Monday, August 01, 2016

August Unicorn Of The Month: Amy Fleming

Amy Fleming
I spend a lot of time in the woods near my home in north Florida, digging through old dump sites and collecting bones after deer hunting season ends. There is often a theme to the discards I find out there: a toaster next a coffee percolator and a shot up refrigerator, or a busted up typewriter with a ruined time clock, maybe a side view mirror and a piece of a car horn. There are plenty of interesting discards around the city as well: broken bird baths, vintage floor waxers, and damaged toys left on the curb to be either rescued by my pick up truck or carried off by city services, whoever gets there first.

I pull these things out of the ground and off of the curb, and imagine the stories behind them. Sometimes my own stories find their way in. I continually revisit themes from past work to further expand them as I delve deeper into the meanings of discarded and recovered objects and materials. 

Favorite items occur and reoccur, such as a shot up refrigerator, banged up vehicles, smashed household appliances. Imagery cycles through depicting objects, to taking rubbings from the objects, to using the objects themselves, and back to depiction. If it’s banged up, damaged, rusted, or been through a few fires, I’m interested in it.

More of Amy's work can be seen on her Website.

Friday, July 01, 2016

July Unicorn Of The Month: Zachary J. Williams

I am not sure long how I will be back in California, but most likely, I will be returning to Shanghai in the fall. Until then, I have this fantastic studio here in the Landpark area of Sacramento. A special thank you to Darling Neath for letting me use the former studio of Laureen Landau.

So much room! Weeee!
Track lighting!
Patching these up.

Much more soon. 

Zachary J. Williams 
 Crazy for God. Oil on canvas. 80” x 64”

My work is an exploration of the many absurdities of modern American political and social life, spanning religious and economic motivations underlying aggressive American nationalism, to the numbing epidemic of gun violence, to the hypnotic cacophony of the real and the imagined.

Bedtime Bear. Oil on panel. 20” x 30”
These works illustrate a literal fragmentation of societies. With each painting, I confront and plead with my viewers’ emotional state, to provoke a dialogue surrounding the obstacles, illusions, and uncertainties of our environmental future.
After Dark. Oil on canvas. 40” x 28”
Too Many Puppies. Oil on linen. 50” x 60”
The Oceans Wide. Oil on canvas. 24” x 78”
Angry Bombs. Oil on Panel. 15 1/2" X 19 1/4"
More of Zach's work can be viewed on his Website, Facebook Page, and Instagram.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

June Unicorns Of The Month: Jiba Molei Anderson & Lorraine Heller-Nicholas

Jiba Molei Anderson
Comics truly have the ability to touch people across the globe. Comics know no boundaries; they are truly democratic. A good story educates. A good story inspires. A good story transcends race and culture because comics, unlike other forms of entertainment, are a personal experience. 

My work examines the root of the superhero, mythology, thereby taking an esoteric approach to the genre. Mythology allows me to craft a story featuring people with abilities that though they use those powers for good, they are still subjected to the same feelings and frustrations we all have living in these modern times.

The worlds I create are populated with characters from multiple cultures, which reflect our diverse reality. From my original creations like The Horsemen to The Song of Lionogo: An Indian Ocean Mythological Remix, which I developed for the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, I create positive visions of heroes of various ethnicities performing amazing feats of courage and bravery, instilling a sense of wonder and pride to the viewer. 

My work is defined by pop culture. From Alphonse Mucha to Frank Frazetta, from comic books and animation to “Grindhouse” films, these “low-brow” creations sparked my imagination. Their bold and shameless design and marketing aesthetic inspire the way that I make images and bring my message to the masses… And they are a lot of fun.

More of Jiba's work can be seen on his Website, his Twitter page, Facebook, Blog, and his publishing company Griot Enterprises.

Lorraine Heller-Nicholas 

Couple Stalking. 2014-2015. Acrylic On Paper.

