I Way Way Gets It, Do You?

This past Sunday, one of four Ai Weiwei summer exhibitions closed quietly in a tiny gallery named Magician Space in Beijing’s 798 arts district. Perhaps shocking to some, for an artist who is listed as one of the world’s top five living artists, these four simultaneous August exhibitions represent Ai’s first solo shows in his home country (China), where he continues to live and work. Not one to think small, he went for four at once.

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“AB Blood Type” exhibit

As the sun set on “AB Blood Type,” Mr. Ai Weiwei (pronounced “I Way Way” for those who haven’t yet caught on to the title of this article), was nowhere to be seen. For the first time since his 2011 incident with the authorities, the government had provided the celebrity artist with his passport, ensuring he would not be around to perform any closing political stunts (or, should we say, “conceptual art”?).

Like many foreign artists living in China, my reaction to Mr. “I”’s self-focused shenanigans are mixed. In 2012, on a chance visit to San Diego for a conference, I happened to peer into a darkened, closed gallery near the Santa Fe train depot and noticed a zodiac of animal heads, bronze replicas of the figures I had just seen at the Old Summer Palace, out near where I happened to be living at the time. Of course, it was the work of Ai Weiwei. I rolled my eyes. Seeing these replicas did little for me in the given context. Mr. I Get My Way was trading on some simple tricks, I pondered as I kept walking through the non-polluted streets. First, he was the one artist who appeared to be standing up to the Party while still residing in China, giving all the freedom of expression proponents a face to latch onto to prove their point/pin their hopes on . Second, he had a relatively easy name to pronounce and remember, compared to other artists. Third, copies, copies, copies. If Andy Warhol could do it with Campbell soup cans and Marilyn Monroe portraits, certainly the double-edged irony of a Chinese copy-artist in a world that loves to make fun of Chinese copy-cats was more hipster than hipster. In sum, Ai Weiwei gets it. He gets how to play the art game.

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Selfie take in Barcelona

Fast forward to February 2015. I was away from China for two weeks, attending another conference, this time in Barcelona. Just off Las Ramblas was a large exhibit by our Chinese Warhol, covering his Sichuan Earthquake activism art, an artistic reproduction of the physical torture he faced by investigative forces, some pieced mocking the subsequent surveillance attempts, and other art that basically gave the finger to the Party. At that very moment, friends of mine were being forced out of China by the same friendly security agents featured in Ai’s work. I wouldn’t have a chance to say goodbye to my best friend for the past eight years, someone who had journeyed with me from Egypt to the US to Kosovo and all the way to China. If, that is, I was even allowed back in? For the first time, I got it. It was the best show I had seen in ages. I fell in love with Ai’s work that day.

Or did I? Back in Beijing in the 798 arts district this past weekend, I wandered through 3 of his 4 solo shows, feeling largely uninspired. There was a large reconstructed temple in one, metal grass in another. Some black and white textual fliers were sitting in a corner. The English versions had run out; I skimmed the Chinese, not expecting much. There was nothing written on the walls discussing the concept behind this “concept art.” The video of the in-gallery temple reconstruction scrolling in a dark room didn’t even feature Ai (at least not the part I stood and watched). I wondered how much he even paid the workers. Rumors abound about his American volunteer art slaves out in Caochangdi, though I don’t really feel sorry for them. In exchange for their servitude, many an artist has gotten a chance to snap a selfie with the living legend. A selfie these days is worth more than a thousand words; it’s worth a thousand “likes.”

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Marble grass from the Barcelona exhibit

The “AB Blood Type” exhibit that locked its doors for the last time as I sipped a cold beverage at a gallery café with my summer art buddy Natalie featured an identical mold of grass (though now rendered in metal) to the one on display in Spain this past winter. In Barcelona, however, the exhibit notes clearly described the intentional play on the Chinese word for grass (cao—aka F-you). But, even Beijing’s English language ex-pat weeklies covering the four solo shows said nothing about this specific reference. The closest they got was to say the exhibit as a whole represents “an approach undertaken with an irreverent, often inordinate attitude, and underscored by a profound joy in puns and double-entendres.” I snap another photo to remember I was there. Otherwise, maybe I would even forget this seemingly unremarkable display. Anyway, I like the yellow walls. Is it a play on the Chinese euphemism for porn? I’m not sure, the reference materials don’t say.

Word play is a way of life in China. Whether you are trying to ensure your latest sext isn’t blocked from making its way to your would-be one-night-stand, or you actually can’t refrain from wondering whether that self-immolation you saw in the T-squared this morning might relate to changes happening in TXIXBXEXT, dancing along the moving fine grey line in the world’s biggest economy is the only way to get by and still be getting some.

Is today’s Chairman of Chinese art playing us or is he simply playing the system? Regardless, isn’t that, in itself, a brilliant commentary on the state of contemporary art, and especially investment art à la Hirst?

