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What It Looked Like From Here: Tiananmen Square, June 5, 1989

"What It Looked Like From Here: Tiananmen Square, June 5, 1989" - Acrylic/Gold Leaf/Canvas - 36" x 24"

“What It Looked Like From Here:
Tiananmen Square, June 5, 1989″
Acrylic/Gold Leaf/Canvas – 36″ x 24″

In 1989, I was 13. In the second grade, we’d done drills in grammar school where we knelt against the wall of the school hallway with our heads between our knees because if an atom bomb fell then that was, apparently, the best position to be in (ha! as if) because the Russians were at war with the United States but it wasn’t an actual war it was a Cold War and that the threat of nuclear war loomed large in everyone’s minds.

China was an even bigger mysterious behemoth.
But by the late 80s it seems that tide was turning and in China, students and thinkers and others wanted real change and they organized themselves and rallied in Tiananmen Square. By May of 1989, 300,000 people had rallied in the square. A reasonably detailed and fact based account can be found HERE on Wikipedia.
But I remember on June 5th, this man, unmoving, who stood before a line of tanks with red stars on them. I remember the sensation as if a veil of fear were about to be lifted. I remember that the crowds of people were students. I was a student. They were young. I too was young.
You have to understand, in 1989, the world was on the brink of change. A few months later the Berlin Wall fell. A couple of years later, the USSR became the independent state of Russia and a bunch of other independent countries (the independence of which is debatable, at the very least)
That Spring of 1989, there were protests in China. China did not budge. By some accounts, thousands of people died and the real history of it – and the people who will never be heard from again – is far more sordid and nuanced than I can write here.
But the world held its collective breath for that moment with that one man.
"What It Looked Like From Here: Tiananmen Square, June 5, 1989" - Acrylic/Gold Leaf/Canvas - 36" x 24"

“What It Looked Like From Here: Tiananmen Square, June 5, 1989″ – Acrylic/Gold Leaf/Canvas – 36″ x 24”

Who was that man? I have read that he was a man merely on his way home with his groceries. The Chinese government claims that he went on quietly and anonymously with his life. Considering the China’s track record, I doubt that.

The Sunday Express, a British publication, reported that summer that his name was Wang Weilin, a 19-year-old student arrested for “political hooliganism.” Varying reports suggested the student was either imprisoned or executed.

Chinese officials have refused to confirm his name or whereabouts in response to numerous queries from Western journalists in the years since the incident. In fact, they claim they were unable to locate him.

History.com

A couple months ago, I was reading again about China. This time it was about their imprisonment, brainwashing, indoctrination, and reintegration of millions of Muslims in an area that the government would like to have greater control over. Millions of people. Disappearing. Gone. Husbands. Wives. Friends. Children.

It made my heart ache.

A country may censure another. They may, on the world stage, call one out. But that’s about it.

And so when we look at China, as a whole – not as the bulk of people who make it up who would likely be happy merely to walk home with their groceries and go about their lives just as that man was doing – we see a country that scrubs its history and uses its economic might to keep the rest of the world from protesting its treatment of its people.

From the ‘social credit system‘ to its treatment of Buddhism and specifically Tibet to its current treatment of Muslims to its treatment of artists or journalists there’s nothing good yet no one is going to stop them because of their economic clout.

So I was thinking about China. And I was thinking about this moment, years ago – 30 years ago to be exact – where there was a moment, a brief moment – where it seemed it all might change for the better.

It was a spark, a candle flame in the dark. But it was blown out. Squashed. And scrubbed from their history, lest it inspire others, in the future, to do the same – to speak out.

I kept seeing that one image in my head. ‘Tank Man’ as he became known in the media. I kept thinking about not just him and that line of tanks but the line of tanks as the extension of a vastly powerful entity.

In my head, he was always down there, a light in the darkness. A focal point in a dream of freedom up against a wave, a massive tidal wave of force bearing down on him. Yet, as I thought about that wave, I realized it needed a face, it needed a name.

I thought about those demons of Tibetan lore. Primarily, Mara came to mind. Mara, in Buddhism, is sort of an embodiment of desire and illusion. I could think then of nothing better. There is nothing so much as desire and illusion which drives the power hungry needs of humans.

