Why do you paint mostly Chinese women now? You are neither Chinese nor a woman.
You are right! I am a white guy living in the Midwestern part of the United States. However, I have been interested in multi-cultural issues for years, am a member of a multi-racial congregation at Madison Square Church, play piano and African percussion with a black-gospel worship team, and have been married to my wife, Yee Lam, a native of Hong Kong, since 1999. My life is very cross-cultural. While I am 100% ethnically Dutch, my life has been deeply shaped by the various cultures of my friends and relatives, especially my relationship with my wife. When you are close to someone, you impact their life – you start to belong to each other. I think a little piece of me and my culture has shaped them, and aspects of their cultures have certainly shaped mine. My life would not be the same apart from these influences.
I have learned a lot about Chinese culture from being with Yee Lam. While we travel back to Hong Kong and China often, there are not many Chinese people in Grand Rapids, where we live. Probably for this reason, she is my subconscious model for all my paintings dealing with Chinese themes. Many of the paintings I create have to do with my love for God, and since I have experienced love most fully through my relationship with Yee Lam, it is natural for me to think of her when I think of love.
I also am very interested in exploring the theme of brokenness and weakness. Maybe this is because of my own brokenness, which I am very aware of. Brokenness and suffering are also something I am exposed to every day in my work as a social worker in a psychiatric hospital where I walk with people though the valley places in their emotional lives. Looking at old pictures of Chinese women with bound feet speak symbolically of these themes to me. I find beauty in this brokenness. Historically, Chinese women used to embroider images of both brokenness and hope onto their clothing and lotus shoes. I have found learning about this quiet, symbolic vocabulary to be very inspiring to me as an artist, and why for the time being, I have chosen to use images of Chinese women to explore these themes.
What do Asian people think of your work?
I have shown a few of the Asian people I know, and they have been very polite in giving me feedback. I never know if people are being kind because I am standing right there, or if they are being truly honest about my work. I have felt this way about most of the feedback I have received about my artwork throughout my life. Part of the reason that I created this website is to provide a way for me to have this dialogue with a broader audience. I dream that someday I can show my work to an overseas Chinese audience to get their feedback as well. I would very much like to have that experience to further inform my art-making.
Why do you call your artwork “Christian art?” I don’t see any Biblical scenes depicted in your work.
I believe that what makes a piece of art “Christian” is not what it is about, so much as who the creator of the artwork is. The Christian faith is about a relationship, not a quality, subject, or an aesthetic sense. Artwork which is created by an artist with a Christian world-view can be called “Christian” art, even if it is not an illustration of a Biblical story. Since most of my paintings are about my relationship with God (as this is my overarching subject), the word “Christian” is one of several terms I use to describe my work.
You often talk about art being prayer for you. Do many artists have this kind of experience of prayer while creating?
I can’t speak for all artists. For myself, I believe that many artists have a greater or lesser awareness of a “prayerful quality” when they create. Most artists grow quiet while working and lose track of time, qualities which many people experience while engaging in contemplative prayer practices. Some artists also describe being moved by urges they cannot explain while creating or having inspiration from their “muse.” Personally, I believe that the Holy Spirit could be influencing some of their ideas, but this is something which each individual artist would need to discern for him or herself. I do find that artists who find it difficult to engage themselves in a regular habit of verbal prayer, when introduced to the idea of praying non-verbally through creating, find themselves opened up to an entirely new way of speaking to God that feels natural and freeing at the same time.
Can you help me understand what your paintings mean?
Yes and no. I can try to explain to you what I was thinking about and dealing with in my life while I made a painting. I may be able to explain some symbols that I have put in different paintings that I use to weave meanings into my work. This may clear things up for you, or leave you with more questions. I like to provide written paragraphs about each image when I have exhibitions because for people that want to learn more about each piece, the paragraphs are a way for people to learn more if they so desire. There is more information on this topic in the Articles/Podcasts/Inteviews section of this website.
Why do you explain your work in writing? Shouldn’t art speak for itself?
A work of art does speak for itself. Often it is said that art does a good job of asking questions or causing people to contemplate. Therefore, to understand a painting well, you must look at it for a long period of time. Sadly, most people only glance at a work of art for a few seconds before moving on to the next piece. This is not long enough for a work to speak powerfully, unless it has no subtlety to it. Most paintings are intended to be objects of contemplation, which reveal their richness over a period of time. In our society which is inundated with moving images, it is an unfamiliar practice for people to be still and reflect on something unmoving for a long time. So in this way, I think technology-saturated cultures have lost some of their ability to perceive visual images in a meaningful way. Similarly, in many Protestant churches, which have been void of images for nearly 400 years, there is a general lack of visual literacy. This has left many Christians without the skills needed to understand, appreciate, or be moved by visual art. For these reasons, I find that assisting people in viewing my paintings by using words has been beneficial for helping people discover the meaning and value of my work which some may initially find difficult to understand.
How do I get a piece of your art?
You can visit one of the galleries which sell my art by clicking on their links found on the “links” page of this website or you may also choose to contact me by email on the “Contact Info” of this website. I also do commission work for individuals, corporations, non-profit organizations, and church ministries. You may contact me directly if you are interested in learning more about this.
* Please note: If you are interested in my art, please only make purchases from the galleries listed on my website. There are galleries which I no longer work with who continue to sell reproductions and digital images of some of my early work (before 2007) without paying the contractual royalties they are obliged to pay for these services. They do not inform me of these transactions, which is why I no longer participate with them. If you have seen copies of my artwork being sold, projected electronically, or reproduced in magazines or books, please be courteous enough to notify me. There are some royalty-free images of my work on the website for the Calvin Institute for Worship which you may download and use at no cost.
I want to talk with you. How do I do that?
If you wish to contact me about my art or about the content of this website, you may do so by going to Contact.