Does the difference even matter?

In the end I think I Way Way Gets it, do you?

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Eating Penis on A Tuesday

Wishes do come trueA diplomat, a lawyer, and a journalist walk into a restaurant…

What do they order?

Penis, of course.

Last night I met up with a couple friends for some Xinjiang fare. For those of you not who are familiar with Xinjiang, it is the huge “autonomous” region of China bordering Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Russia, and the disputed territory of Kashmir. It’s predominately Muslim, the language of the for-now majority ethnic group (the Uighurs) is Turkic-based and presently written in a modified Arabic script. If you want to learn more about this awesome place,  check it out on Wikipedia, or, if you have access to legal databases you can read my academic article on language policy in Xinjiang, but we’re really here to talk about the food. With its breads, pastas, and tomato sauce, Xinjiang food would usually be the first cuisine we would introduce to friends’ visiting families when they would visit China in the early naughts, in order to ease them in to Chinese food. Not only is it delicious, its flavors are familiar to the Western palate, especially for Americans who like a bit of spice.

Having returned from my trip to both Kyrgyzstan and Xinjiang over a month ago, I’ve been having lamb and bread cravings that just won’t go away (and, sorry Xinjiang, for the record the Kyrgyz’ food was even tastier). The portions served in these restaurants are a bit much to eat on your own, so rallying friends is essential.

Sadly, however, my Beijing “food club” of four only has two left standing (in China, that is). Still, I called upon my other remaining partner in crime and a friend of the departed, who is now also a friend. It took a full two weeks of planning to set a date, because we are busy people here in the ‘jing, but last night we rendezvous ed.

The plan was to have a standard Xinjiang meal. Some lamb kebobs, nan bread, maybe a big spicy chicken and potato dish and some greens. But there it was on the menu…..the golden ticket.

Penis.

The now defunct food club had a purpose. It was to eat all those “weird” foods China is known for. [Sorry to disappoint, Beijing is not really a hub for this. Beijingers point the finger on the weird eating at the southerners]. As mentioned, unless you want to eat beyond bursting or be wasteful, you need to find others to eat these delightful oddities with you, and many Westerners and Beijingers alike are not interested. Our “club”—consisting of a painter, a lawyer, a diplomat, and a journalist, began with North Korean dog hotpot, and went on to snake (including drinking the blood and bile), turtle in a shell, kangaroo jerky (brought back from my trip to Australia), ostrich burger, bees and other insects, and fish head soup, before two of our number departed. We never got to penis, however, and my time here is growing short. I had almost given up. When else in my life would I have the opportunity to munch away on a male member?

But there it was last night on the menu, quite unexpectedly. What’s more, I just happened to be with the only two people I know in Beijing who might be up for ordering it. In less than a month, another one of those two would be gone.

It was like a sign from God.

We ordered the bull penis, along with an abundance of lamb, chicken, and greens. It was the last dish to arrive. The penis sat there amongst a bed of steam greens, sliced into pieces and stir fried. Was it sweet and sour penis? Sesame penis? I took my chopsticks and snatched up a wiggly, cartilage-like chunk. I felt strange for about two seconds and then bit into the piece of penis with gusto. It was not flavor enhanced. Chew chew. Munch munch.

It tasted like….well…penis.

There was no soy sauce disguising the fleshy flavor or spicy salt cutting the squiginess. It was, however, swimming in greasy oil.

I ate some of the vegetables, then some more penis, with rice. Later on, after some more lamb and spicy potato with chicken, I had another piece that still had some of the outer skin attached. With the skin on, the bull’s member tasted a bit leathery and foul. I think I was done with eating penis. Well, at least for the time being.

Nevertheless, I left feeling like I had gotten lucky last night.

So, folks, don’t be afraid to dream big. Wishes do come true.

Best in Show Goes to Painter Wang Guojian

This past weekend I was on a regular art supply run. The closest art supply store to my place is actually a row of shops housed across from The National Art Museum of China, which is not only free but occasionally houses some decent exhibits.

Being the national museum and this being Beijing, much of the work showcased at NAMOC tends to be calligraphy or some form of “guohua.” We’d probably translate guohua into traditional Chinese painting or Chinese ink painting, but when you are staring at the characters, it just says “Country Painting,” reminding you once again the only country that matters is the motherland.

Sadly, I’ve developed an allergy to guohua. The mere site of yet another room or maybe even entire gallery filled top to bottom with black ink bleeding onto paper, watery pink blotches giving the suggestion of flowers, or repeated strokes of the brush representing mountains has started to cause instant case of nausea. My eyes glaze over, and even when I try to soak in the flavor, my feet generally revolt.

The captions, if I bother to read them, often produce a worse physical reaction than the paintings themselves, provoking a feverish sweat while I mentally panic at the fact that I am subjecting my brain to yet another round of propaganda from the mother ship. Will I even remember what critical thinking is in a few more years?