I have been looking at representations of romance, innocence and the concept of ‘possibility’ in contemporary culture. Previous work has examined the representational mechanics (particularly in cinema and television) governing the depiction of romantic love and how it can sour. As this work evolves, I am becoming increasingly fascinated with how these images contrast with real-life romantic experiences where arguments are rarely romantic.

Loves Me, Loves Me not. 2010. Digital Print.

Love Story. 2012. Ink On Paper.

Of all popular narrative forms, Romance is perhaps the one we experience most poignantly and personally. Regardless of whether we have felt intense feelings of romantic love or not, we are encouraged to yearn for it, from chocolate commercials to music videos. Yet despite the emphasis upon the individual’s experience of romance, the stories are often similar, and stories of romance are spoken of as a universal theme; crossing language, distance and culture.

Precious Little One. 2005. Digital Print.

Romance Writers Phrasebook. 2014. Pen On Canvas.

I have a cross-disciplinary practice, which includes drawing, print, digital and animation. I studied animation and imaging at RMIT as a Bachelor of Arts - Media Arts and drawing, painting, printmaking at Swinburne as part of a Diploma of Visual Arts. Since I started exhibiting in 2001, my work has been shown around Australia, as well as in the US, Taiwan, Iceland, China, Brazil, Germany and Singapore. I have previously completed residencies in Taipei, Shanghai, Iceland and in Australia.

More Lorraine's work can be seen on her WebsiteInstagramTumblrTwitterFacebook,  and a selection of video work below.
Advice to those in love, 2005
Loves Me, Loves Me Not, 2010/12

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

April Unicorns Of The Month: Annika Connor & Nicholas Papadakis

I know, you missed me.

The residency is China over, the paintings are back in America, my vacation in Bali was glorious, and Art Basel Hong Kong was a blast. Special thank you to Scott Dietrich and Isaac Leung at Videotage for the hospitality while I was in Hong Kong.

SAIC Alumni reunited at Art Basel HK.

I will post an update about the China Paintings soon, but for now, it’s time to bring back something I started in July of 2015, Unicorns Of The Month! 

Not only are Annika and Nick accomplished artists, they just published a gorgeous art book called 
Point Suite.

If you’re a lover of books, art books especially, you should really pick this up. The easiest way is through Amazon but if you’re old school, you can visit these various bookstores to see the publication for yourself:

420 King St.
Charleston, SC 29403

Los Angeles:
1407 Ocean Front Walk
Venice, CA 90291

San Francisco:
50 Second St.
(Between Market & Mission)
San Francisco, CA 94105

1400 18th Street (at Missouri)
San Francisco, CA 94107
415 255-8802

599 Valencia St
San Francisco, CA 94110

900 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110

Annika Connor
Marilyn Multiplied. Watercolor On Board.

Her work depicts a fascination with beauty and decadence. The paintings portray fragments from a daydream and a longing for a time of romance and pleasure.

In 2002, Connor received a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she studied painting and philosophy. Connor has worked professionally as a painter in New York, London, and Stockholm. 
Camus. Watercolor On Board.
Colette. Watercolor On Panel.

In 2006, Connor founded Active Ideas Productions as a means to explore ideas outside of the studio. 
Today Active Ideas Productions is an innovative artist-run organization committed to the education and development of emerging artists and the art community. Connor is currently based in Brooklyn where she maintains an active studio. 

More of her work can be seen on her Website, Facebook Page, Instagram, and Twitter.

Nicholas Papadakis
Precession. Oil On Panel.

The works in Nicholas Papadakis’ ongoing series of metaphorical portrait paintings strive to capture signature moments in the lives of people with whom he’s familiar. These moments that flash or recognition remind us of the individual’s unique charm (and often times reveal life-changing states of mind) are ultimately expressions of universal human qualities.

Gilded Age. Pigment and Gold On Panel.

