The Chrysanthemum Powder (A Portrait of CaiQun)

I’ve been working on a portrait of CaiQun for over 6 months now. The resulting image is, perhaps, actually more of a self-portrait-via-still-life. The significance of the chrysanthemum powder is huge: it was CaiQun’s last daily material connection to China for many months after she came home with us. The first two years of her life she drank the warm beverage before mid-morning naps. We quickly learned her routine and, informed by the orphanage, purchased many bags of the powder to bring back to the US with us. I saved the last bag we used. It has, like so many other seemingly inconsequential objects, become a part of my studio environment. As I observed it over the weeks and months after China, it transformed into a kind of icon.

Since I tend to be an observational, perceptual painter, I like to keep items I might paint near me as stimulation and inspiration. I placed the bag into one of my paint boxes. There it sat, situated among paint and brushes and sketches for quite a long time, until one day it grabbed my attention with force. The addition of a few other elements – bottles, a sketchbook I’d used in China, a sketch of festival lanterns – and the stage was set.

Chrysanthemum2014The Chrysanthemum Powder (A Portrait of CaiQun), Oil on panel, 16 by 16 inches. 2014. Click to super-enlarge it.

Anyway, I really love this painting.

It goes up in an exhibition next week. If you’re in the mid Missouri area I hope you’ll stop by to see it, another piece I made, and the work of a number of other artists from Mizzou and China. Here’s some info about the show:

East-West Dialogues: Paintings by Chinese Visiting Scholars & Their Hosting Art Professors

Participating Artists:

Zhonghua Gao, Min Li, Rujing Sun*, Ruiqin Wang, Matt Ballou, William Hawk, Mark Langeneckert, Lampo Leong

Show: August 4-15, 2014
Reception: Tuesday, August 5, 2014, 4-6pm

Craft Studio Gallery, University of Missouri-Columbia
518 Hitt Street, N12 Memorial Union, Columbia, MO 65211, USA
Gallery Hours: Mon-Thurs 9am-6pm, Fri 9am-4pm, Sat 12-5pm

Exhibition organized by the Office of the Vice Provost for International Programs, The MU Confucius Institute, and the MU Department of Art.

*Rujing spent a great deal of time with me in my Color Drawing classes during the Spring of 2014. She’s a wonderful artist and was a pleasure to have in my classrooms.

Ox-Bow as Self-Portrait

“As I reflect on this experience from the mitigating distance of years, I am staggered by the power it still holds within my heart. And by my heart I mean the seat of my emotions as well as that physical member within me. Perhaps this is because, as with all fantasies, I remember it in an idealized form. Yet even the least ideal aspects of the time hold a remarkable glow to me.”

“At the time, I saw that land – that Large Place – as a separate sphere, a space out of time, out of normalcy. It strikes me how, when I am able to recall it very clearly, my heart almost seizes within my chest as I briefly sense again the stinging joys that I felt there.”

“It was an exploration of myself, not simply a holiday from the reality I had always known. Sitting there on the shore of that ancient lake, gazing back west towards the big city that has since become my home, I marveled how it seemed that I was gazing across some chasm of time and space.”

“I was dislocated, thrown, out of my time into another, somehow timeless, yet time-full arena. I was looking backward and forward to that other shore of past experience and an unsure future. I could never be the same.”

“I could never be the same.”

“I could never be the same.”

“I could never be the same.”

All text: from A Mnemonic of Longing, an unpublished essay, 2002-2009.

All photos: Self-portraits taken between May 2001 and August 2001, in roughly chronological order.

Drawing: Matt (Hardass). Ink and Sharpie on paper, 11 by 14 inches, 2001, by Reid Thompson and unknown Ox-Bow Fellow (A.G.).

PS: Don’t smoke, kids.