When I walked into the main gallery at NAMOC this past Saturday, it was featuring the works of Lao Jia (老甲).  Being the main exhibit, the description was in English, so it caught my eye. The header read “The Value of Lao Jia’s New Creation.” The first sentence read “Lao Jia’s presence in the world of contemporary Chinese painting as a man of honesty, gregariousness and simplicity is truly rare—he is an artist that has forged his own path. The great wave of Reform and Opening gave him great bravery and strength, allowing him to assiduously study the direction of traditional ink painting, choosing an artistic trajectory best suited to his individual personality, quality, and temperament.” [Gag….vomit]  It doesn’t get any better as it reads on, and ends with the following sentence: “Whether in regards to ink and brush or composition, art must change in response to the times and is different for every artist, illuminating our era with the brilliance of individuality!” I didn’t even make that exclamation point up.

I look over, and see what looks like pretty typical black ink on paper paintings.rear On the right wall, I wonder if it’s a Rorschach inkblot test, but all I think I see is a horse’s rear. I leave this particular exhibit before seeing more.

Luckily, this wasn’t the only exhibit, however. On the top floor, there was a Polish folk art and design show, which was pretty decent. In June, there was a show of contemporary Polish art that was even better, however, and I didn’t feel particularly inspired in comparison. On the middle floor, there was an exhibit entitled “Teacher’s Art Works Exhibition.” The lackluster title was fairly self-explanatory. It was a showcase of faculty works from the Zhengzhou University Department of Fine Arts. There was some more guohua, contrived ethnic paintings of Tibetans on horses, some creepy portraits of foreign women, and one group of six paintings that really stood out.

We all know that the Chinese art market is overinflated and it’s hard for collectors to know who is worthy of the sums floating around. If you just happen to be a collector, I’d consider looking into the works of Wang Guojian (王国建). The group of large works (three 220x110cms and three 200x180cms) by him (assuming Wang Guojian is a “he” because of the name, but could be wrong) on display this past Saturday demonstrated sophisticated originality, while still depicting Chinese themes.

The six paintings presented scenes of group gatherings, adding poignant touche"Music Class," By Wang Guojians, like folks taking photos of each other while visiting a giant Buddha. His figures are more or less realistic, but just impressionistic enough to evoke a sense of dynamic movement. The colors are bright, but not garish. In one scene of merriment (entitled Music Class), a chair in the background hovers tilted above as if about to perch a bride at a Jewish wedding. This sense of disjointed perspective draws the viewer into the scene.

The painting that won the Borealish prize, however, was a circus scene. Having been to tented shows set up temporarily outside of construction sites back in 2001 Beijing, I saw first-hand the garish scenes of ladies and men hanging from flesh hooks and scantily clad girls awkward dancing without rhythm while the male workers cheered. If you want to see for yourself what these events were like, I’d suggest watching the movie Beijing Rocks, which just happens to also be my favorite Chinese movie.

Circus, by Wang GuojianWang Guojia’s 2006 painting 马戏团(“Circus”) evokes this same bizarre energy and tainted beauty of China’s disappearing tented shows. The piece has a surrealist quality and composition that fits well with the subject matter. The audience is watching a scene we cannot see, while the nude, faceless woman hangs suspended by flesh hooks, or perhaps a trapeze swing, leaning back in the tiny moment just before she swoops backwards through the air. A cage in the bottom right imprisons the giant face of a trapped animal while another tiger roams free. Danger lurks, but the spectators remain eerily calm.  The end result deserves a round of applause.

Therefore, I wanted to use today’s blog post, to highlight this artist and his painting “Circus.”

I found the painting inspirational and perhaps one of you will as well.

Your Neighborhood Is Your Gallery: 3 Ways to Show Your Work through Showing Up

NeighborsSo much has changed in my life in just the past month, since I declared my final weeks of living in China my “Beijing Summer Residency,” that it is difficult not to reflect on what I could have done with the rest of my five years had I known what I know now. Not one to harbor many regrets, I’d rather instead focus on moving forward. This blog is a space for me to share my experience with you, so that you can manifest your own satisfying creative existence now, whether you are 13, 30, or 103.

Over the past month, I developed a whole new series of paintings, had my work exhibited in two separate charity events, completed a painting live as an act of performance art, sold two paintings for a descent sum, had a painting accepted as an illustration for a print magazine, and just today received word I was accepted for a one-evening solo presentation and art exhibition. These opportunities had always been around me, but I finally found the confidence and inspiration to start making it all happen.

The inspirational theme for today is neighborhoods. This can be the physical neighborhoods in which you live and work, as well as the virtual neighborhoods in which you participate.

Below are three related tips for gaining inspiration and getting your work out there.

