Archives for the month of: August, 2015

The best art doesn’t ask permission–it just grabs you by the eyeballs and won’t let go. Even though the Seattle Art Fair happened almost a month ago now (ancient history in the fast-paced world of social media), these three pieces have clung to me ever since I encountered them there. Though not “easy” pieces per se, they are extremely easy to rave about, in my opinion.

The painting that stopped me in my tracks was this one by Michael Reafsnyder. Good god. (Moment of silence.)

Michael Reafsnyder
Glacial Spring, 2015
Acrylic on canvas

The artist slathered on what looked like entire bathtubs of acrylic paint in a decadent, almost wanton, way. The kaleidoscope of tones that emerged was both sumptuous and disorienting; it was the most sublime kind of confusion. I wanted to lose myself in this painting, to swim in it and unashamedly glut myself with it. Even if I did, I could never be satiated, because that’s what good art does; it leaves a little something that keeps you coming back for more … and more.

Color? Who needs color? Detail of Glacial Spring

I was equally enamoured with the satisfyingly chunky work of Cordy Ryman. His pieces are constructed out of lucite and wood and bathed in enamel and acrylic. Like Reafsnyder’s paintings, they almost have a mouth-feel. My eyes wanted to break off pieces and devour them like thick slabs of marzipan.

(Which gave me the idea of creating an avant-garde bakery that produces abstract paintings, all made with cake and custard, that you can ogle and then consume. Who’s with me on this?)

Cordy Ryman
Bittar Plan 1, 2014
Lucite, enamel, acrylic, epoxy on repurposed wood
12 x 12 x 1 in

Just for the hell of it, a detail of Cordy Ryman’s Nine, 2014  

And finally, here is a mesmerizing video by Char Wei Tsai that I must have watched at least ten times in a row. Using heavy ink, the artist paints the word “Ah” in water. The word erodes over time while different voices intone the syllable in the background. As infatuated as I was with it, I misinterpreted this piece … big time.

Still from Charwei Tsai’s Ah, 2011

Created for a public space in Singapore, Ah was intended to celebrate religious diversity and elicit an “inner piece” in the viewer. I found the voices disconcerting in their dissonance as the word “Ah” became more ragged and pitiful over time. As the water moves to and fro, the shreds of ink take on humanoid shapes and seem to cling to each other. They reminded me, horrifyingly enough, of the victims of the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean.

In spite of my misunderstanding, I watched the video in rapt contemplation and was surprised at the indelible sense of pity and alarm it left me with. The experience made me realize how much of my sensibility is rooted in the Western paradigm. Funny how universality sometimes has to carry a passport. And how you still love a piece even though you’ve profoundly misread it. But even after I researched and found what this video signified, it didn’t lose its luster; instead it just became more rich and enigmatic.

All in all, I hadn’t expected to enjoy the Seattle Art Fair as much as I had, having some pretty strong feelings about the current art market. However, these pieces and a few others outshone everything negative, and I was positively starstruck. That is the undeniable power of art: to transform even a jaded cynic into someone who can see the world anew with fresh, hopeful eyes.

My heart’s been hanging at my knees, with the one-year anniversary of Ferguson and the controversy around the BLM disruption of Bernie Sanders’ visit to Seattle. There are feelings I’m finding hard to articulate right now—they exist only as a molten mass in my head—but I did convey some of them as abstract drawings on paper, using permanent marker and a very blunt pencil.

Divided ever
Divided Ever
Sharpie and blunt pencil

The past few days have reminded me that as whites and people of color (POC), we live in radically different worlds. The ferment around Ferguson and the Sanders disruption has shown, with very few exceptions, the grievous lack of understanding we have toward each other. Our comprehension and empathy still hinge on social constructs, and this often creates an impasse, and enmity, between groups.

It pains me to see this kind of fracture happen, and I don’t know how else to talk about it beyond carving marks into paper with a blunt pencil (as in 90% wood, 10% graphite)—a study in impotence and a physical reminder of the emotional limits to our subjectivity. We say we support a movement outside of our experience but still remain ensconced in our respective paradigms.

There is a movement to emphasize that black lives matter. And there are many non-black allies, but how much do we really understand about being a racial minority without wearing it on our skin and seeing how it feels?

We cannot understand
How We Cannot Understand/Stand
Sharpie and blunt pencil

The drawing above came out of the hostile response to the disruption of Bernie Sanders’ talk in Seattle. Some of the most mean-spirited comments came from those who should be the best allies to the BLM movement, white progressives. It occurred to me that as different races with differing agendas in that moment, we could not understand, or even stand, each other. We simply cannot stand if we continue operating this way.

I’m frustrated by the impotence in racial discussions. We are bound by our limitations, so how can we unite and fight, while also dismantling the white supremacy that stymies our society?

Scan 1
We Hate You/They Hate Us
Sharpie and pencil

There are allies out there with deep hearts and broad imaginations. These are the people who can help, and yet today I’m feeling discouraged, haplessly bound by my own skin and embroiled in conflicting, mutually uncomprehending discourse. I’m especially tired of hearing stubborn but futile attempts to analyze the Sanders situation. These are as effectual as a blunted pencil, whose insignificant marks cannot rival the deep, plush darkness of a brand-new Sharpie, a symbol of the stark and unyielding truth of racial inequality.

Update: It really is the responsibility of white folks to understand and help POC. They are the ones who are complicit in this system of white supremacy; therefore, they are the ones that need to take the lead in dismantling it. POC do enough of the emotional labor every day of our lives. It is not our role to assuage and nurture white fragility. As my racial analysis has sharpened, I feel the need to point this out.