Tonight I realized that I am beginning the long journey back to being an artist. A lot has happened since I started this blog a number of years ago. A patient tried to kill me in the psychiatric hospital I was working in, which led me to a lengthy decline into a period of depression that eventually cost me my position. After being on leave, I was allowed to return to work at another site, and eventually was given a position as a therapist. But I had stopped making art altogether, and only in the past few months have I been able to draw in the presence of God again. I still cannot create the kinds of images like I used to, but the small sketchy paintings I am able to create with watercolor seem to speak to people. So I am learning to accept a number of things:
1.) I am only afraid of the things I keep a secret. I was afraid to tell people that I had lost my job, afraid to tell people that I struggled with depression and trauma, and afraid to say that I was now intensely fearful of being hurt again. But the good thing is, that I am learning to say and paint these things… and I have for the most part (apart from a few notable exceptions) been accepted and loved in spite of these fears.
2.) I am learning to accept that I cannot be who I thought I was … and I really was not who I thought I was anyway. I thought I could handle everything: violence, intense emotional tsunamis, threats, screaming, and seeing bloody people who had hurt themselves. I found that I could not, and that the prolonged exposure to these things was eating away at my soul. I was not strong in the sense that nothing bothered me. I am learning that strength is actually acknowledging, and being knowledgeable of, my weaknesses – because I can step to the side of those pits I used to fall into again and again. I am not taking as many pitfalls by realizing I can’t do anything.
3.) I can be an artist in many ways, even the small ways. I am learning that these little paintings, these sketches painted with colored teardrops, are able to move hearts like my large paintings formerly did. This I take as an unexpected form of grace – a true blessing.
I have fallen apart, but what God is making from these shards of my former self is something I am grateful for so many days. I hurt a lot yet, but I am becoming.
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
In one month I am leaving with my family to go to Hong Kong.Â It has been a little over four years since I have been there.Â My wife and I used to go every year to visit her family there … but three kids later, things have changed a bit in our travel-ability.Â
Â As I am sitting in my studio, I am preparing to leave.Â I will be bringing paintings as gifts to family members I have not seen in some time.Â I am also preparing to visit a number of galleries in the city, seeing if any would be interested in representing me.Â When IÂ was there 4 years ago, a gallery I took images to told me that my work was not “Chinese enough” and at theÂ time, I did not know what she meant.Â But since then, IÂ haveÂ had an artistic transformation and am paiting with a heavy Chinese influence in my work.Â I have no idea if her comment brought this on or not, but I am hopeful that someone may want to take a chance on my work.Â I know artists are supposed to have a thick skin, but like my favoriteÂ drums, my skin is very thin.Â I think some of the most beautiful rhythms come fromÂ drums with thin skins.Â I think some of the beauty I experience while painting alsoÂ come precisely from beingÂ “too sensative” to things.Â It isÂ both a blessing and a curse to be like this.Â I will go with boldness, and also brace for disapointment.Â In addition to gallery shopping, I am hoping toÂ find inspiration.Â Two of my favorite artists have gallery representation in HK, so I am so looking forward to seeing some of their recent work in person there.Â I am also hoping to have a chance to visit some antique shops, aÂ Buddhist monastary nearÂ Diamond Hill, and the Christian cemetary where many Chinese Christians are buried with their portraits baked into little white tiles that are centered on each of the tombstones.Â
I can’t wait to go.Â I really hope that I can sense God’s presence in a fresh way inÂ HK, and that this sense will bring with it artistic ideas as well.Â