  1. Use your neighborhood as a source of inspiration

I currently live in my favorite neighborhood of one my favorite cities on the planet. I know, I’m a very lucky gal. Now that I am leaving, I feel inspired to capture every torn lantern hanging above the alleyway, each weathered chair sitting under a neighbor’s eave, and even all the quirky piles of rubble and rubbish. In my soon to be home, the trash will be in English, the outdoor furniture will likely match, and the street décor will be a little bit sterile. It made sense, therefore, for my current series to focus on these soon to be memories.

Think about your neighborhood. What do you love? What do you hate? Capture these thoughts and images and show your vision the world. Even if you only save your stories, and poems, and visual creations about your neighborhood for yourself, years later when all has changed, you’ll be glad you did. Create your own souvenirs from this unique era.

Display your neighborhood-inspired work in your home and invite friends and neighbors over. Better yet, give them advanced warning and ask them to create something to display at a one day neighborhood-themed local “gallery” exhibition.

  1. Explore your virtual neighborhood

My art specifically focuses on the interplay and interaction between media and daily life. I was doing this before social media, so when blogs, online news, and Facebook arrived, this created so many new possibilities I hardly knew where to begin. Finally, last year, I developed an interactive art project, in which I would take photos off my Beijing-based friend’s Facebook pages, draw their portrait, post the drawings back on their page, then take screenshots of the comments. One friend even made his portrait his profile picture. I didn’t tell the participants beforehand I was about to do this or mention they were part of a whole performative art project. My plan, which never came to fruition, was to have the screenshots blown up onto canvasses, then have a live showing alongside the framed drawings (and then post about the show back on Facebook). As Facebook is blocked in China (though still used by most foreigners and some of my Chinese friends), it was a bit of a sensitive topic for a live show, however. When the political situation grew worse, it was an easy excuse to let the whole second half of the idea fall into the bin of could-have-beens, where I spent a good deal of time living (at least in my creative pursuits) over the past decade. Nevertheless, it was still a fun exercise, even in its half complete state. And, I’ve been able to resurrect the idea in part for a new performative piece I’m launching in a few days. Now that I’ve gotten better with follow through, and moreover about to be on the other side of the great wall of censorship, I have a new Facebook-related performance piece starting.

Apart from upcoming projects, however, the publication of one of my paintings as a print illustration (mentioned above) is an opportunity I already landed that came about via a Facebook group I recently joined.

The virtual world is full of inspirations along with opportunities to show your work free of charge to neighborhoods of your choice. Even if you are stuck in a rural village, you can easily find opportunities all around you in your virtual neighborhoods.

  1. Talk to your neighbors and accept invitations

There are opportunities all around you. Yesterday, I was listening to The Abundant Artist (TAA) podcast again. The latest show is titled “Are Women Worse at Self-Promotion Than Men?” My feminist ears perked right up. The episode consisted of a recorded interview with Tara Gentile. I have to give Cory Huff of TAA a big thumbs up for NOT speaking on behalf of women and to Tara Gentile for not giving in to easy essentialist arguments. Tara Gentile mentioned an interesting concept, though frankly gave it a slightly creepy name (sometimes I like creepy though, so that’s cool). She mentioned having a “hit list.” Yikes. Nevertheless, the idea was great. As she explains, you need to have a destination, goals. Who would you dream art partner be? A specific gallery? Collaboration with Jodorowski (okay, that’s my dream)?

Once you have your “hit list” compiled, you should go about finding ways to get those people on your radar. Then, when you are on their mailing list or out talking to strangers and they mention so-and-so is going to be in town, or even if their work will be in town, you’ll be aware of the opportunity. Unaware of the “hit list” concept specifically, but utilizing a similar strategy, I contributed to Jodorowski’s Kickstarter campaign for his upcoming film Endless Poetry, for example. In the podcast, Ms. Gentile made a further, brilliant analogy to using Google maps (again, blocked here). She said, once you know your destination, Google maps gives you multiple ways to get there. You can choose the one suited to you. It might even be slower, but have better scenery. Better yet, even if you get lost, Google maps will just keep updating, sending you new ways to get to the same destination. Wonderful advice.

So, first, have your “hit list” (or maybe just call it a “destination list” or “it list”).

Afterwards, however, you still need to get out there and talk to your neighbors (or read what your virtual neighbors are saying). You need to accept invitations when they come along, which can be difficult for some artists who like to keep to themselves (again, perhaps start with accepting a virtual invite to participate). Eventually you will start to hear about relevant events, news stories, updates, and, yes, opportunities.

Once you start to really listen to what your neighbors are saying, you will find so many new paths to your dream destination, even if it’s just to run as fast as possible in the opposite direction.

