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SHANGHAI

SOJOURN b y

G r e g o r y

B u r n s

editing by Phil Haddock layout by Angie Tan Burns

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Swatch Art Peace Hotel Artist in Residency Program I live on the Bund, in an old building built by foreigners. There is history here, more than I can imagine. I try to connect to the past while looking at the towering present and future represented in the skyscrapers across the Pudong River. I am at the confluence of old and new, past and present. For over a century, these buildings have witnessed the connections between China and the rest of the world through economic and cultural exchange. Today, McDonald’s and Louis Vuitton logos scream for attention from the mass of humanity that now wanders the area, snapping up pictures and products that 1 exclaim, “We have arrived, and isn’t this great?”


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My studio apartment is bliss. Hardly the simplicity of a monk’s cloister in the Pyrenees, but I can adjust. Modern and clean juxtaposed against the ancient and stately Romanic pillars of the surrounding architecture. A dozen other foreign and local artists reside here too. We have all the freedom and passion to create something unique, fueled by this incredible mix of past and present. The paint is the structure, my inspiration is the gas. My task is to try and distill something of this amazing space and time into a single voice, which will represent my ‘China Time Capsule’.

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Yesterday reacquainted me with the Bund area. Walking to Fuzhou Road to buy art supplies, I move back into streets and shops I have visited since 1984, when I first arrived in China. Despite all that has changed, so much stays the same. Crouching shopkeepers with bowls of lunch noodles eating behind their counters with ankle-high flesh skin stockings sprouting from their dark, flat shoes. Bargaining for the best price while knowing that the merchant, though feigning bankruptcy, has still made a tidy profit. The day rolls on and I return to my base on the Bund to begin sketching old and new buildings. In my studio I take out the new calligraphy brush and ink to begin once again a practice started long ago. I recall when I first diligently studied calligraphy in Taipei; long after my class at the university had ended I would brush letters into the night. Finally, at closing time, the custodian would come and ask me to leave, but by the way, “Why do you keep writing the same characters over and over again?�

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Reconnecting with River South Art Center and Steve Wang, I see my paintings of 2007, which were my first large canvases in Shanghai. We discuss how our ‘positions’ and our ‘preferences’ often limit us. How we like this or dislike that and how in so doing we do not cherish and feel grateful for what is actually here and now. We are all entitled to our opinions, likes and dislikes, but often for me they get in the way of really living fully in the now. Instead of pushing ‘stuff’ away, I would prefer to embrace and connect with it. I am also thrown deeply into the decisions I must make for my ‘China Time Capsule’. I return to my four-part ‘Journey’ series, which includes: Recluse, Depart, Contemplate and Return. This feels correct in some way and now I must just determine the methodology and content for executing it. Part of me fears the structure I might put in place, which may inhibit the expressive and intuitive side of my work. But I trust that a balance can be found and I will, with proper intent, be able to develop something of merit. Confidence and belief in what I do is key since how can anyone else believe in what I do, if I don’t?

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I live on the Bund, across the street from 20 million locals. Everyday, they walk down my street and cross over to the walkway that hugs the Pudong River. They come to look, shop and snap photos. The skyscrapers across the river from the old colonial building I live in light up at night for the world to see and exclaim, “China has most certainly arrived!”

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There is security in rhythm. In art, repetition is pleasing. We often strive to put some order in our lives with consistent schedules. Here in Shanghai, I try to meditate daily to set my intentions. But although grounding and stabilizing, repetition does not lead us to new places and ideas. Though pretty, it does not afford much breakthrough. My works here will be different from what has come before. Therefore, I can’t just repeat the past. Straying into the enemy territory of the unknown is not always settling. There is anxiety, and doubts to subdue. I will need to keep going despite not knowing where I am headed. But I do this because invariably, eventually, when the work is done, there will be the possibility that, in the words of my inner voice, “something of merit will tumble forth”.