In his attempt to explain these archetypes through metaphor, he has chosen to represent each vignette as a montage rather than a literal portrait; by layering imagery culled from the public domain along with his own drawings and photography, Papadakis shows his intention to introduce as much shared reference as possible while still retaining the original portraits that are both familiar and unique.

The final synthesis as transparent glaze oil paintings solidifies these ideas for Papadakis into a seamless whole. By translating the entire original source material into one medium, and residual contextual barriers are removed: the result being a unified vision that transcends even the brush strokes.

More of his work can be seen on his Website and Instagram.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Happy New Year From A Chinese Jail (Shenzhen Residency)

Instead of traveling in or out of China during Chinese New Year, I opted to stay in the mountains and paint. Even when travel arrangements are made months in advance, just getting to the airport or train station this time of year is ridiculous 

No thanks.
The only real celebration I saw was this fireworks display in the hills behind my apartment.

The year of the monkey started out quiet and I expected the month to end the same way. 
But then on February 21, 2016 I went to jail!

I Blame My Penis

On Saturday February 20, two friends invited me to an underground rave put on by a company called 
The Real Deal. The company is based in Guangzhou, but often has raves in Shenzhen and other cities.

Do I like the music at raves?

Do I like doing EX or MDMA?
Do I like to smoke weed?
Do I like to dance?

I attended the party for the same reason 99% of guys attend raves and dance clubs, women. 
I have been somewhat isolated in the mountains of Shenzhen, painting like some sort of art monk since the beginning of November. Even a work-a-holic like me has needs! Yes, there are “adult themed” websites out there, but the internet connection up here is touch and go. And really, a somewhat pixelated video is NO substitute for the embrace of woman. So yes, I decided to endure the mind numbing repetitiveness of EDM for the potential of sex. Don't judge me.

The location of the party was a tunnel in the Nanshan district of Shenzhen next to a gigantic IKEA. Really all IKEA stores are gigantic, but this is China, so everything western is over the top. We arrived a bit early, which was good because I was able to document some really nice graffiti in and around the tunnel. 

Much more can be seen here.

About 12am the party was in full swing, abound with typical rave stuff. Much to my surprise, I was actually having a good time. I didn’t dance, but the music had some elements of hip hop, which made it tolerable.

Outside the tunnel, I met some cool people like Victor who originally hails from Los Angeles. His parents sent him to Shenzhen so he could learn about his home country because as he said, “They just shipped me here to learn Chinese. They wanted me to be as American as possible, so they didn’t teach me Chinese. Now they want me to get in touch with my roots and shit. Sink or swim!” Then there was Rochelle, a painter, sculptor, musician, poet, performance artist, actress, yoga instructor from South Africa. She invited me to her weekly, “ Live painting, chakra, yoga alignment sessions” at her yoga studio. I immediately thought “No thank you, I paint everyday. If I’m going to do yoga, I’m just going to do yoga. ” But I was polite and said maybe I could check it out. Then there was Efram from Morocco, who was here for medical school. Nice kid, but he was much too high to have a real conversation with. After the third, “ I’m so baked bro, ” I knew I had to move on.

Oh Shit
Captain Bluecoat and his sidekick Camouflage.
I was in the middle of asking Victor’s girlfriend if the woman standing behind her was single when I saw people on the left side of me running toward the opening of the tunnel. No big deal, I just stood on the curb and leaned away. Then I heard people yelling and screaming from the right side. Then I saw lights and what looked like police in full riot gear coming toward me. Hmmmm, this is interesting. Police had sealed off the only 3 exit points and they were moving toward the center of the tunnel. Now people start to panic because it is obvious what is going on.