5 Things to Remember When Trying Something New

positive thoughtsI did it! This past weekend was my first time doing a live painting at an event. It was part of a performance art event to raise funds for the non-profit Color Nepal. If you read my past post, you know I was nervous about the experience, but wanted to give it my all. Today I’m posting 5 things I learned from the experience you can apply to your own creative path when trying something new.

  1. Have a Moral Support Buddy

While I tend to happily kick around solo most of the time, having a moral support buddy can sure make life easier. There was a lot of downtime between set up and performance, and some downtime between performances. Having someone to chat with kept my mind off any performance anxiety I might have experienced. My buddy, Natalie, is also a painter, and is further along in her artistic career than I am. Sure, this made me feel slightly self-conscious (more on that in number 3, below), but she was great at encouraging me and even giving me lots more art tips I can take back with me to the US with me when I leave Beijing this autumn. She’s a really positive, supportive person. That’s the important part. Choose your buddy wisely, or you might be better off solo. If you can, bring along a supportive partner in crime.

  1. You Can’t Control the Weather

It’s been a wet summer here in Beijing; a generally dry city. When it rains, people tend to hide indoors. Two hours before show time, on a Sunday night at that, it began to pour. The venue was in a hard to find location. Needless to say, attendance was below expected. But, we still got a crowd of maybe 40 people or so.  We didn’t get the moneyed crowd, however, as we were in the more indie-freelancer part of town [cue a cough aka cough hipster cough part of town cough] where I happen to live as well). The crowd we did get was genuinely interested in the arts, however. I had so many lovely conversations during the night while painting. Had it been clear skies, it would have been a totally different experience. I might have made more of an effort with the auction, but I would have missed out on some other interesting interactions. In the end, it was what it was. Worrying about things beyond my own control would have added needless stress. Sometimes you need to just go with the flow. Live painting 2

  1. Limit the Self-Doubt Talk

I told myself I wasn’t going to do it, and I still did. I told myself I wouldn’t get down on the cheap quality of paints I was using, due to Beijing/upcoming move circumstances, or my insecurities about the new style I’m trying out ( more impressionism than realism). At dinner with my support buddy, it slipped out, however. During set up, it did a few more times. It only happened once with attendees. By the end, I had nipped it in the bud and was only talking positively about my view of my own work. I could see how what I said affected how other’s respected my work, regardless of their own style preferences. It has to start from within, however. If you are saying it in your own head, it’s more likely to slip out. If you do have to let it slip out, reserve it for your support buddy. Practice makes perfect. It doesn’t mean you need to be arrogant, just focus on the things you do find positive. What drives you in your art? What does it mean to you? Talk about that. If you have things you want to improve, keep working hard and you will improve, but no need to advertise the flaws. Repeat positive thoughts about yourself like a mantra in your head. Say a (toned down) version of them to others.

  1. Don’t Base Your Worth on One Particular Outcome

The event was partially a fundraiser and partially an awareness raiser for arts in Nepal and the need to rebuild post-earthquake. As mentioned, not many moneyed-folks came, due to weather, timing, and location. Even the photos going for 1-5 dollars had not that many takers. Entry was free. I put a minimum bid on both paintings. It was higher than what all the photos combined raised. The organizer didn’t really mention much about the bidding on my paintings, and honestly I shirked at my own responsibility to pitch, more focused on the actual painting I was doing while simultaneously chatting to others and watching performances. The paintings weren’t sold. Had I been doing the event just for the satisfaction of selling, I would have been disappointed. Instead, I didn’t feel sad at all. There is going to be a second exhibition focused more on revenue raising for the charity. I got so much more out of the experience than listing my works as “sold.” I was able to share my art and stories of Nepal. I felt a part of a creative community. According to the organizer, having the continuous painting created continuity during the lull between theatrical performances. I tend to agree. I was also able to practice my own advice, written here. If you set your expectations on one specific result, you may miss out on all the other positive outcomes you obtain  from trying something new.

Live painting

  1. Just Do It

Unless you are putting yourself at extreme physical risk, which I don’t advocate for, when you have an opportunity to try something new within your creative work, why not give it a go? Try it, learn from it, grow.

5 Ways to Step Outside Your Comfort Zone for Creative Success

Revealing something personalI’ve been having a creative renaissance as of late. I’ve completed about 10 paintings in the past two months. Three of these will be exhibited at upcoming events in the next two weeks. I’m going to be doing some live painting this Sunday as part of a performance art event for charity in Beijing, and again in November in San Diego as part of Pancakes and Booze, where I will also be exhibiting between 3-10 of my works. And, by the way, I do have a full-time job that has little to do with art of any kind.

