…to be read in the voice of the Seinfeld Soup Nazi…    “No More First Days of School for You…”

We were at a gathering of friends upon our return to Shanghai for what is  our third year.  The usual suspects had arrived and welcomes were exchanged.  The group consisted of mostly returning and new teachers and students.  There was a smattering of non-teachers as well.  As to be expected the conversation turned to the inevitable first day of school.  It was met with joyful anticipation and reality.  It made my mind shift to the rituals of the first day of school during my nineteen year teaching career.  My favourite part of the first day was to watch the children arrive on their busses.  They were the life blood and spirit of the school.  They turned the institutional buildings into  school houses.  It was also  bitter sweet when I waved good-bye to them on the last day.  During that moment of melancholy I realised just how much I missed that experience.

For me, the first day of school had become a real moment of extreme highs and lows all within about an hours time.  The high…  We start every first day of school with a picture of our son.  This ritual had literally been part of our lives across the globe.  From his first year in England, to the US, to Moscow, to Prague, to Shanghai,  we haven’t missed a year.   Pure joy and pride as he stands taller and brighter with each passing year, sharing his boyish grin from behind a now manly frame.   We have also recently starting taking pictures of my wife on her first day of school.  It seems as she now enters her 24th year of teaching, she too wants to remember the first day and to share her excitement.  I can say that she  embraces a quality of true joy in the teaching experience.  She’s a natural beauty in her approach to life and the classroom.

The low…  Without thinking I said, “I don’t have any first days of School”, it kind of just came out. My wife replied,  “Thats right…,  No more first days of school for you…”   The reality  was an affirmation filled with awakening and reflection.  In that moment I thought, “that explains why I find sadness in the first day of school”  My first days of school weren’t about greeting students anymore, they weren’t about a return to colleagues, they were about saying good-bye and solitude.  Im not going to lie,  it was a brutal confirmation of reality.   I felt anger, self loathing, loss, and a strange loneliness.  I began thinking of the best bits of not teaching… I thought, “I also don’t have curriculum meetings, mindless meetings about grading programs, and all the other shit that kills teaching…”  And yet,  damn I miss that first day with kids…..  not enough to return to teaching, but enough to make the reality a real bummer.

Ritual plays a real part in my art process.  It is with this in mind that I have realised that I haven’t created my own rituals for the beginning of the studio “season”.  In the past 5 years I have dropped my son and wife at school, said hello to friends, then went to work.  I guess its the same for most parents who aren’t teachers…. This year, I did something a bit different.  I decided to be “Present” as I stood and took  in the joy of watching families return to school.  I had  gone through the motion for the past five years, but to be honest as I look back at it, it’s framed in a cloud.

I wanted this year to be different.  I photographed my son,  wished him well.  Joy, Pride, amazement….   I walked my wife to her classroom, and watched her start to sort her desk and prepare for the day.   I chuckled with happiness in how she looked “ready” to see the kids.   I then walked and stood at a point on campus where families would pass.   Being truly present this year,  watching the joy and enthusiasm was the goal.  It didn’t disappoint.   I even had the chance to take some family photos of other people to share their moment.  I had a meaningful conversation with an administrator from the school about the simple but important things he is working to accomplish.    AS I walked to my scooter to start my day,  I was happy for the time to observe and be present.  I also decided to start a new ritual for my first day.   A cookie,  yup a cookie.  I went right from school to the local coffee shop and enjoyed a lovely cup of coffee and the most delicious oatmeal raisin cookie in Shanghai.  Im not going to lie,  I still miss the “first day” but after 5 years of working for myself, I’m also learning to embrace the new “first day for me…”

 

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Feb 13th, 2017

Embrace the Strange.

My wife gave a TedX talk on finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments. Those times when you think, “Never in a Million Years”.   On the same night, my friend Kevin gave a TedX talk on finding comfort in the uncomfortable. Both talks were profound, touching, and comical. I walked away reminded to observe.   It was also a point of reflection on my own process from the first marks of a pen in the studio to the artist’s reception.