Plain-clothes police and uniformed police with mega phones yelled what sounded like, 

I couldn’t make out all of it, but I heard the words everyone and sit so I put two and two together. When the collapsible batons came out, I knew the police meant business! Sadly not everyone did. I don't know the cause, but I saw a few people get kicked and shoved and one guy was slapped in the face. I thought the girl next to me was going to get clubbed because she was yelling at the police in Chinese. She was yelling in Cantonese, so I didn’t understand much, except for the word that loosely translates as,
Mr Bluecoat and his sidekick Camouflage dragged Victor away seconds after he took this picture. Luckily Victor and his camera were unharmed.
The officer nearest to us understood EXACTLY  what she said, because he yelled at her with such fury, I could see the veins pulsating in his neck. He had small angry eyes with this short cropped, Mao's Red Guard Era haircut. I imagined underneath his uniform SWAT gear he wore a t-shirt that said,
“ PLEASE GIVE ME A REASON!” If he was close enough, there is no doubt he would have used his baton on her.

I pulled her down to the ground with me. “Just relax, it will be fine,” I said. But in my head I was thinking, 

“ SHUT YOUR GODDAMN MOUTH! Do you want to get smacked with that club? I have a really short list of people I’m willing to get clubbed for, and you’re not on it!”

About 45 minutes later the police informed us that we were ALL GOING TO THE POLICE STATION! 
Roughly 500 people were going to police station for drug testing, because in China, the consumption of drugs is illegal. Even if you take a few puffs from a joint in say Amsterdam a week before you arrive in China, if you test positive for weed in The Middle Kingdom, you’re in trouble. Whether its actually a serious punishment is dependent upon how much they find in your system and what those drugs are. The harsher the drug, the harsher the punishment!

The woman next to me, Sofia, still cant believe this is happening and uses every chance she can to yell at police. “This is such bullshit!” Why are they wasting everyone’s time? It’s just a party!” Sigh. I agreed with her, but what are we going to do? This is China. The drug laws are they way they are. We’re going to the police station and the next 24 hours are going to be miserable. But what a story to tell! This is what kept me calm through the whole ordeal, the belief, the knowing that I would have a good story to share. That and the fact that I had not smoked weed since the early years of Obama’s presidency.

The time at the police station was actually quite boring, which I suppose is a good thing compared to what it could have been. We were moved into one room, and then moved into another room. Then moved to another room. Some sort of captain came into our room to yell at his guards, and we were moved once again. Once the men and women were separated, were we all given numbers. I was given the number 55, told to write my name, nationality, passport, and phone numbers on a piece of paper, because now, dun-dun-dun-dun, it was drug test time! There were a few visibly nervous mostly foreign faces in my group. I heard one guy, who was probably Australian, quietly say, “Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck,” to himself.

Number 55
As the countdown to 55 go closer, I started to panic. I flashed back to episode of Seinfeld when Elaine tested positive for Opium because she had eaten a Poppy Seed Muffin!


Did I eat any Poppy Seed Muffins prior to the party?
If I had, would I test positive for Opium?
Would the second hand weed smoke from the party do me in?
Would I be detained?
Pay a fine?
Be deported?
Be forced to work in some sort of hidden, off the grid Chinese labor camp?

When my number was called, I was unsure if I would be able to pee at all. It had been hours since I had anything to drink. Since I had to urinate in front of the police, would I get performance anxiety? But when it came to execute, somehow my body managed to produce urine! Once I filled the cup, an officer opened a fresh test strip to check my golden liquid for drugs.  

If you get a circle, congratulations, you're pregnant!
If you have drugs in your system, the results are instant. Negative result is indicated with (-) and positive is (+) “You’re negative, go sit back down,” said the officer with the clip board. As I left the cell, I noticed on the floor, all the confirmed positive samples from my group. Those guys were in for a very long, miserable night. I thought of Efram. What would this do to his status as a student?