As mentioned in my last post, I’ve been listening to inspirational podcasts while painting, though sometimes I just listen to awesome music and or movies (by the way subtitles are the worst as I can’t read and paint at the same time). This morning, I listened to an interview of Jia Jiang on the Art of Rejection by Pat Flynn. Mr. Jia (or Mr. Jiang, as my guess is he reversed his name since moving to the US) discussed his experience of doing all sorts of crazy, hilarious things to get over his fear of rejection. It reminded me that my own recent creative flourishing is in large part based on getting outside my own comfort zone and getting over a fear of rejection, be it directly about rejecting my art or other small, social rejections. Today, I’ll discuss 5 ways I got outside of my comfort zone that have helped me in my creative pursuits. Try these and see if they work for you.

1. Just Ask (aka conquer your fear of direct rejection)

I received an invite to an event called Gender Switch in support of an upcoming Love Queer Cinema Week. I saw on the eFlyer that the event would include an art auction. What a great opportunity to show some of my work here in Beijing and maybe even see if people would want to buy it (even if I didn’t receive any of the proceeds). I sent a Wechat message to one of the organizers. It was too late, maybe next time. Rejection. No worries, I thought. I looked through other invites for upcoming charity auctions (which had no mention of painting auctions) and I proposed the same to them. They both said yes. Now I’ve been painting like a bandit this past week to get some relevant works completed in time for the events. I still went to the first event and scoped out local pricing, and had a fun time, of course. Besides that, I also received a free ticket (worth about $50) to the second charity event in exchange for my donation. Score! So, next time you want to do something, just ask. If they say no, ask someone else.

2. Accept An Invitation to Perform (aka get over your stage fright/fear of public speaking)

One of the organizers who responded “yes” to me wanted to meet to discuss the event. I mentioned this in the last post (pre-meeting). As we were discussing, she said, “Could you do some live painting?” Whoa. I was just get back into this whole painting thing. The idea of exposing my nascent methods live in front of the world, maybe even my friends. I usually paint in my pajamas. I started to say “not this time.” But, then, I remembered all those motivational podcasts. Pretty much ALL of them talk about getting outside your comfort zone, worded in different ways. So, I said yes. It hasn’t happened yet, but it has meant I needed to prepare a second painting, as well as do some more deep thinking about my process. Moreover, when I received word earlier this week that the folks at Pancakes and Booze liked my work enough to have exhibit in San Diego this November, I actually inquired about live painting opportunities (hey, by then I’d know what it was like), and they were down for that as well. By the end of the year, I’ll be a regular live painting pro. If someone asks you to do something and the only reason you are inclined to say no is performance anxiety, just say yes. If it doesn’t go well, you will still have tried it out, and it might lead somewhere new and fantastic along the way.

3. Talk About Your Personal Life in Public (aka get over fear of social rejection)

Even though I’m a pretty open person, I’ve become used to a certain amount of compartmentalization between my personal and professional life. I’m also one year outside the definition of a “Millennial,” so I didn’t grow up putting my thoughts online from a young age. For creative success, however, taking your art to the next level may mean revealing some intimate details about yourself, to strangers, to your boss, and to your family. It’s all just a Google away. [Be warned friends and family, if you don’t want to know my deep dark secrets, look away!] Frankly, the term bisexual makes me cringe. I’ve jumped in and out of the LGBTI closet since before I was a teenager. In later years, I often relied on growing up with my two moms to explain my passion for LGBTI equality, or resorted to the whole genderless speech thing (both ways) when speaking about dates and exes to keep my sexuality hidden. Starting to be more public about my own identity has not been easy (though it might be easier when I move back to the US), but it has provided me with great joy and inspiration for my paintings, helped me to connect with people who like my work, and furthermore helped removed some blockages in my qi (aka, free up that time and energy I spent worrying to spend in creative thoughts). Try revealing something deeply personal about yourself within your creative pursuits and see what happens.

4. Lend a Helping Hand to Strangers (aka see your value through valuing others)

What’s better for your artistic karma than helping others? Even if you are feeling insecure about your art, if there is even a chance it could actually do something good for others, why not try it? For me, getting involved in art for charity has been a great motivator to get home after work and start painting instead of loafing on my couch. It has also brought me into contact with other great artists/creative people, who have in turn inspired me even more and presented me with further opportunities. It is a win-win-win situation. As Dale Partridge, author of People Over Profit, promotes in his book, even if you are a straight-up money-making business-person, helping others also helps you. So, teach music at a camp for at-risk teens, donate your work to charity, or write your next blog about your favorite charity cause and link to their donation site. It’ll give you that little extra motivation to keep going and so much more.

5. Call yourself an artist (or writer, or painter, or musician) (aka get over your fear of self- rejection)

Own it. Sometimes I’m still hung up on these conversations I had during my college and high school days (and a more few in recent years) about what it means to be an “artist” (or “musician” or “writer”) and how it is oh so pretentious and arrogant, to label yourself as one. Words have power. Don’t deny yourself this power because (a) you are insecure about your own worth or (b) you are insecure of others opinion of your opinion of yourself. By calling myself an artist, I have quickly re-emerged as one after a long time just hobby-ing as one. I wish I had done it years ago. Does my work have room to grow? Yes. Do I have doubts about where I am now? Yes. But I’m never going to get to where I want to be with my art unless I do it and do it constantly, and put my art out there to be rejected, AND introduce myself as an artist even if someone might roll their eyes when I’m not looking. I’m owning it. I’m an artist. Again, for me, this has been a great motivation to push myself to work harder to live up to the label. Start calling yourself an artist and you will become one.

