows of a lonely, dark place. This piece represents  an obsessive, clingy love—drowned in the blissful oblivion of intoxication. 

Play: “Lilac Wine,” by Jeff Buckley


Landslide

“Oh, mirror in the sky, what is love? Can the child within my heart rise above? Can I sail through the changing ocean tides? Can I handle the seasons of my life? I take my love, take it down I climb a mountain and turn around And if you see my reflection in the snow-covered hills Will the landslide bring you down.” —From, “Landslide”

Title: Landslide

Materials: Oil, Watercolor, Graphite Powder

Description: “Landslide,” by Smashing Pumpkins is another remake of a classic song by Fleetwood Mac, and my interpretation of it represents a departure from what I’ve been known to create in the past. It’s a personal piece and homage to my familiar past: a long-standing love lost, an embracing of change, and a hope to rebuild.

Play: “Landslide,” by Smashing Pumpkins