These works are from a group of collaborations I did during quarantine with painter James Swinson. I was in Oakland and James was in Southern California. We would send the pieces back and forth by mail adding or changing them. Generally when James and I collaborate we are together in the same physical space, working simultaneously, so this process was completely different. The surprising thing, for both of us, was the palette. We both regularly tend toward muted colors and somehow this time both of us did the opposite. With each iteration the pieces kept getting brighter. I think we used color to compensate for all that was lacking during quarantine, the world outside seemed muted enough. Subconsciously we both went in this direction literally replacing some of the vibrancy that was gone from out lives with color. This was our optimism, literally looking on the bright side. As for the effectiveness of that remedy, I can say it worked. the world did not flip back to normal but my mental state definitely improved while making these. I was a bit catatonic for much of this past year, as many of us were. I felt I was biding my time. Making these pieces, changed one specific thing in me: It made me want things again. At some point during the past year I just shut down, I wanted nothing, I was doing very little. Making art has always been the magical elixir for whatever ails me and as much as I know that, it is a lesson I have to relearn quite often.
“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.