I’m A Millionaire in My Heart

Three days ago I reached my three month mark, as in three months to the big move back to the United States, and I’m thrilled to say my Beijing “summer residency” is up in full swing.

Being the global nomad I have been over the past couple of decades, my frequent imminent departures were often an excuse not to create. If I produced something, I’d just need to get rid of it before moving to the next place, and the next. When I first arrived back in Beijing, I knew it would be for longer, but the pattern of excuses had already become so engrained, my once-frequent convenings with the brushes   had spread further and further apart. I could barely claim painting as a hobby with a straight face.

This has all turned around. Of course, being in a position to pay for shipping my paintings, if necessary, has helped. Also, the decision to turn down offers to spread my wings off to random post-conflict pit stops, for the moment, has also helped. The US offers a far better structure and more stability for establishing a career in art, rather than dabbling in a bunker with no water and spotty electricity. Art supply store? Maybe on my next R&R trip to Dubai. The global nomad has decided to head home. Well, Southern California, but it feels like “home” to me.

Hitch hiking through the Fergana Valley last month, I had a sign. It read “San Diego”. Literally, I was walking around looking for a sign in my head as to where I should move next and the little guesthouse (the Biy Ordo, which I totally recommend) I stayed in in Osh had wall paper that said “San Diego” on it (and a few other places that weren’t really in the running).

San Diego Wall Paper

The decision-making has snowballed from there, and I am ready to announce:

  1. I am launching my art career.
  2. I am going to be a financially successful artist
  3. I am going to use my art for good

If you have checked out my previous post, you know that, while I have my own hang ups about “self-help” literature, I do tend to dabble, and usually while in airports. Returning back to my Beijing courtyard apartment from my adventures in the mountains, I raided my self-help library, composed of books I haven’t glanced at since deboarding various flights. I also went online, and discovered countless tools, like The Abundant Artist (TAA) run by Cory Huff, filled with useful tips on launching a financially successful art career. TAA has its own podcast that I have also been listening to.  I read a lot about how many artists feel money is inherently dirty and sell themselves short as a result; guilty as charged. I also remembered the core of most of the texts out there: positive thinking.

Positive thinking is already paying off. Last Friday I ran into very cool Portland based artist Natalie Erickson, who was super generous in her advice (by the way Natalie, I just Googled you so I could give you credit here on this blog—awesome paintings!). On Sunday, I posted my latest painting celebrating both marriage equality in the US and the wedding of two amazing Chinese feminists here in Beijing on Facebook, and received a lot of love in return. Marriage equality

On Tuesday, I noticed the next Scratching Beijing, an experimental theatre event organized by Thanh Le Dang, were doing their upcoming gig as a fundraiser for Nepal earthquake relief efforts. The eFlyer mentioned photos, but it dawned on me it would be a great event to auction off a few paintings in support of the charity. We have a coffee scheduled for Sunday and more on how that turns out will be detailed in an upcoming post. I ran into my awesome entrepreneurial friend, marketing coach and so much more Phoebe Mroczek, who was in town for a wedding, and more ideas just started bouncing about. She might be moving to So-Cal as well.

Of course, actually having a growing body of work has helped, but, yep, that good ol’ positive thinking trick really does work. So, for now, I’m a millionaire in my heart and I’m saying it out loud.

In other people’s words. Don’t take my word for it.        

Editing round two of the novel is finished, a whole new style of painting has emerged, and plans have been put into place to leave China and the Great Firewall behind after a five year stretch. As such, I’m trying to get both of my websites fully functioning and ready to help me successfully launch the next phase of my life.

A word person at heart, I’m a fan of quotes and I noticed some of the default website designs have places for inserting them. Obviously, these are intended as positive references for the services/work you are looking to sell. So, I started thinking about articles and books in which I was quoted or referenced, and realized it would be pretty funny to share a few with my as-of-now non-existent readers for comic relief.

Apparently, it’s not (yet) my visual art, fiction writing, or legal prowess that manage to cause an international media frenzy (well, there is some of that as well—I even feature on fun websites like “Traitor Muslim Immigrants” and in a book titled Hatred at Home —but I’m sticking to the more lighthearted ones at present). Rather, over the years, it’s been my bizarre fashion sense and radically mediocre looks that has been the stuff of legends, on no less than three separate continents at that.