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I explore my world around the Bund, a mix of old and new. Buildings constructed by foreign banks a hundred years ago, flanked by the ultra modern architecture that only today China’s wealth can afford. Millions of people crawl all over and around this Mecca for branded goods and perfect photo ops. There is a constant flood of people and energy, which feeds my sense of this place and informs my work. Like a sniper I sneak out into the caldron of activity just outside my door to capture ‘traces’ with pen and ink, returning with signs of life from outside my studio, eventually to be absorbed into my paintings. But more than documentation, I seek to reference the journey that all of us must take both externally and inwardly. We must leave our comfort zones in order to grow. Along the way, we may get bashed around and bruised, but we always emerge the better for it, only to repeat the cycle again. Some would say it is madness while others would say, ‘that’s life”.

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For a week I have looked out the windows of Bund 19 at the masses of people that mill about, a tsunami of bodies, many wearing red baseball caps. During this same period, I have observed just 6 birds. When I do, my heart skips a beat as inside I somehow realize what a rarity this is. Nature has all but been removed from this landscape through centuries of progress. Yet, it fights back, sneaking into this stone and cement jungle, dipping in pools of water left by oversized air-conditioning units. So satisfying, amongst all of this, to discover ‘signs of life’.

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Maybe all that really matters is our intentions. Take painting for instance. Does it matter what I paint or how I paint it? If the energy I put into the painting is meant to uplift and bring a positive outcome, will it do this of its own accord or must I endeavor to infuse the work with this vibration or purpose? It seems that once you have the tools to create something, it is then all about what you really want to do with those tools. Are we trying to make money, gain fame or fuel our ego? Or are we trying to feed the world through our art? Are we trying to bring some light into the world and the hearts of others? If so, perhaps my blind stumbling will somehow produce something of merit after all, even when certain observers say, “My kid can paint better than that”. !

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Ten days into this residency and I still feel like a 7th grader. My studio has the smell of new carpet. It reminds me of my art class at Tilden Junior High in Maryland where I first learned about the works of Vincent Van Gogh and Peter Max. I painted a sunset silhouette of some rock formations and the view of a person leaning over into a water fountain. Here in Shanghai, I get to play again. I am doing work that is filled with 30 years of traipsing across China. Conversing with the other artists in the program gives me feedback and ideas that I have sorely missed since doing my Masters at the turn of the century. Here I am happy to get into the studio not just to work out of some obligation to create, but to be simply who I am and do what I want. I realize I can change and have. My paintings can do the same. I am grateful for this time to explore and this gift. It reminds me that the best things in life are often free. !

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Yesterday I went swimming. Unlike one of the last times I went swimming in China at a public pool, the water was not green. In fact it was all very organized and the complex was like that of any other modern nation. A police officer swam, a housewife swam, a businessman swam and some sporty looking guy swam. Unlike previous travels in China where I noticed a complete lack of people taking part in exercise programs, today the locals have embraced the idea of keeping fit. Before, people got plenty of exercise just surviving life by taking buses, riding bicycles and walking. Today, with all the cars and comforts of life, the Chinese too are thinking about not just the bottom line, but also their waistline.

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Only in Shanghai could you meet the folks you do. It is a Mecca for unique people. Last night I met, shared a meal with and later hugged Liu Wei. Liu is a 25 year old well beyond his years in character and spirit. I guess once you have had your arms blown off at the age of ten, and survive, the rest of life is a cakewalk. Or as he puts it, you either die quickly or live amazingly. He didn’t die. He learned to sing and play the piano with his toes. Last year ! he won the TV contest, ‘China’s Got Talent’.

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I love his hair, a kind of Japanese-samurai look, closely cropped on the sides with the rest of his locks pressed up towards the sky. It suits him. He laughs and talks deeply and easily. These days he spends much of his time motivating college students to discover their dream and work towards it. He is living his with gusto. We happily took photos together, which I seldom relish, and talked about going for a swim sometime. I realized that though I never consciously dreamed I would someday be painting in a huge studio overlooking the Bund, the current reality is pretty awesome. He was a real breath of fresh air and a positive reminder that, “we should be careful of what we wish for, because we just may get it”.

