The Little Orange Shoes

Dang Cai Qun1 2013-1-2

We just got an update on Madeleine CaiQun – new pictures, details of diet, sleep patterns, and physical status, etc. I love that they are letting her hair grow (usually kids in orphanages have closely cropped hair).

And I love the little orange shoes she’s got on here. We’re coming for you, girl!

Dang Cai Qun 2013-1-2

New Homes

2012 was a good year for selling my work. Many pieces that we’ve lived with for many years are now gone. They live new lives with others. They will, in tandem with these fresh viewers, take on different resonances, build more meanings. Three recent sales in particular are significant to me. What’s interesting to me as an artist is that these works don’t necessarily represent the height of my prowess as a painter or draftsperson (Though I do count Four Pale Bricks as among the most significant paintings I’ve ever made). Nor are these works the end of a particular line of thought or closed, singular achievement. Each was, in some sense, a reaction to different pressures and concerns. They were attempts to understand influences, necessities, desires. They were stepping stones.


Untitled Landscape (#1), Acrylic on canvas, 36 x 46 inches, 2000. Private collection, MO. Click to view larger.

They are all about different times in my life. The colorful Untitled Landscape (#1) above was made when I was a junior at SAIC. It wasn’t meant to be my own personal expression. I was trying to understand Diebenkorn and integrate his approach to composition and structure. In spite of the derivative quality (something that’s unavoidable for any artist and something that, when embraced, can spark true development) the work displays my growing sense of color and use of mark and mass.

As I packed it up for delivery to its new owners, I was so pleased with the craftsmanship: the bars are still square; the canvas stretched and primed beautifully; the corners wrapped flat and tight. It was that follow-through with the love for the materials at all levels that, I think, made me develop as an artist. I wasn’t just winging it. I was being thoughtfully engaged all the way through. I’m not saying this just to toot my own horn… I’m just proud of the fact that, in spite of myself, I got something about materials, process, and focus that still rings true and gives the work quality.


Four Pale Bricks, Oil on canvas on panel, 14 by 22 inches, 2006. Private collection, MO. Click to view larger.

The second piece, above, really shows (to me) how my grasp of composition and visual dynamics was affected by combining my early love for Diebenkorn with my research, via Frank Stella’s Working Space, into the formal concerns of the Renaissance. Four Pale Bricks was painted very soon after my return from Italy, a trip that greatly supplemented what I thought I’d learned from Working Space. My encounters there with alchemical pictorial formulas, various numerological/metaphysical theories a la sacred geometry, and the intense formal constructions of everyone from Giotto to Pontormo were extremely influential. In many ways this work was the beginning of my current explorations into two-dimensional shape and angle dynamics as they manifest in illusions of space, air, and light.


Still Life With Tinfoil, Coal, and Plywood, Graphite on paper, 18 by 24 inches, 2007. Private collection, MO. Click to view larger.

This last work – something I shipped out to its new owner just this morning – is all about my having become a teacher. One of the things I believe in most strongly as an educator is that I must model the skills, ideas, and values that I teach. I will never make any impression at all if I merely vomit out vague data; I’ve got to believe it and practice it. This work came about as a challenge from my students, who did not believe the processes I was teaching them would yield positive results. As I drew this work, I took photos and from them produced a short video to demonstrate how it all worked. I have used this example every semester since. The piece is very sentimental to me because of how it embodies my own practice of teaching. I was willing to live out the things I talked about, and that made my students trust me.

Having these three works – and all of the others recently sold – go into the hands of people who appreciate them is wonderful for me. It’s also a reminder that gratification (and appreciation) is often very much delayed. I do work today that may only become appreciated decades from now. That is something that is hard for all artists – we are a notoriously insecure and touchy lot, aren’t we? – but having these works go out into the world is special.

It’s all the more special for me because every dollar from every sale I’ve made over the last year has gone directly into bringing Madeleine Cai Qun home. Now when I think of these artworks, I won’t only consider what they were for me or how they have gone to new homes, but I’ll be able to see in them how they gave my daughter a new home.

That’s a value that is transcendent. I’m thankful that my work as an artist can be a part of that even greater work of manifesting love and peace into the world.

There’s still a few more weeks before we head to China. If you’d like to help out in the final stretch by bringing one of my works into your home, check out my etsy site here.



Hanging At My Mother-In-Law’s House

My wife and I have been married nearly 10 years now, and over that time we have spent most of our holidays and vacation time with her mom (between distance and financial constraints it’s been harder to get back to my family, though we have gotten better at seeing them more frequently in recent years). We’ve just come to expect heading up along routes 70 and 55, taking that slight left onto 39, passing the amazing windmill fields, then hitting route 43 and closing in on the Milwaukee suburbs.


Above: A shot of some windmills at the Mendota Hills Wind Farm along interstate 39 in northern Illinois.

Ah, going to Momm’s (we add an ‘m’ to signify the difference between my mom and my wife’s mom). There’s food and beer and entertainment; she’s the type of mom who likes to provide all of these things. It would be realistic to say that I look forward to these visits to my Momm’s simply because I don’t have to be in charge, or have to be anywhere, or put on real pants during the day. Did I mention the free food? And the free Wisconsin beer? Yes.


Above: Momm’s cat Keegan is in the Christmas tree…

But hanging at Momm’s doesn’t just come down to getting to relax and drink beer and watch football. I think the best part since Miranda was born has been seeing her (Miranda) fall in love with her Grandma and “The Uncles” during the holidays. The sort of intentional play and interaction we try to maintain with her all the time is exactly what they do for her there. Playing with blocks, reading books, putting puzzles together, letting her commandeer their phones to watch cat videos or “Whip My Hair”; they do it all. And beyond all of this, Grandma instantly becomes the go-to bathroom escort for little miss Miranda Grace, which really does free up time for Alison and I. Grandma seems to love it, though.


Above: Miranda learning some geography with her Mom and Grandma.

I think that the thing I get the most out of, however, is getting to do a few minor jobs around the house. Over the years I’ve gotten the chance to do a few different things. Hanging some pictures here and there. Putting up a gate. Snow blowing or shoveling. Refurbishing the garage door opener. Rehanging the blinds and putting in new curtain hardware. Installing doors. Fixing base plates for the screen door. Painting a few rooms. Doing dishes. That’s how I tell Momm that I love her and appreciate getting some time off to drink beer and watch football. And wear sweatpants all day long.


Above: One of my favorite tidbits at Momm’s house – a Pacific Northwest Native American style whale. Acrylic on linen, 16 by 16 inches.

Some highlights of this last trip were Momm playing Kinect games… getting Thai food with her good friends from MN… watching one of her favorite movies (House of D) with her… talking Packer football… discovering an amazing book of poetry (I still have it with me, Momm).

Here’s to many more memories! Love Love!