Goes on Sale Monday November 16th, at 9am PST HERE
11×14 inches (28x36cm)
Archival pigment print on 300 gr Moab Entrada Rag Matte Fine Art Paper
edition size 50
Signed and numbered
I made this piece originally on a rainy October night in Paris, on Rue de Forge Royale across the street from a gallery called Le cabinet d’amateur. Me and Droos and Nite Owl were wandering around putting pieces up. I threw this paster up and it started raining pretty hard, so we went and grabbed a drink down the street at some little bar. Inside the bar were a bunch of guys from Oakland watching the Raiders game on the TV. Small world I guess. We had a few and I went back and added the black and white drips. I think the rain actually helped. It was a good night and probably one of my favorite pieces from that trip.
I’ve been asked why I chose to make the above piece regarding racism. I didn’t exactly. I made a piece called “The Residue of Arrogance” which was mostly about my growing discontent with the United States and my choice to spend most of my time abroad. That decision had a lot to do with the direction in which my country has moved post 9/11. Certainly racism plays a role in those objections, but it was a much broader view of many consequences. The thing that I find most interesting about the piece is what it has shown me. Many people have concluded that the piece is about racism. I imagine it has to do with my choice of using an African American model. Had I used a white model, I assume people’s reading of it would be different. However, based on people’s reactions, it is entirely clear how most people view the United States. Juxtapose an American Flag and an African American and the conclusion many people will make is that it is, of course, about racism. That’s how connected the image of the United States is to racism, it’s something people assume. What I was trying to convey was an erosion of freedoms and self censorship in a post 9/11 America. However, even in 2017 (which is when I made the original piece) the simple addition of a different skin color leads many people to assume an entirely different meaning. So, in it’s conception it wasn’t focused on racism, but in it’s reception it has become very much about race. This is how the piece talks back to me about it’s context. As an artist, you begin to see the complexity of representation. In my mind the figure in the piece was simply an individual, an American. Yet because the figure is African American, to many people, the “individual” becomes a representation of an entire race of people. Isn’t that exactly what racism is? When people’s individual identity is eclipsed by their race?
“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.
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.