In the beginning of the movie “Pollock” starring Ed Harris, Jackson Pollock is standing at an opening of his work, several people approach him for autographs, he politely signs, but as he does he also looks around. His eyes move across the room, observing, looking for something, he is searching for or observing the order in the chaos. He is a stranger in a room full of friends, family, collectors, and art lovers.   It is a moment that I feel most artists have had as they put their work on display for friends, family, and strangers alike.

Why do we do this? It’s a question that is asked not just by the audience, but also by the artists themselves. I ask myself in those moments, why? Then I try to embrace those who have come to share in my work. The work is done most often in isolation, but the presentation of the product “the art”, is shown for public consumption. It is a juxtaposition built into the creative process. I have openings to share the art, to see response, to share in a moment. It is amazing that people will give of their time to share with me. It’s humbling when you put your work out there for everyone to see and people show up to see it. Its that moment that is so perfectly portrayed in the “Pollock” film. As the artists  you are standing alone in a room and you cast your eyes to see all those who have come to share. Its intense, its inevitable, its humbling, and you and your art are vulnerable.

It sounds pretentious,but I have handlers at my shows.  Their job is to move me around the room.  If left to my own devices in this moment, I know I will retreat to a friend and stand in the corner and talk in isolation. Someone once said, she feels like she’s in charge of a dog at a dog show, as she pushes and pulls me around the gallery. The reality is, I love people, I love socializing, and I live off the energy of motivation and conversation. I’m not saying I’m good at it, in-fact I often have to apologize for what I’ve  said, but the truth is it balances the isolation in which the art is made.

At the end of the day, it is part of my job, it is what I do, it is who I am, it is normal, it is strange, it is part of the process. Some moments are stranger than others, but I find comfort when I remember to embrace the strange.

Cory

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Dec, 7, 2016

Hello Stranger…. Good-bye Friends…..

I’ve just recently finished a show and by all expectations it was a reasonable success. There was a very good energy in the audience, I’ve made some new friends, and sold work. When you come off a show however, you hit a bit of a wall. The type of wall that you get when the adrenalin leaves the body and empty feelings set in. To cope with the idea of not needing to or feeling like creating art, like many artists, I must direct my energy towards social media for record keeping and reflection.

Hello Stranger…

I guess the stranger in the title embodies many, starting with myself. I haven’t posted in nearly six months.   Keeping a blog hasn’t seemed relevant.  I began blogging to allow viewers to take a moment and get a glimpse inside the studio.   A voyeuristic view of the Creative process… What I found was that the much easier Facebook and now Instagram have replaced this more in-depth dialogue, at no fault of the reader or the artist. There has been a massive shift in the views and visits made by the audience. It has become easier to take a quick glimpse of the product and process by switching from in-depth reading to hitting “like” on FB. Slowly but surely there is an even easier way to see the work by  becoming a tapper and tapping a heart on Instagram.   The deconstruction of the in-depth dialogue continues with the person in the selfie.   Anyone who partakes in the voyeuristic process of watching and scrolling through social media have become the purveyors of experience in a more surface only and easily  accessible social media world. The quick snap of snap chat, has replaced the quick wit and scrolling has become the new conventional one sided conversation. I don’t see it as a terrible thing; it is just what it is. As an artist I see it as just another format to allow my work to be seen in a broader context. That’s a fancy way of saying it helps get my art to a larger audience. I just wish there were elves to do the posting for me.

Good-bye Friends…

Moving onto friends and such. There are many people who come and go in the expat life. It is easier to say good-bye to some than others. Then there are those who go and you cant put into words the void you fear. This relates to my art process in this manner. I’m motivated to create art by purpose. I have inspiration a-plenty which leads to ideas, that leads to works of art.    I need purpose….   I need an end game,  a job to do, a point of reference, and desire to achieve. When you have empty spots in your personal life it is hard to find those things.  It is hard to find those things in this expat life as an artists when your personal life and your professional life are so closely woven together. When the people who “get” why you make art are the people you enjoy drinking with, socializing with, and they become the people who are exiting your process, it is not motivational. It was once told to me as I was leaving, it is easier to leave then to be left. I think that is true in many cases, but in a few cases, I think the pain is shared beautifully and uniquely by those who get it.