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It has always been my contention that to be a good artist one must live a big life. This would mean traveling widely, reading, listening and in general, living a lot. If one could do this, then there would be something along the way that would be worth painting about. The downside of this is that the big life can eventually overload the system and the artist runs the risk of not knowing what to say or where to find the ‘meat’. Despite this hazard, one must push on and search out the messages or images, which deserve expression. There is a lot of stumbling in the dark and making friends with doubt and uncertainty. But wasting paint and time trying to find these kernels of ‘importance’ is an effort worthy of our life’s work. It is a long race, one with many starts and stops. And one which requires daily effort. In the words of Chuck Close, who continues painting large wonderful canvases despite being confined to an electric wheelchair, ‘Inspiration is for amateurs, the rest of us just show up”. ! 10


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On Monday the universe hiccups. It seems that nothing goes right. I feel a cold coming on. I wonder if I am sick. But in the end, it’s just about carrying on with my work. Last night I spent the evening with a group of artists discussing work done with the theme, ’Heroes & Villains’. It was a fun sharing and an opportunity I have not had since college. Then again tonight, our little band of resident artists had ‘Open Studios’ in which we explained to the crew our work. All this sharing is like eating a good meal. I feel broader and fuller, with the possibility of doing something new. I am so grateful for this moment where I can again be the student, the learner, curious about something other than what I am doing. It feels great to be, for a moment, outside myself and my comfort zone.

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Sometimes we have dogged determination to carry on. And sometimes we wonder why we do what we do. It is easier to continue as an artist when one’s work is well received and one is excited about what one is doing. But often our work lacks inspiration or we find no satisfaction in working anymore. We get no positive feedback about our art and thus begin to doubt its value or validity. During these times, we sink low into self-doubt and wonder what else we could do instead. These times are real and they come and go. The artist’s journey is a roller coaster of ups and downs. When internal and external feedback is not there to help us to move forward, we need to look elsewhere to find the reason to keep going. One last resort is to remember that when all else fails, we know that what we are doing is good and makes sense for the simple reason that we believe in our art and ourselves. 1

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After two weeks here, I have settled into a routine. I wake, pee, meditate, write, have breakfast, work in the studio, and eat dinner, read a book and sleep. There are minor variations on the theme but you get my drift. Life has become simple. In some ways this is very good, especially for getting something done. Yet, it also breeds contempt for the moment and makes me stop living each minute as a unique set of circumstances. So I will mix it up and get out more and see more so that I have more to paint and write about. But I can’t help but smile at how, though I travel half way around the world to do something new and creative, I end up turning in on my self and doing what I do normally. I guess it is a need for consistency and grounding. I appreciate this and it helps me to move forward. But sometimes I realize that I! must stop to smell new roses and paint outside the lines.

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My artist’s journey becomes more and more about stumbling forward in the dark. I create something from a simple intuition or idea. Then I react to that something. Following this, I react to what comes up. At times, I have a ‘Zen’ moment when it all feels right. Though this is a wonderful feeling and sign, when it happens, I should stop. And sometimes I do. But often I carry on, emboldened by the feeling of satisfaction. But perhaps it would have been best to stop while I was winning, because what happens next is another round of battles on the field of my canvas. And I am in the fight again, searching for survivors and something that is worth agonizing over. Around and around I go, coming up for air only to plunge back down again in the caldron of my swirling creative process. It is a mess. It is anything but defined and it is riddled with doubts. It holds nothing but all my attachments and insecurities. But it is the only way I know that will possibly lead me to something magical, something new and very exciting; something that speaks of the music in my soul. 1

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It is Friday and an end to a positive and productive week of painting. Monday sucked, I guess like everybody’s Mondays. But fortunately I kept motoring along and have surfaced for air and not drowned altogether. Leaving the studio tonight I realized that I must stop second-guessing myself. I would like to trust myself more and not do something only to then undo it moments later when it doesn’t seem exactly correct, right at that moment. I should allow my intuition more credit and concreteness if I am ever going to get anywhere interesting and new. I do think that is what my painting is all about; discovering brave new worlds, new life and new civilizations: To boldly go where no man has gone before… !