And so, today, on the 30th anniversary of when one man, in 1989, stood down a line of tanks in the face of an oppressive and controlling government,  I give you this painting.

It is an homage to Tiananmen Square on June 5, 1989 when one man stood before a line of tanks and the world wondered: was the government so hellbent on keeping its power that it would run him down?

Spoiler: the man lived but, yes. They were. They ran down hundreds if not thousands in the end. Reports vary.

I’m sorry it had to be like that.

I think about all those students and writers and artists and intellectuals: this is who made up that revolution. The thinkers and doers who could see a better world. They didn’t want ‘capitalism’ or ‘socialism’ or ‘communism’ – they wanted a world where they or their children could think and speak and worship freely without fear of reprisal from some force or another. That’s what freedom is. Obviously there’s limits to that: do those thoughts or acts impinge upon the freedoms of others? And so on… I mean, there’s always some asshat racist who thinks they should be able to vent whatever they want).

My art doesn’t take sides. It is about humans and human nature. It’s these sensations of being alive today, right now, in this set and setting. It’s about archetypes across cultures and religions and spiritualities and world views. It’s about communication.

Art expresses various aspects and facets of the world as whole. Some art might be there to say ‘the world is commodity’. That’s not for me.

My art is there to inspire. It is there to tell a story of a better world. My art calls out, sheds light on, and illuminates the darkness.

Wherever you may have gone, Tank Man, I send my blessings.

To the world, this vast spectrum of humanity, that finds itself at the whims of small cadres of individuals who call themselves governments and institutions and corporations… I am right there with you.

If you wanted to express this, but could not, I ask your permission.
If you wanted to express this, but could not, I send you my love.

May all beings experience freedom and the causes of freedom.

5 Tiny Visions

This Saturday, July 7th at the Hive Gallery in Los Angeles is the opening of a show called “Tiny Visions”. Alongside the pieces below are works from Violet Divine (my amazing wife), Martina Hoffmann, Allyson Grey, Radhika Heresy, Dan Cohen and a bunch of others (maybe two dozen other artists?)

Small (tiny) paintings like this allow for a kind of intimacy of the experience. One can imagine it at 4 or 5 feet tall but instead they are these delicate little portraits of dream-like ideas and core moments.

Hopeful
Acrylic/Canvas
4″ x 4″

 

Parsifly
Acrylic/Canvas
7″ x 5″

 

Thoughtful
Acrylic/Canvas
5″ x 5″

 

In the Beginning
Acrylic/Canvas
6″ x 4″

 

Ascension
Acrylic/Canvas
6″ x 4″

 

“Morphic Awakening” – Rise of the Butterfly

Morphic Awakening

“Morphic Awakening”

This painting is made in collaboration with Layla Love, a photographer and human rights activist. The painting is part of a show in NYC titled ‘Rise of the Butterfly‘.The show aims to raise money and awareness for issues around and the ending of sex slavery and human trafficking.I have a small blurb accompanying the piece. It reads:

There’s no pretty way to say this; no way to look away or ignore it. This: a painting born from the sweetness of my studio, speaking to and of unfathomable human despair. But here it is. Here it is. And that despair cuts through it like an absence of light in a clear sky. Yet without casting light into those dark spaces we can never heal our culture, transforming that absence, awakening each other again to the dance of interconnectivity, creating beauty. And I believe that, in the end, there will be – and always be – beauty.

It was a hard painting to make: the reasons for its existence are disturbing, to say the least. So where does one find inspiration for such a piece? I think it starts with finding gratitude and beauty in one’s present moment and then turning that gaze to where there the light is absent.

Commissioned Portrait: “A New Perspective”

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About a Painting: “Only Love Can (Reign Over Me)”

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A Transitive Nightfall: Notes on a Title

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A Transitive Nightfall of Diamonds

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The Apotheosis of Hope

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Summertime Paintings 2015

Samsara-molting-big-sky-mind-paintings

Summer Paintings – 2015

Years ago I got into a kind of creative flow that went like this: winter was when I worked on large, detailed paintings while summer was for getting out and doing things and events and traveling and the like. I found myself painting and sort of hibernating during many winters because life feels quieter and more internal. It’s helpful for allowing my mind and body to settle, focusing on the finer details of my work. Come summer – when life bursts with exuberant busy-ness, I’d pick up and go out and share and be more social. During those summer months, I often plan out a course of paintings to work through the winter – a general game plan, if you will – a setlist of paintings – and return to the studio.

