Last night my wife and I were woken at 4 am by a phone call that the son of an artist friend of mine hung himself.Â He had been struggling for a number of weeks after his girlfriend shot herself.Â I can think of little else than the sadness of my friend, the way this news affected my wife, and my own sadness as I had tried to talk with my friend last week and last night over the phone.Â
I want to just take a moment today to be quiet and think…
It will be difficult to paint tonight.
Â I get so much inspiration from looking at old photographs.Â I love to imagine what it must have beenÂ like to be the person in the picture … to be a part of the culture my wife comes from.Â Who were these people?Â In particular, the images of women intrigue me.Â Often we do not know their names, or what their lives were like.Â I try to imagine if they were happy or sad, and what could have made them feel this way.Â The way people posed for portraits long ago are so static, yet, there is something so peaceful and unbound by time in these photos.Â The simple compositions, the beautiful ornament of their clothes and beauty of these now-outdated hairstyles.Â I want to include samples of these pictures periodically on this blog as a tribute to the people and sources of my artistic inspiration.
I have been working hard in the studio lately to crank out as many paintings as I can before leaving for Hong Kong at the end of the month.Â However, the pressure has been getting to me.Â I want to create these beautiful little portraits – breath prayers – pictures of my prayers for my wife’s relatives.Â I hope that people find these small paintings beautiful.
However, I am well aware that what is beautiful to me, mayÂ not be the same as what is beautiful to them.Â Â Most recently I have been quite taken withÂ accurately depicting traditional Chinese hairstyles.Â I look at the way that women piled up their hair in all these elaborate shapes … they look so beautiful, so sculptural.Â IÂ make attempt after attempt, only to start over and over again.Â It is hard toÂ re-construct something from a few fuzzy black-and-white photographs or a few good drawings.Â
Once in a while I wonder why I am so taken with re-creating the images of these beautieful styles of the past … especially as an outsider to the culture.Â Â Of course, I think my wife is beautiful, and that may be part of it.Â I am also wondering if there is something more, something deeper that I connect with.Â Maybe it is the sense of quietÂ and attention to detail that holds my imagination.Â Maybe it is because of the way I imagine their lives to have been, often socially isolated andÂ far from their childhood homes.Â Or maybe it is a combination of both of these – beauty coming from suffering.Â
Regardless there is something that I am connecting with that I cannot explain.Â I only hope that I can capture some sense of this beauty in my own work.
I had gotten an email that upset me, and I couldn’t get it off my mind.Â All the while I was working, the thoughts nagged at me.Â I tried to give it to God, but still it was there.Â I was painting a woman in Qing-dynasty robes (with a jacquard-ribboned collar which I was very happy with) whose hands were opened to release a butterfly into the air.Â I wanted that to be like my spirit, releasing the pain in my heart back to God.Â I want to accept that my friend disagrees with me, and know that I have to let her disagree without engaging her in debate.Â She is too passionate about how she feels to reconcile right now.Â
The thing is, I believe that reconciliation is more powerful than being right.
Sometimes, the best way to stand up for what you believe is to commit yourself to be friends with people you disagree with.Â
I am trying to live this out.
But God, it is so incredibly hard at times.Â