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Each morning, hundreds of long barges filled with what looks like sand tug up the Pudong River past the Bund and into the interior of the Center Kingdom. There must be some major construction of sand boxes going on up river (with the one-child policy parents will do almost anything for their offspring) or there are a lot of buildings going up. We hear of the latter and that countless condo cities are languishing throughout China despite the need for housing for 1.3+ billion souls. It appears that the ‘masses’ cannot afford the apartments that they were meant to purchase. And therein lies China’s problem- it is pricing itself out of the market. Yesterday a convoy of three forest green stretch Bentley limousines cruised down the Bund while a photographer snapped images as if it was a parade of super-models. But who can afford these cars? Probably a hotel chain which caters to China’s 1%. And even though 1% of 1.3+ Billion is a bunch, what about the others left behind? China is still a vast land with cities filled with people scratching to get by, to survive. The gap between the haves and have-nots’ is precipitously vast. And while throngs file past the branded goods signs daily, a few folks dive into the garbage bins to recover plastic bottles in the hopes of someday putting their offspring through school and to create a better life. While China booms for the few, the dregs are shared by the many. !

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Today I had the great pleasure to be invited to attend TedX Shanghai. A panel of local and international speakers shared their views on ‘What it is to be Chinese’. Many interesting interpretations and several heart-felt presentations moved me. I look forward to the possibility of someday being included as a speaker, but perhaps on a different subject.

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I later managed to get a swim in at an exclusive Chinese club. The wary eyes I felt peeled on me by the life guard told me that he was not all that sure about what I was doing at his pool. He circled me while I did my stretches, sizing me up. At one point he almost spoke to me, but then didn’t. I think he thought I might drown and he would have to get his nice sweat suit wet. After my swim, there was a different feeling altogether from the staff. It was as if I could walk on water. I don’t think they had ever seen a person with a disability swim before. As I left the pool, he made a special effort to personally hand me my crutches. I saw, ‘a light in his eyes’.

It’s Monday and laundry day. Throw everything in the machine and hope for the best. But I can’t complain. Cooking my lunch today of rice and tofu, after messing up the frying pan and plates, I just left it in the sink after I ate. The staff doesn’t do laundry but they do dishes. I really can’t get over how much like college this is. Back in a womb of sorts, coddled a bit but left to do one’s work and be responsible for the outcome. I just feel grateful for this moment in time where I have a simple life, with a simple routine while living in probably the ‘most dynamic city on the planet’. !

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Thirty years ago, while taking courses at a college campus, I was faced with a decision. My class load was overcrowded and I had to delete at least one course. My schedule included; Japanese calligraphy, fashion illustration, airbrush painting, stained glass making, oil painting and cartoon animation. Two other courses were piano and photography. These I felt were tertiary and one had to go. At the time, I dearly wanted a future filled with international travel. My logic in deciding which course to drop went like this. A camera is small, light and much easier to travel with than a piano. So I dropped my piano course and never looked back. However now, having become a painter, working in studios across the globe, though I am not burdened with lugging a piano around with me, I do have the challenge of storing, shipping and juggling large canvases the size of a piano. I guess I got what I wanted in the end and I was never meant to escape a career in logistics after all. Be careful what you wish for.

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In Taiwan, when I learned Chinese brush painting under a deeply talented and understanding Liang Dan-Fung, she taught us to grind our ink by hand. The process included putting a small puddle of water on an ‘ink stone’ and then to mill our ink-stick in the water until a deeply dark and satisfying color was achieved. This took several minutes and all the while it was suggested that the artist put his heart and intentions into the mixing. In a way, we were preparing ourselves for a battle that would soon ensue on the rice paper. We were also calming our soul and making ourselves empty like the bamboo so that we could channel something other than our limited selves into our work. I always found this a very enriching practice and continue to use it today, although I am mixing paints instead of ink. Professor Liang also taught us how to hold and use the Chinese brush. With a steady hand and arm, unsupported, we were to move and turn our wrist and by extension, our arm, while employing the brush. In calligraphy, as in painting, a line should not be ‘edited’, what is done is done and it is believed that brush strokes are a mirror of the artist’s soul. Our lines reflect our inner energy, which appears in many permutations depending upon our level of selfactualization. Holding the brush firmly and allowing ‘chi’ or energy to direct its forward momentum, bristles, ink and paper meet and fuse into a single reflection of the artist’s inner and outer being. Today, I hold Western brushes the same way, and try to push my spirit into the fiber of the canvas. I can only hope that I do justice to my materials and teacher. I used to ask many questions about art making to my professor. Could I do this and is it proper to do that? Invariably she would smile and say that I could do as I wished because, in her 17 words,! ‘We live in a free China’.


