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!


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


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.


Measuring Up (2014)

Measuring Up (2014)

Oil on Canvas
28″ x 40″

This one took on many layers and much agonizing, but I think I’m finally done with it. I don’t think you’re ever “done” with a painting, there just comes to a point where it makes sense to stop.

For me, this painting represents a marked departure from the strict symbolism and realism I’ve adhered to in the past. I let myself play with the paint this time, utilizing textures, fragmented and disjointed abstract forms to express the feeling I wanted to capture.

A dark piece; the contrasted edges represent the boundaries and expectations we give ourselves and allow others of us. But every now and again, streaks of light and color creep into the dark edges of our reflected thoughts and memories, allowing us to create ourselves by being destroyed.


Regrets Only

What I’ve been working on recently…

An addition to the series, “Regrets” shows the dichotomy between sex and love, comfort and pain. It is the moment after desire turns to lasciviousness, and the conflicting emotions of want and regret. The imagery depicts a haunting turbulence, a calming euphoria, and the need for intimacy.

Regrets
Regrets Only
26″ x 22″
Oil on Canvas

Also inspired by Dorothy Parker’s poem, “The Red Dress”

The Red Dress

I always saw, I always said
If I were grown and free,
I’d have a gown of reddest red
As fine as you could see,

To wear out walking, sleek and slow,
Upon a Summer day,
And there’d be one to see me so
And flip the world away.

And he would be a gallant one,
With stars behind his eyes,
And hair like metal in the sun,
And lips too warm for lies.

I always saw us, gay and good,
High honored in the town.
Now I am grown to womanhood….
I have the silly gown.

   —Dorothy Parker

Editorial Piece on the Princeton Mom Op-Ed

I love editorial illustrations. I love the intense thought process, its relevance to our times, and the humanistic quality of the visuals that lends itself so well to interesting thoughts and ideas. Here’s one I have been working on about the Princeton mom would urged young women at Princeton to get married before leaving college:

Image

Gold and Bronze Acrylic on Black Canvas

In case you haven’t been following the media, a Princeton alumna and mom wrote a letter telling women that the, “cornerstone of your future and happiness will be inextricably linked to the man you marry, and you will never again have this concentration of men who are worthy of you.” This sparked a feminist knee-jerk reaction, but I questioned it because– well, I felt it was more interesting than that. It not only reduces the aim of higher education to a commodity and women to a prize, but it touched upon an elitist sentiment that no one ever wants to talk about. Now, personally, I consider this woman to be the Princeton equivalent of the sorority girl of the sorority girl rant, but there’s definitely an ounce of bitter truth worth thinking about.

Anyway, to sum up the media shit storm about the Princeton mom: some blasted her for bringing us back to the dark ages, others commended her for telling the truth. Others, like Ross Douthat, pointed out that she was simply a “traitor to her class.

This resonated with me the most. After working at an “elite” place like Google, I saw first-hand how those fortunate enough to attend Ivy League schools had an implicit knowledge of their social standings. That’s not to say that they didn’t deserve it–they worked hard. Most of the people I’ve met were truly talented, highly intelligent and self-aware people, but it was really the first time I felt like all the talk I’ve heard about “legacy” and “the elite class” I studied in college had a lot of truth to it.

It also got me thinking that, as uncouth and unpopular as it may be, maybe the Asian parent’s mentality of pushing their kids to the top schools was on to something. Maybe they actually recognized it as the lever to gain access to a higher class. I’ve heard this before, “go to Harvard so you can be rich” but I thought: This is America, those rules don’t apply. I thought about how, growing up in an immigrant family where English was not the first language, we didn’t use SAT words like “latent” or “acumen,” in everyday vernacular, and how, we really had no “in” (no aunts, uncles, parent’s friends) to help us understand how our educational system worked. That’s not to say that only minorities had the shorter end of the stick, but that’s just the only experience I have.

That said, it made me understand how difficult it is to transcend classes as an “outsider.” It made me appreciate the minority groups out there that helped empower others in the same situation, and I grew a greater respect for those who are able to succeed, look back, and offer their wisdom. It took me a while to find those who quietly worked in the background so I can have the opportunities I have, and I hope to do the same.

I guess that’s why I’ve been so appreciative of the work that the Asian American Women’s Artist Association (AAWAA) and Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Center (APICC) do, and I’m looking forward to being a part of the show opening next Thursday, May 2nd. Apologies for the shameless plug, but the 3:00am stream of consciousness somehow brought me here. Thanks for listening. Oh, and come to the show. 🙂