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Enjoy the show. I hope you like it…

Cory

 

August 31, 2016

Shanghai Part II

Being back in Shanghai for our second year is always more comfortable than the first year anywhere. The excitement of the “New Everything” has become tamed and it is often when the real work begins. I am in the middle of Three pieces right now, a bronze (still in Wax), a Skyline (not quite finished), a Triptych (maybe finished), and on Thursday evening I am presenting to the heads of a multi-national company on “Why and How I think differently”   That being said, this is short and sweet,

Enjoy

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March 25, 2016

The Eels are alive….with the sound of the wet market

I would like to make two disclaimers before you read this entry. First I broke my arm and I am using my left hand to write this entry into my journal so I apologize for any typos.   Second no eels were harmed during the making of this project in fact they were spared a date with the dinner plate.

When I broke my arm I decided to go back and do some exploratory projects that I had thought of when we first arrived in Shanghai. We made our first visit to the wet market upon arriving in Shanghai. This is where we saw eels, turtles, prawns, frogs, and an assortment of fish in shallow white Styrofoam coolers. The coolers took the shape of the canvas and the textures that were being made in the water were amazing. I grew up around seafood and am quite adept at catching and cleaning and eating it, however I don’t think I have been ready to see it in this manner. Not in a bad way but just a very different perspective.

I wanted to create a piece or pieces that involved these creatures, while they were alive and that and would not kill them. It was most intriguing to create the texture or movement I witnessed in the market. In addition I wanted to use traditional materials in a non- traditional way. I chose to paint or let the eels paint the canvas by placing a plate of traditional Chinese calligraphy ink in the middle of the canvas and allow the eels to swim from the plate across the canvas.

The process consisted of three days.  The hardest part was giving up control of the physical process to the volunteers who wanted to be part of the process. It is harder than you think to allow your ideas to be carried out by other people. A special thank you to the eels, Nicole, Dan, Max, Kari, and Nicole for your help. Each day was a different layer that created a different color each day was basically the same so I will keep it short

Day one.

  1. Buy live eels
  2.  Prepare canvas, mask off rectangle in middle in the shape of the wet market.
  3. Add black ink to plate,
  4. Place live eels in plate
  5. They swim and squirm across canvas.
  6. Rinse and release eels back into the canals
  7. Wash smell and ink off hands
  8. Watch paint dry

Day Two.

  1.  Buy live eels
  2.  Prepare canvas, mask off rectangle in middle in the shape of the wet market.
  3. Add White ink to edge of rectangle,
  4. Place live eels in middle of piece
  5. They swim and squirm across the black layer and reactivated the black ink creating gray layer.
  6. Rinse and release eels back into the canals
  7. Wash smell and ink off hands
  8. Watch paint dry

Day Three.

  1. Buy live eels
  2. Prepare canvas; spay a flat acrylic varnish to seal in the first two layers of ink. Mask off rectangle in middle in the shape of the wet market.
  3. Add White ink to edge of rectangle,
  4. Place live eels in middle of piece
  5. They swim and squirm across the canvas creating a third and final white layer.
  6. Rinse and release eels back into the canals
  7. Wash smell and ink off hands
  8. Watch paint dry

All said and done I had purchased, painted with and released approximately 4 dozen eels.

Took me back to elementary school age when I would do fish prints or to the beach where I would spend house watching minnows swim in the shallows.

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March 7, 2016

The Gardener, The Tree Guy, The Foundry Man. & Lin…

The Gardener.   A few weeks ago I found the bottom structure of an old wheelbarrow. It was dirty, rotted in spots and in general disrepair. I like looking at and thinking about the history of these pieces. I brought it to the studio and originally thought it would make a great coffee table. I took it apart, reinforced it with steel rods and auto body putty,  then began drawings for the small Gardener men that would become the legs.   AS it turns out, I liked the drawings better as drawings, and turned them into a painting of a Gardener on a wooden plank to be attached and displayed as a large wall hanging.   It works well and draws a nice relationship to the history of the tool and the person who would have used it.