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I am not sure what other folks think artists do all day, but I think they may be under some illusions. Contrary to popular belief, we do not sit around drinking and painting naked figures with Bohemian friends. On a good day, I get to the studio after breakfast and am able to get 2-6 hours of painting in before getting distracted by some other ‘matters of consequence’. Today for instance, I managed to paint for half an hour before receiving an overseas phone call followed by several hours poring over a grant application before I am now, at 5pm, ready to return to the studio. But alas, the spirit wanes at this hour and it will not be until tomorrow, I suspect, before I am again able to create, hopefully, something of any consequence. 2

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From my limited understanding of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) it is safe to say that the main prescription is for ‘patience’. If you figure that Chinese history and medicine have been 5,000 years in the making, you get the picture. So when I come into my acupuncturist and ask him to fix a problem, I realize that it will not happen overnight.

He will work on balancing the different energies of the main organs in my body. Once there is balance there is hope for some cure. So he sticks needles into specific points along my ‘meridian’ lines where my energy is somehow impaired. He tries to stimulate that which is weak and calm that which is overly active. And he gives me some mild herbs that may subtly and slowly change the course of my life, like steering a big boat in a fresh direction. So I don’t think anything will happen anytime soon. It took decades for me to get out of balance; I can afford a few weeks or months to, get back in line. !

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Eventually, our art becomes about depth, and how far below the surface we can go, before we must come up for air (and return to earthly driven needs).

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Being an artist requires many talents. The most important is the ability to create artwork from the heart. This is of paramount importance. Following this, there is the urge to get one’s works into the public domain. This takes marketing, logistics, public relations and accounting techniques. These are usually problematic for artists who tend to navigate more on the right side of the brain. Sadly, it seems that the artists who are better at these latter abilities acquire bigger followings and more success while the artist smothered by his/her own creative endeavors often remains obscure and never rises to the surface of the public’s consciousness. Life is not always fair and the spoils often don’t go to those most deserving. But lack of recognition keeps humans from becoming too proud, and pride is one of ! the surest ways to tank the creative spirit.

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The urge to go home returns. Almost a month away and I start feeling out of sorts. Nothing is wrong yet something isn’t right. I feel lonely, sure, but what is it really that ‘home’ means to us? It is safe and it is known. And we leave it because we get bored. So being away is my way of recharging the ‘creativity pack’, which I have done. Now I need to put those soundings into practice, which is the real work. And perhaps the reason I yearn to scurry back to my comfort zone at home. But inside I know that soon this anxiety and brooding will pass if I don’t give in to it. And I will again be off sailing and whistling down the line with a cool firm breeze of new creative energy behind my canvas. Keep going they say, “Carry on”.

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Entering the club scene of Shanghai is mind boggling and numbing. The swath of humanity involved is wide. From every corner of the world and perhaps every hole in the ground they come. Gyrating Russians and other Europeans lead the charge to the top tier clubs where men dance on table tops while champagne and vodka pour out of oversized bottles into waiting mouths caught between pecks on cheeks and shallow laughs. In the local mid-tier clubs the mix of east and west is greased with sweat. Pretty people priming in the elevator mirrors prior to making their entry. The noise and what pretends to be trendy music ruffles my clothing and pummels the eardrums. Shouting is not enough to communicate with others and there is no point in trying. Anyway, most people don’t seem to have anything to talk about. It is better to see and be seen. Alcohol poured from labeled bottles may not actually be what it says as copy booze along with copy watches get the job done. The consequence is serious morning after brain fuzz and ear ringing. I wonder if anybody is asking the question, “Isn’t there an alternative? “

