The past 18 months, for me, has been a process of constantly adjusting and responding to external forces in an attempt to remain in balance. The results have been mixed, the variables constantly moving and my endurance waxing and waning. This has been perhaps the most trying time in my life, not because of the events that we have all experienced, but more because of what I have been cut off from. The world seemingly and slowly began to recede. I am not my own best company. It made me realize how much I depend on the external for inspiration and the experiences that fuel that inspiration. Like the man said “ all things are contingent and also there is chaos” which is to say… “Shit happens”
Balance in these times is both difficult to maintain and the margin of error narrow. We live in a time of consequences. I suppose this is a collective test of wills. I wish you all balance, some solace and all the required endurance.
This is something I think almost everyday, primarily because in retrospect it has been one consistent truism throughout my life. Almost nothing about my life was predictable, at least not by me. It has always evolved and changed as often as circumstance and environment. It is both a comfort and a warning. Moreover, it is simply an acceptance that all things are uncertain and always have been. In my mind, to get too far ahead of myself is futile because my predictions will almost certainly be wrong. This idea simplifies things for me; it forces me to start everyday where I am and be open to experiences that may seem to be interruptions of whatever I may have planned. Those “interruptions” are often actually catalysts. I’ve found paying attention to interruptions often leads me to places that my limited imagination had never conjured. The idea also reassures me in shit times that all things are temporary, and in good times that nothing lasts forever, so be present and enjoy it.
The piece itself is made from unintentional things. The background consists of butcher paper used to mask overspray; it was utilitarian, never intended as a work itself. The image was an outtake from another project that had nothing to do with this concept, a discarded image. Both were basically refuse. Also, I had planned on writing the title across the bottom in French. I have been studying French for a few months now and I thought it would be apropos to look back on this piece years from now and laugh that either I was a fluent speaker or had given up on French shortly after making this.
I asked a few friends to help with a reasonable translation and even that evolved over a few days. With different opinions and different phrasing and a lot of disagreement about an accurate translation. In the end I just wrote all the various notes at the bottom to demonstrate that even the translation, like the piece itself, had become something other than what I imagined.
So whether I am absolutely at the end of my rope or feeling invincible, I generally pause and tell myself “Wait. We’ll see what happens…”
This is another piece I created with refuse from my studio. As it turns out what’s laying around my studio is a fairly good indication of what my preoccupations are. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic I was closely watching the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. There was evidence of this around the studio. Images, notes etc. I am not a Hong Konger, I am simply someone who has always found a certain joy in Hong Kong, mostly because of the sheer unlikelihood of the entire place and it’s ambition. It is a place of contradictions that functions at breakneck speed. Where the past and the future joust in close proximity often with no outcome or victor. It would seem that Hong Kong and what it is; it’s culture, traditions and it’s unique disposition, are on borrowed time. The autonomy promised to Hong Kong in 1997 has quickly eroded and it’s audacity muted. It would seem that it is destined to become South Shenzhen, an extension of the mainland’s greater bay area vision. China may have done what no one thought was possible in the past 40 years, economically and technologically, but it is not Hong Kong. It lacks the magical outcome that happens as a result of coincidence and confluence. Whereas, China is a linear climb towards a specific future, Hong Kong, it seems has wandered, meandered and stumbled upon some fairly unimaginable outcomes. It is still surprising to this day. It is like no other place I’ve ever been.
The text on this piece roughly translates as “When a rat eats a bird the rat doesn’t fly, the bird just dies” My point is that a culture overpowered by another doesn’t result in the conquering force inheriting the virtues and character of that place; those virtues and that character are erased. Lost.
In that, there is something that is worthy of mourning. For me, the loss of some kind of magic that happens quite infrequently in history. Something unpredictable and fascinating, and without it, the world becomes a rather linear prosaic existence.
There is a balance to symmetry in human forms that is curious. Too little and things seems awkward, deformed, perhaps even ugly. Too much and things seems synthetic, cold, artificial even. We have a very strange relationship with perfection. There is almost certainly a sweet spot of the “right” amount of variation from our left to right sides. This piece is an examination of that embedded sense we have. Our sensitivity to that balance should not be underestimated. It can be the difference between repulsion, attraction or alienation. It is a core part of how we see the world and respond to things.
The odd price, $68.79, for anyone who is curious is simply a numerical analogy. 6:8 :: 7:9. In keeping with idea of things being symmetrical and/or analogous
Each can comes with a numbered, embossed steel dog tag and is also signed and numbered by hand on the bottom of the can.
