Switching from my computer to my painting table helps to keep my attitude about writing fresh. I have to relearn how to write once I return to the keyboard. The same for my painting. Once I have been away from the tubes of paint and the cold press paper for a period of time, when I return, I am a tad afraid of them--especially the paper. I am a beginner all over again. Zen practitioners (and I am not one) call it "the beginner's mind."
After a good start on the graphic novel, I took four days from the work to paint "Chinatown Uncles."
My favorite painters are those who tell stories. Ben Shahn and Jacob Lawrence, two compassionate, intensely humane painters whose passion for their community and their struggles were to be the crucial subjects of their art. They are my mentors and I humbly claim them to be my ancestors, for they consistently record and illuminate the inky blots in the human landscape: Ben Shahn depicted the unjust trials and deaths of Sacco and Vanzetti, the dropping of the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki; Jacob Lawrence daubed and printed series on the freedom train of Harriet Tubman, John Brown's passion and Toussaint l' Ouverture who freed the Haitians from their French overlords.
I am slowly working on a series about the Chinese in America. This one, "Chinatown Uncles," depicts the immigrants from China who eked out their last days in Santa Cruz. They had once dreamed of finding fame and wealth in America, but they ended up working in railroad gangs, as laundrymen, field hands, cannery workers, and servants.
I was inspired to work on this particular piece after reading an essay by, George Ow, Jr., "Old Men," in "Chinatown Dreams." These men could not become citizens, could not own property but more importantly, they could not find mates to start families, because there were so few Chinese women. Furthermore, antimiscegenation law prevented them from "mixing" with whites. Young George, his siblings and cousins, fascinated these "Chinatown Uncles," for they had not seen healthy, lively Chinese children for a very long time.
When an artist paints a portrait, she takes the subject deep into her soul. I had only old photographs for models, but I've made these men part of me. I've stared into their eyes and they too have become kin, my Chinatown uncles.
I had intended to work the sky with different shades of blue and patterns. But I loved the spontaneity of the "scumbled" effect of a single hue, I just left it alone. The hardest aspect of painting (and writing) is knowing when to leave it be.
To view painting in detail, please click HERE or the thumbnail at the top of this weblog then click "original."
One of these days, I might take this particular subject and simplify the shapes and use bolder areas of color, a la Jacob Lawrence.
Back to "Forget Sorrow," the graphic novel, tomorrow.
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