I began painting in 5th grade and have been at it my whole life. I attended the Rhode Island School of Design and the New York Studio School, pretty hungry to learn about painting.
Yes, it is not only my first solo museum show in China, but my first show which spans 15 years. I did a residency in Shenzhen in 2014 so I was in the area. I was introduced by Johnson Chang to the curator of the Guanshanyue Art Gallery who brought me to the Shenzhen Art Museum, where I met Wendi Xie, the curator. I think we connected immediately. I really love the space of the Shenzhen Art Museum, the way it is laid out and in spite of the largeness of the space, still manages to feel intimate. I love that they focus on one show at a time, so you feel very comfortable exploring the work at leisurely pace.
The three periods came about in hindsight quite naturally. For one year my entire focus was painting Charting Sacred Territories. The work I did prior to it and the work made subsequently, were naturally a little different. I don’t think you can be involved so intensely as I was in the world of religious images without in some way having it affect your work. Other thoughts of course were also factors, as is usually the case when a creative shift is occurring. I had been working with the center (in all that it means) and after Charting Sacred Territories I found myself being curious about moving up from the center into large open spaces and scales. In some ways it felt like moving from an interior world to an exterior one. Looking at the self through the world to looking at the world through the universe.
Yes, it includes the work I did in 2014 at the Dawang Residency program, but not work from 2015 produced in New York.
I was interested in whether being in a kind of mountain environment would influence my work. I think being out of the urban center is very important for me. I took short runs up the mountain and thought a lot about the culture of the people living on the little Dawang mountain. It was really fascinating to see what challenges they had and how they structured their environment. At the same time, I was thinking about going to Tibet, a great mountain range by comparison, (which I did after I left Dawang) and strange as it may sound, the anticipation itself mysteriously worked on my imagination. Being at Dawang gave me a lot of freedom because there was nobody looking over my shoulder. It feels quite remote, though it is not, from the rest of civilisation. I was able to banish sensorial thoughts, so images just flowed out and together.
I began using Flashe because I didn’t have time while I was painting Charting Sacred Territories to use oil paint with the drying time of overpainting. I was also rolling 18 feet long paintings which is much trickier to do in oils. What I love about Flashe is the utter matt-ness of the medium. It is a highly pigmented medium so you are right; the color is quite luminous. It dries fast like acrylic but if seems to both absorb then reflect the light in a different way than acrylic. The work I did in Dawang is acrylic because you can’t buy Flashe in China.
I am thinking about large subjects. Some of it gets into the work and is very accessible, others seep out with repeating viewing. I don’t know if I could or would want to sum up my work in words. We are such a logocentric society that we have convinced ourselves that the word is more factual than visual material. I’m still staunchly committed to the power of visual experience. Why would I want to take that pleasure from anyone? It’s the ultimate gift from the artist. In work that is highly conceptual, it is very helpful to understand the parameters of the work, so you are thinking in the right neighborhood. But even then the words are just pointers. When they succinctly sum up, there is less meat for the viewer to chew.
I’m working on a group of large paintings in New York which continue my fascination with trying to visualise energy, conceptions of the universe and our vantage point in all of this. Yes, I know. It sounds pretty nebulous. —[O]