James Swinson and I made this piece at the end of December 2019. Shortly thereafter, the Pandemic hit and we never posted it. The title refers to the Hong Kong protestor’s 5 demands and “not one less”. Unfortunately, the pandemic put the struggle of Hong Kongers on the back burner internationally. But In December of 2019, that fight was still weighing on me. Hong Kong is like, well… Hong Kong is Hong Kong and it isn’t “like” anything else. In a world where cities increasingly become a homogeneous blur, Hong Kong remains a unique hybrid that stands alone, for good and for bad. It is neither Britain nor China but rather the unlikely result of an unlikely series of events. I can’t say exactly what it is to me; it’s draw, it’s seductive nature, the almost unimaginable quality of it’s existence, but somehow it always makes it’s way back into my consciousness. For my girlfriend Rachel, Hong Kong is some magical place of origin that existed before America perverted that reality. For me and my best friend Moy, it is our happy place (if there is such a thing). I was suppose to move there for a while in 2020. Those plans were obviously interrupted. So it becomes that “what if” scenario that haunts me. What if the pandemic hadn’t come? What if the Chinese security law hadn’t been passed? What if this last bastion of originality simply fades and becomes another engineered product of China, like Shenzhen, like Dongguan? What if? I suppose the world will keep spinning, but be a bit less sweet, with a bit less joy and a lingering sense of loss.
As for the piece… I tried to convey this beautiful cacophony of a city being bound by ropes. Additionally James and I placed a petrol bomb in a cage, as the security law essentially outlaws dissidents. Finally the piece is covered with keys to represent the displacement that will inevitably occur in Hong Kong. The loss of home. Keys are of no use when you are never going home. My faith and hope remains in Hong Kong. I am not a Hong Konger, I am an outsider. One day I hope to be back there and I hope “there” is the same. Hong Kong, in my mind, is too precious to lose, but China is too big to stop and the United States has been resigned to being an impotent participant in these affairs. I am reminded of a quote by Hong Kong Filmmaker Wong Kar Wai. “We love what we can’t have, and we can’t have what we love.”
“Not one less” Mixed media on found door. 31 x 81 inches (79cm x 206cm)
“Without Excuse” is a piece I made while I was at the Jardin Orange artist residency in Shenzhen, China in 2018.
I spent a lot of time in Shenzhen, roaming around abandoned buildings collecting old signs and posters and billboards. I don’t read Chinese, so I had no idea what was written on any of these things. I also never asked anyone to interpret any of it until pieces were completed. What I was trying to do was tell something about a place through what was discarded or left behind, while also juxtaposing that with some of my salvage portraits. Much of the material in this piece came from an abandoned office building at the beginning of August 2018. By the time I left Shenzhen, the building was well on it’s way to being apartments. Things change fast in Shenzhen.
The original piece is 50×66 inches (125 x 168cm) on a section of vinyl billboard I found being used as a tarp in the abandoned office building. The title “Without Excuse” comes from the line of small text just to the left of the figures head which literally says “Refuse to accept excuse” which was pinned to an office wall. The large main text in red and blue translates as “wonderful exquisite life”. Additional pieces collaged onto the piece read “Crane for rent”, “Make more money”, “Good business and prosperity”, and there is even a small newspaper headline about “President Xi”. In some ways these discarded things do describe the ethos of Shenzhen. Shenzhen was China’s first Special Economic Zone, an experiment by China with market capitalism. It is literally a manufactured city. In 1979 in was little more then a fishing village with a population of 60,000. 40 years later, it is a city of 13 million and the manufacturing center of the world. Shenzhen is at the center of China’s exponential economic growth. It is a boomtown like no other. In many ways the random text I collected illustrate the dream that Shenzhen presented; hard work, wealth, business development. In that sense, it was my most successful experiment in telling the story of a place by combining random discarded things. Things whose meanings were only told to me after the piece was finished. The addition of the Salvage portrait makes the piece a cautionary tale about the fragility of that unbridled growth. The age old boom to bust scenario that we never really seem to accept as more than coincidental or circumstantial.
Each of these prints have been hand painted and contain the number of the edition in Chinese characters at the bottom right corner. Near the left edge, the edition number is also painted into the existing background in English. Making these 40 variations was one of the most enjoyable studio projects I have done in recent years.
New salvage cans go on sale January 8th at 9am PST HERE. I made this series of cans when I was in China last year. I had been waiting for supplies to arrive for to start working on larger pieces. The residency where I was had kept all their empty spray cans. I started making these small pieces from the used spray cans. It wasn’t anything I planned, I just had an unexpected amount of free time waiting for my materials to arrive so I worked with what was available. I often make pieces from recycled materials for many reasons. First off I like that I am using material that would otherwise be discarded and end up in a landfill. Also there is a previous history to these objects. A purpose and a separate life that existed before they, by chance, ended up being used to create something new. Their discarded quality mirrors some of the characters i create in the Salvage portraits. It makes more sense to me than a piece of white canvas.
These are 15 individual pieces. They are not editioned multiples. Each is hand done and there is only one of each. They are signed and dated on the bottom of the can.
