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.
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 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).
**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!