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…”
“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.