These pieces go on sale May 14th at 9am PST. Cacophony is 18×18 inches laser cut 3/4 inch acrylic stacked in 3 layers. GFL-5 is an 18×18 inch print on 290gsm Moab fine art paper. They are available HERE
ABOUT THE PIECES
The Goldfish girl (who is the same
character as the bike girl) was created almost a decade ago. I often
revisit it, and she has been longest continuing character I’ve
created. I often write back stories for these characters to help me
create the pieces, but they are generally never shared with the
The Goldfish girl was born in mainland China, and raised mostly by a single father. Her mother passed away when she was 18 months old from cancer. She was often very ill as a child, and was eventually diagnosed with a compromised immune system disorder, although a precise diagnosis was never given. However, something even as harmless as a common cold would escalate to further respiratory complications or pneumonia rather quickly as her body had no defense mechanism against these things. This is the reason for always wearing the mask and gloves. She was hospitalized often and resuscitated several times as a child. As a result, she could not attend school with other children and was home schooled by her father.
Her father bred
Goldfish for a living and taught her that trade as a kid. They worked
side by side and rarely had visitors because of her condition.
Goldfish rarely occur in nature, and are actually a result of a
genetic mutation in silver carp. Because of their beautiful color and
rarity, they began being bred and sold about 1500 years ago. They
are, for the most part, a result of steering the hand of nature.
Often being extremely ill and also losing her mother made her childhood difficult. As most children do, she tried to find a reason for her misfortune, a reason for why all this had happened to her and her father. Eventually, she believed that her illness and her mother’s cancer were a punishment by nature. A curse for toying with nature by breeding goldfish. Her family had toyed with nature, and she believed that now, nature was toying with them. She never shared that thought with her father because she felt it would indirectly place the blame for all this misfortune on him.
When she was 11 and
extremely ill and hospitalized, she asked her father “Why don’t I
just give up? This is too hard. I think we need to accept that this
is my fate; it is my fate to die” Her father became angry and
replied “Fate? Do you know what fate is? It is the result of a life
unattended, it is what happens when you do nothing” He needed to
give her a reason to keep trying, a challenge. He continued “We can
cheat fate, create our own fate and all you have to do to cheat fate
is live another day. Every day that you do that, you have won, not
That was the conversation that shaped
the rest of her life, that was her mission, to survive and deny
nature its punishment.
Eventually, her father passed away as well. Needing to make a living and also to taunt fate she illegally immigrated to Hong Kong. There is a famous goldfish market in Mong Kok on Tung Choi street, but it’s commonly called goldfish street. With a compromised immune system the most dangerous thing to her was other people. As a challenge to fate she moved to one of the most densely populated cities in the world. She got a stall on Tung Choi street. This is her challenge, to taunt fate and win, becoming the master of her own fate.
These images are vignettes of her life in Hong Kong. I’ve never given the character a name. Often the pieces are accompanied by the text “I have a name, but it doesn’t matter” That phrase is to express her belief that life is not about who we are, life is about what we do. She is pictured always alone. Sometimes she is on a bike as crowded public transportation poses to big a risk. Sometimes she is pictured with a boombox because music becomes a central companion to her mostly solitary life. In the piece Cacophony I wanted her to literally be surrounded by the city. There are many more specifics to the story, but I wanted this character to be a vehicle for ideas about self determination, finding meaning in life and playing the hand you are dealt even when it’s a piss poor hand. In some way I think I tried to create a character that embodied a lot of traits I aspire to. To remind myself.
As a Pow Wow Hawaii Alumni I was asked to be part of 1xrun’s Pow Wow Hawaii Print Series this year. I decided to do an edition of the piece I did at Pow Wow 2012.
I produced 2 versions of the “Ambition” image as chemical etched metal plates. Each plate is .030″ and 16×20 inches They are available in stainless steel, edition of 100 and Brass edition of 15. Each edition is signed and numbered and comes with a certificate of authenticity from myself and 1xrun. These drop Monday, February 22nd at 12noon PST. The brass edition is available HERE and the stainless steel edition is HERE
The etching process gives the surface an engraved or intaglio of the image which is then filled with paint. I choose this process to give the pieces some weight and dimensionality and create an object more than a print.
This Print drops Tuesday Jan.19th 2016 @10:30am PST. You can get it on Derbby.com HERE
Derbby has a unique model for sales. The print retails for $149, however at the beginning of the sale the price starts at $25 and rises based on the number of sales. Meaning if you get to the site early you can get it for $25-30.
This piece is a continuation of a body of work called “Atavisms.” This collection deals with survival, strength, and adaptability. All of the pieces are portraits designed to engage the viewer in a very direct way and to reflect some inner strength.
The text “Can’t Breathe the Sky” is referencing the fragility of our environment. In language and culture, we place a lot of our hopes and dreams in the notion of the sky. Phrases like “the sky’s the limit” or “reach for the sky” evoke a sense of endless possibility and hope.
From horizon to horizon the sky envelops us. As our environment continues to be diminished, the sky begins to envelop us in danger potentially becoming a hostile environment.
Dimensions & Materials
Dimensions: 16″w x 20″h
Originally Created On: Mixed Media on 30″ x 40″ Wood Panel
This Print Created On: Archival Ink (Pigment Based) printed on 330 g/m2 Epson Hot Press Bright White Paper.