1999, Glasgow, Scotland

From The July 28, 1999 edition of the Scottish Daily Record article Do we have the worst dress sense under the sun? As soon as the mercury hits the 70s, Scotland’s parks and streets are littered with style no-nos. by Emma Nugent. “Aurora Bewicke, 20, carried her heavy knit cardigan, but insisted on wearing a long skirt with woolly socks and heavy boots. She said: ‘The weather is so unpredictable, I dress for anything – you can’t trust just one day of sun.’” [While I won’t argue with her description of my dress, for the record, I must say they just pretty much made that quote up. Besides that, not being Scottish, I actually find highs of 70 degrees to be chilly for July]

2002, Beijing, China

From the published memoir Letter from China, Peter James Froning (2002):

“On TV this week, the Chinese Cooking Show, which comes on at 8:15 every morning on the English channel. The host is my new life love, Aurora Bewicke. I’m not sure where she is from—European I think, and not particularly attractive, but nonetheless…She always has a Chinese chef guest who speaks zero English. They take you step by step through a recipe such as squid with mushrooms, or deep fried live bass, which has a damn surprised look on his face, let me tell you!”

2007, San Diego, CA, USA

From The San Diego Union-Tribune, April 1, 2007

“Sporting shorts that are always in season in San Diego, 27-year-old AURORA BEWICKE, of Hillcrest, was spotted at an art and fashion party at Cream in University Heights. The criminal defense attorney loves to express her individuality outside of work with what she describes is a ‘wacky’ style.”

Now that selfies are all the rage, however, my superbly odd looks have gone largely unnoticed for the past near-decade, at least in the international press that is.

Anyway, now that I’ve got that bit of comedy out, it’s time to go through my own piles of shameless selfies and select some images to help me update my website profiles.

Posted here for your further enjoyment, in the spirit of self-deprecating humor, is Borealish’s best deep fried sea bass look with, in the words of the late Peter James Froning, “a damn surprised look on his face, let me tell you!”IMG_20150201_223832

Airplane Inspiration: Steal Like An Artist

I recently took a trip to Australia, necessitating spending quite a lot of time in the air. Trying to save costs, I opted for a budget airline with no entertainment. No problem, I thought, I’d make some progress on my monthly word count goals (which I did on the flight there). I’ve never been one to be overly productive on an airplane, however. Blaming it on oxygen deprivation, my  desire to read through the classics or study the complexities of gender in warfare usually gives way to a desire to flip through fashion magazines and watch Hollywood rom-coms. I used to even eat fast food in airports-the horrors.  I suppose I can’t blame the oxygen if I’m on the ground.

While in the Melbourne airport, getting ready for my screen-less flight back, I went to stock up on the usual culprits: Vogue, Elle, some Diet Coke (which I had to sneak sips of as this nameless cheapo airline even charges for water and doesn’t allow you to pack your own). At the shop, I happened to notice a book: Steal Like an Artist, by Austin Kleon. This was the perfect airplane book. Few words, some pictures, and happy little snippets to let my mind wander. Much like its title suggests, it offers inspiration for artistic tasks, basically through encouraging a bit of borrowing. In the spirit of the book’s title, I will likely steal some of Kleon’s threads and expand upon them here in later posts.

What I wanted to note in this post, however, is that even for the sophisticated and savvy among us inspiration can be derived not only from Dostoyevsky, but also from inspirational quotes and airport books. Andy Warhol is notable for causing a stir with a similar idea of pop icons as “art.” Getting caught up in where the inspiration comes from is only another barrier to accomplishment. It is in this spirit, I have opened my own mind lately to reading more blogs, to listening to non-NPR pod casts (for example, Amber Rose Allen’s, Life by Your OWN Design), and even allowed myself to buy a T-shirt with a slogan from a well-known Aussie inspirationalist Lorna Jane, who makes work-out clothes sexy enough I can’t wait for my next dance class. Rumor has it, she is opening stores in California soon, and she is sure to be a hit. I had never heard of her before this trip.

So, what did I steal on my trip. I stole some patterns.  This one below is from a church in Brisbane. I stole some more from contemporary aboriginal paintings, but am having an ethical quandary about posting them here, as it might take the “stealing” theme a little too far. At one gallery I went to, there was even a recreation of a Chinese supermarket as “art.” It really did look like my neighborhood store, stocked with everything down to the pink roach spray. This reminded me that everything is about context, and am trying to think of what I cook re-contextualize either here in China, back in the US, or somewhere completely different. After returning, I took the theft idea further, stealing from a theme of my own past visual art: fish. When I was in high school, I constantly painted them, and have now, this past weekend started a mixed media piece featuring a very large fish painted with oils. I plan to sew used, ripped pantyhose to the canvass when I’m done….stealing from my own trash.

IMG_20140904_165903

So, what have you “stolen” lately? What are your low-brow (or high-brow) sources of inspiration? Where have they led you?