We were then separated from the positive people and made to sit in different room for another two hours. The sun was coming up and I could hear officers in the background say, “ I don’t want to watch these foreigners anymore. When do we get a break for breakfast?” I think it was 7:30 am when it was announced that we would be getting out in the next 2 or 3 hours, but we had to sign some paper work first. So we were all escorted into a conference room with the intention that they had to document us and check our visa status before we were released. But first we were given A speech. The speech had an 80’s era, Say No To Drugs, feel to it.
“Drinking or cigarettes are ok, but you should not use drugs when you party here in China. It’s not safe and it hurts your body. You know that drugs are dangerous and potentially carry serious fines here in China. You will notice that some of your friends are not here in this room. Well, they tested positive for drugs so they are going to stay here for a day or so. Some might stay longer or be deported, but I don’t know that for sure. We are going to take your pictures and check your visa status. If any of you have over stayed your visa, you could be in trouble, so let me know now. Wait until we call your number. It should take another one or two hours.”
It actually took another 5 hours. 

A few of us "lucky ones" in the police conference room.

I was told by others in the group that I should be prepared for an onslaught of questions about my personal life.
Do you party often?
How often do you go out?
Do you know a lot of foreigners?
Did you learn Chinese from watching Youtube?
What is your job?
What is your salary?
What are you doing here in Shenzhen?
You often visit Hong Kong?

The misery in the room was tangible.
But by the time it was my turn, it was almost lunchtime, and the officers were visibly exhausted. 
Aside from my passport and visa number, the only question they asked was, 
”Why do you look so fat in your passport photo?”
How could I explain the concept of photo distortion when an image is scanned and rescanned into a visual electronic database? I knew it would be a waste of time, so I just laughed at his question. I also realized that it would take at least 1 hour to get back to my apartment via the subway. The sooner I left, the better. 
“A lot of Americans eat bad food, so some of us get fat. I eat better here in China,” was my answer. 
They laughed and told me to go home.

As I staggered down the street, looking for a bus that would take me the metro station, I saw number 68 looking very lost. 
"Hey man, do you know where to go?" I asked.
#68 : "Sort of. I mean, I know where my subway stop is."
Me: "Ok well, I'm just going to get a taxi to the station. How are you feeling?
#68: “I’m good. You want a bump?’
Me: “Huh?”
#68: “The police never searched me. I still have some coke in my pocket from the party.”
Me: “Wow, really?”
#68: “Yeah.”
He then stuck his head inside his jacket and I heard a faint, “Sniff, sniff.”
Me: “Ok man good luck.”

I wasn’t paranoid when I left the station, but now I was, Defcon 5, Johnnie Deep, Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas paranoid! What if the police were still watching me?

I had to get as far away from this idiot as possible.

It took me two hours to get back to my apartment in the district of Luohu. My bed in China is like most beds in China, one step above sleeping on wooden planks. But when I arrived home, at that moment, my bed was softer than a cloud made of baby kittens. The next 14 hours were some of the most restful hours of my life.

I would have slept longer, but my phone had some interesting things to tell. Wechat alerted me that word had got out about the raid.

It could have been worse. I could have been forced to watch the last season of American Idol.

“50 Expats Arrested For Drug Use” was all over Chinese Social and News Media!
According to a translated press release, the numbers were surprising. 491 people were detained that night. 118 had tested positive for drug use, majority marijuana of course, and 93 held. (It’s not clear why 25 people weren’t held. Connections, corruption?) Of those 93, 50 of them were foreigners. Perhaps they caught some drug dealers, but most were released after four or five days. It was called “administrative detention” or “violation.” Not arrest. It's all about wording in China.

Guide To China

I heard a rumor that the police were after the dealers and the rest of us were just pawns caught up in the raid. I also learned that earlier in December of 2015, two expats were found dead from drugs. Perhaps this raid was to scare the expat community into going straight or to save the face of a local government official. Whatever the reason, I’m happy to have made it through unscathed. 

I love you China, but right now you're acting like a clingy, overly paranoid, if you even look at another woman I'll stab you, kind of girlfriend. I think it's best if we took some time off from this relationship. You know, give each other some space to do some soul searching, maybe even create a space where we miss each other. 
You work out your stuff, and I'll go to the island of Bali where I can work on my tan and get drunk.

Don't go too crazy on me ok?
Perhaps I'll see you in the fall of 2016.