It’s like a moebius strip where I would go far enough inwards in one direction that I’d eventually circle back in the opposite direction… and then far enough out in the other direction, and so on. Back and forth, round and round.

Things flowed differently this summer. Violet was deep in the final throes of grad school and her dissertation which meant fewer events (if any) for us because it was better having me around so I could help out, make tea, etc. I also somehow ended up with several large canvases and a good chunk of time by myself while Violet was away for a few weeks mid-July.

One of the tacts I took was maintainining that exuberant summer flow. SoCal is hot and sunny and wide open in the summer. I wanted to work with that and translate some of it onto the canvas.

I’d also just finished The Crucible of Love sometime in May. It was a monstrously beautiful painting to work on. The level of detail, the quality of light, the movement – I was very happy with it but it was deeply challenging as well, as love can be. Upon completion, sitting back from it I felt like ‘Phew! Love! What a ride!’

big-sky-mind-web

“Big Sky Mind: Where Do We Go From Here?”
36″ x 60″ | Acylic/Canvas
Prints }

After the fine precision of The Crucible of Love, the painting I’d worked on all last winter, I wanted big brush strokes and broad expanses. I also liked the crystalline structures at the top of that painting, feeling like they extended on into the heavens. I wanted to paint that part: the light cascading and refracting through the crystalline and clear Big Sky Mind. It felt like an appropriate next step and at 60″ x 36″ was big enough to let my hand fly free for a while.

molting-web

“Molting”
30″ x 40″ | Acrylic/Canvas
{ Prints }

Dropping down into fierce emotional movement, ‘Molting’ stemmed from a flash of an idea I’d had the previous fall in the midst of personal transitions. It’s a visceral piece that careens out of the big blue skies with a momentum that eventually finds ground and precision within its own unfolding.

lightning-on-a-summer-cloud-web

“Lightning on a Summer Cloud”
48″ x 36″ | Acylic/Canvas
{ Prints }

This is a breath of fresh air – like the crystalline core after the just shed skin. I was invited to paint during the Dalai Lama’s 80th Birthday event at The Honda Center in Anaheim. I wanted to paint something that breathed beauty and openness. The name, “Lightning on a Summer Cloud,” is drawn from a line in the final stanza of “The Diamond Sutra”.

samsara-web

“Samsara”
60″ x 36″ | Acrylic/Canvas
{ Prints }

I returned to my sketchbook and said, “Whatever I draw right now I’ll paint.” I made a very rudimentary sketch, painted a 60″ x 36″ canvas black, and, with a very focused edge, started laying down the beginnings of this piece.

I worked on it throughout July and August while Violet worked on her dissertation. If you’ve ever been with someone getting a PhD you know it can be a slog. It just goes on and on with little sleep, a lot of questioning of purpose, and seemingly endless amounts of writing. I spent a lot of time making beverages, taking care of things, being a listening ear, and painting. And the more I worked on this painting, the more I meditated on the wheel of life and death and time and space, the more I realized what it was – and what it is – Samsara.

promise-web

“Promise”
24″ x 18″
Prints }

A gift for my brother and my new sister-in-law on the event of their marriage last summer.

 

self-and-other-web

“Self & Other”
18″ x 22″ | Acrylic/Canvas

A thought form given life from a small sketch, an exercise in stylistic choices and deceptively simple motifs. Self, Other – we are all the same stuff and we try to wrap the Other into a neat box but it refuses it and even our boxes are transient.

ascent-of-you-web

“Ascent of You”
18″ x 18″ | Acrylic/Canvas

On a flight home from Hawaii last summer, I sketched a few quick lines that turned into this painting. I began work on it last fall and has sat in my studio since then, getting taken down now and again to be worked on, and I finished it this summer in the midst of the others – and the abundant blossoming that is summer.

 

 

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