The Tree Guy was found when I went looking to purchase some body putty to repair the wheelbarrow mentioned above. While searching for auto repair shops I noticed a vacant lot full of large tree trunks. I came back another day and asked the tree guy if he had any small root systems or interesting pieces. We walked in, on, around, and over large pieces of tree trunks. We found terrific little bits.  We needed to get them home so we stopped a lovely lady with a large tricycle to deliver them back to the studio. This is a very normal occurrence…   I offered to pay for the scraps of wood, but instead the tree guy asked me to return once I had used them to make something interesting and show him pictures of what I had done with his interesting scraps of wood.,  He said then we would celebrate our cooperation  with tea. Very cool, agreed and the pieces are on their way to the foundry today.

The Foundry Man stopped by with his team, Sun, and Alex.   We talked, had tea and coffee and looked at how they would create bronzes from my waxes and other pieces.   One wax sculpture is to become bronze, another to be bronze combined with wood from the tree guy, and finally another wax sculpture to be cast in bronze and in aluminum and combined with metal and paper dragon fly wings that I made with Lin..   Handing over the last two months of work to a relative stranger who assures you everything will be all right is a study in letting go.

Lin is a very nice and gentle man who I met while shopping for a new dresser for my wife. His wife and he own a furniture and light store in Shanghai. She introduced me to Lin because I told her I was a sculptor and wanted to meet someone to do some metal work. AS luck would have it, her husband did just that. We have since formed a nice relationship and I spent the day with Lin working on and designing the wings out of metal that will later have traditional Chinese lantern paper on them as a translucent skin.

These are the fun, intertwined, interesting, and unique adventures that I am afforded because of this crazy, what the hell are you doing, what were you thinking, are you sure you want to move to China life… ?!!!!

(Small print…   I have attached pics of all the pieces in process to this point.  Also, please understand that much of this is made possible because I have an apprentice named Max who is handling all the translating on these adventures, in turn I am instructing him on the artistic process)

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January 5, 2016

How many First times do we get in a lifetime?

  • The first time I have had a studio that is not part of or just beside the house. I have a commute to work, It is a ten minute walk, a three minute scooter ride, and a full day of work away from home. It is strange and freeing to be disconnected.
  • The first painting is finished. It is titled “Guanxi”     – Guanxi – noun 1. a Chinese social concept based on the exchange of favours, in which personal relationships are considered more important than laws and written agreements.   I like the process of getting to know people. I like talking to and learning about culture. It can test your patience when you really need something to move forward, but the exchange seems worthwhile is you allow it to take its natural cultural course. (pics enclosed)
  • The first time I have taken a 15 hour flight. Turns out, I like it better than a seven or nine hour flight. You can fall asleep (via PM meds) and wake up with only a few hours left of the flight in time for breakfast, a few movies and then you are back in time….
  • The first time I have hidden in the back of my studio with friends because a large group of police were walking down the street and I felt like I might not want to answer any questions on this particular day. Turns out there is nothing to worry about, they were simply making sure that the sidewalks and store fronts are clean and clear and up to ordinances.   I left my own cultural misunderstandings get the best of me.
  • The first wax is completed for the first bronze.
  • The first time I have to consider who my bronzes are foundered by because copying is an issue. Everyone I have met so far seems trustworthy and friendly. I look forward to the adventure.
  • The first time I have felt a large disconnect between myself and the school and the community. It seems magnified here because there is not a place where everyone gathers for coffee in the morning. This is the first time I have returned from a holiday break and not had a gathering place where I could commune and talk about the holiday journeys, airport mishaps, Christmas cookie over load, and share in the beautiful misery that is jetlag….
  • The first time I have a studio with a place for sculpture, with a place for painting, a place to show work, and with its own bathroom… I am blessed.
  • The first time I had to light fireworks and fire crackers to ward off evil spirits before starting work in a studio. AWESOME new tradition that I will carry with me on this journey.
  • The first time a new friend has given me a Nespresso machine for my studio, just cause he likes coffee as much as I do!!!!!!!!
  • The first time Christy and I have sat in a studio in China and worked on our own projects together. Sharing the creative space is always better then the isolation often felt in the studio. I am lucky that it is with my partner in crime and life.
  • Looking forward to some firsts still  to come in the studio,
  • First studio night where people gather to just hang and art and stuff
  • First toasting of a finished piece with friends. Airy Hill tradition demands that every time a piece is signed, some friends gather with a drink and toast the good fortune of completing a piece.
  • Who’s ready to raise the first glass to Quanxi….?

Cheers,  Cory 

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