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I read in the news today that one of China’s top movie actresses has been accused of selling her body for cash, and not for pocket change. Any man who would pay two million dollars for sex has too much money. Perhaps it’s the lack of time to seduce a woman that makes him rely on his money. It appears that actually over 70 men have partaken in this expensive pasttime as she is said to have earned 140 million dollars over a five-year period. Quite amazing. Unfortunately for her, one of her clients happened to be a senior party figure that is now the subject of a criminal investigation and will be purged from the party. Too bad for the young actress who will likely have a hard time ever working in the film industry again. Then again, she could probably live off the interest from her savings. But as the saying goes, ‘pick your bedfellows wisely’. 3

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Today I had the pleasure of painting Mila, a Russian student who studies language in China. Agreeing to model for me in exchange for one of the paintings, she brought a Ukrainian girlfriend to chaperone. Admittedly, I was smitten by what was the most beautifully proportioned body I have painted recently and all without the addition of any surgical enhancements (I asked). It was all very innocent and professional and I see no reason why this couldn’t turn into a more permanent solution for sourcing models. I took a page from one of my fellow artists here at the Swatch Peace Hotel. He, coincidentally, is also Russian, and he has organized programs in several countries where he advertises for models to come to his studio to have their portraits done. He completes two or more works and then trades them for whatever the ‘model’ has to offer. Usually Serge offers some recommendations on what to bring for exchange. When he moved into his new home in Shanghai, he needed household goods. So he traded paintings to people for bottle openers, bicycles, books and dozens of other items. He is trying to live a life without the need for money and he has come pretty close to achieving his goal. My challenge will be to figure out how to trade paintings for plane tickets. Now that would be something. I am not sure if it will work, but I guess I could call up! Singapore Airlines and ask the operator, ‘Can I paint your figure instead of giving you my credit card number?’

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I have to ask myself, “Is all life synchronistic, or do I only notice it more here in Shanghai?”

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Today eight of our Swatch Artists took part in a joint exhibition at the Graffiti Park here in Shanghai. The event, organized on a shoestring in 48 hours did not seem to have much potential public exposure, as it was to take place in an old industrial building buried in the back streets of Shanghai. But we thought, ‘what do we have to lose? And besides, it is another notch on the resume’. So we went for it and organized our works and the show. A 58RMB taxi van ride brought my 2.5-meter paintings to the venue where they were hung in a central location. Below, I was given a large blank wall on which to do a painting demonstration. This turned out to be the best part of my evening as I whacked out a contemporary Chinese landscape scene punctuated by tall skyscrapers and a sketch of the Bund. (It was all good fun and may lead to a chance to do a huge mural for Nippon Paints in the subway station.) The other artists spoke of their works and documentary films from Poland were shown. Homemade pies and rich Chinese tea were served along with numerous bottles of wine. The crowd hung out until after midnight when we finally got to go for dinner. A wonderful close to a great day and exhibition and a reminder that, with low expectations, ! the world can throw us wonderful surprises. 22


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Its Sunday, a day of rest. I feel a bit like the Olympic swimmer training in the pool. Swimming thousands of meters to get ready for the big meet. After a set of ten 100-meter sprints, he is allowed to stop for a few minutes to catch his breath, before diving back into training. I give myself Sunday to recoup and regenerate some inner energy and spirit before attacking again the canvas on my studio wall. Like the traveler who departs from home, contemplates and returns, I see the cycle through to its conclusion. It is in this way that the athlete, the artist and the traveler make progress along the long and winding road to where it is they may not know. But they carry on, they move forward, “Though stumbling, I move forward, arriving in places I always wanted to be, but never could have imagined before starting out.” -Gregory Burns

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Sports and arts are similar. Both require passion and commitment to a vague ideal, which may never result in anything tangible, and achieving deep personal satisfaction may be as good as it gets. We work our body, mind and soul, chasing often an elusive dream with only ourselves knowing when we have really pressed our limits and achieved something noble. External return on investment may never come so the artist/athlete needs to fuel their own furnace. Building up one’s core so that we may achieve our best efforts, we concentrate and extend our reach in order to rise to a place where the boundary between our humanness and our infiniteness blur and we achieve something we feel is special. Special perhaps to nobody but ourselves but this is what happens when marching to the ! beat of one’s own drum. 23


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Acupuncture treats impatience. Despite all its subtleties, I want to be healed and I want it now. I seek to be fixed immediately. If I don’t get results instantaneously, I get bored and discouraged- losing interest, I terminate treatment before healing is obtained. But this is where I lose out to my impatience. If I stay the course long enough, it is likely I will eventually receive the proper solution to my ailment. But I need to continue and allow building blocks to be put in place so that I might climb up to the point where the real healing takes place. If not, I have wasted my time and not arrived at healing. Patience is imperative if I wish to cure that which has taken a lifetime to incur. In Chinese medicine as in life, I must learn to stay the course. 6

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Labeling our ‘challenges’ as impossible curtails our success in overcoming them. If we are already convinced of the insurmountability of our problem, then we often give up or don’t even start. Without starting we do not have any chance to build momentum in order to make it through the rough spots. Labeling can be counterproductive. Adapting, we make the most of what we have. We utilize our talents and resources to the best of our ability. In so doing we hone our skills and focus on what we have instead of what we don’t have. Adapting means to figure out how to do what you want to do with what you have. There is always a way if we try. Persevering, we take just the next step. We may look ahead, but we focus on the very next step and complete this one before worrying about the next one. One step at a time we climb the mountain. We cannot jump up a flight of stairs. We always have what it takes to take one more step, but trying to overcome the entire mountain at one time usually leads to discouragement. As Phillip II, king of Macedon said, “Divide et Imperia.” !

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How can we find new solutions? In my view, we must start from a place of not knowing what the outcome will be. If we know the answer, or the destination, we will likely get there in time. But if we are looking for something new, then a different approach is required. For this I propose we must learn to feel, sense and find balance. We start with an idea or an intention, not a destination. Then we must have the courage to begin, to start ‘blind’. We must trust we will find a path, a way or solution.

We must be able to change along the way, to adjust. We need to feel and adjust again. If necessary, we need to start all over again, to give up all that we have done or achieved in order to find something even better. We must be willing to give up good in order to obtain great. And then the hardest part of all, is knowing when to stop.

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I go back to the acupuncturist today for the 5th time. My sleep has not improved at all. If anything, I am consistently sleeping worse than I have before. But I return because I told myself that I must be patient. I must run the course and allow for the subtleness to gather enough momentum to swing the balance back into my favor. I must carry on even though a positive outcome ! seems anything but assured.

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Reflection here in Shanghai comes easy. Why, I don’t know. Perhaps it is because I am away from home and loved ones for a longer time, but I find myself lost and searching more here than I do at home. It is good, like sweating, clearing out the cobwebs and seeing what is under the surface. But at times, I find some things I don’t want to accept or that I don’t like. Then I must either deal with them or look away. Digging below the surface can be hard work, but as Vince Lombardi of the Green Bay Packers football team said, “No pain, no gain”.

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Last night I ate with friends in an upscale western cuisine establishment. The place was packed and food was good. My buddy and I could not help but notice when one absolutely stunning local female walked through the restaurant on the arm of an expat. Some guys have all the luck. After dinner, and numerous rounds of drinks, we were on our way out when we changed course and shot into the tiny unisex bathroom to relieve ourselves. Unfortunately the only toilet was occupied and the person was taking an eternity to complete their business. My buddy, who by now had become desperate, decided to relieve himself in the trendy glass sink which was just inches away from the closed door to the toilet. No sooner had I heard the sound of his stream hitting the shinny sink, than I also heard the toilet door swing open. My buddy had to quickly holster himself but it was too late. The sultry female we had seen earlier exited the stall and with a very disagreeable face, tried to wash her hands in the sink while my buddy slinked into the toilet stall and shut the door. What were the odds that my buddy would relieve himself at the perfectly wrong time? I think it proves the point that some guys just don’t have all the luck. 26


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E l e c t r o n i c m e d i a m a g a z i n e i n t e r v i e w :

What has been a seminal experience in your artwork? COMPLETING MY MASTERS IN PAINTING AT THE TURN OF THE CENTURY WAS A WATERSHED AND VERY IMPORTANT FOR HELPING ME DEVELOP A METHODOLOGY OF PAINTING.

How has your practice changed over time? AS WITH MOST ARTISTS, I STARTED OUT WITH 'REALISM' AND IMAGES OF THINGS. AS TIME HAS GONE BY, I NOW WORK AS MUCH WITH COLORS, SHAPES AND STROKES AND ALLOW THE IMAGERY TO DISAPPEAR. I CALL MYSELF AN 'ABSTRACTIMPRESSIONIST'.

What themes do you pursue? THE HERO’S JOURNEY, TRAVEL, PERSEVERANCE AND A SENSE OF PLACE.

What memorable responses have you had to your work? OVER THE PAST DECADE I HAVE BEEN INVITED AS ARTIST IN RESIDENCE AT OVER 20 FIVE-STAR RESORTS AROUND THE WORLD. DURING THESE RESIDENCIES, I HAVE BEEN FORTUNATE ENOUGH TO LIVE AND PAINT IN SOME OF THE MOST EXOTIC AND INSPIRING PLACES ON THE PLANET.

What place in the world has most inspired your work? THE TEMPLES OF ANGKOR WAT HAVE MOVED ME BOTH INTERNALLY AND EXTERNALLY.

You have an impressive athletic background -- how do your passion for sport and your passion for painting work together? How -- and why -- did you begin to transition your focus from sport to painting?

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I FEEL THAT ART AND SPORT ARE SIMILAR. THEY BOTH TAKE PASSION AND CAN BE A FORM OF EXPRESSION. THEY BOTH REQUIRE A LOT OF STRENGTH AND ENERGY. I TRY IN BOTH TO REACH NEW LEVELS AND MOVE BEYOND WHAT I HAVE DONE BEFORE AND REACH SOMETHING UNIQUE AND RICH 27 WITH SIGNIFICANCE AND MEANING.


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Another day to the acupuncturist after another night of crap sleep. After explaining my 15 years of sleeping disorders to the nurse, I overheard her saying to herself as she walked away, ‘Interesting...’

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Letter to a friend from far away. I am living somewhat of a dream. I often reflect on how lucky I am to be here and now, doing what I am doing. I have been in Shanghai at the Swatch Art Peace Hotel artist in residency program since May 1. It started out as a wonder and I was so tickled to be here. It eventually plateaued out and like always staying in China for extended periods; my chi began to go south (on many levels). However, as with all cycles, the pendulum has flipped and I am now on an upswing and painting in new ways with new and renewed energy. I live in a wonderful apartment and work in a studio large enough to house a family of 20. Along with a dozen other international artists, we occupy real estate on the Shanghai Bund that is priceless. The energy here, not unlike Times Square, is high and constantly in flux, washing in and out like the tides. Elderly industrious folks who root through the garbage bins to recover all forms of plastic to recycle follow around wealthy tourists. It is a lesson in the contrasts of yin and yang and all this feeds into my art. My series is one of 'Journey'. It began with a simple premise I developed while completing my MFA. It has to do with starting out as a grounded person (poet, artist, engineer, housewife etc) living in a stable, status-quo home environment. At some point, this no longer fulfills and then some departure takes place where the person goes off somewhere. Along the road, they stop to contemplate the moon, sunset or navel before making the return journey to home and hearth. So as you see, it is a version of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey mixed in with my life (we are all creating self-portraits I'm convinced). I change the pieces a bit and include 'crisis' or 'challenges' which press us forward, but in the end, we are all left with our individual journeys of discovery and mastery which inevitably lead us into being better people living bigger lives. ! So here I am in the thick of things and, ‘enjoying the ride most of the time’.

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I have been inside and in my studio too long and lost touch with life and things. I have been painting ideas and feelings and that is fine. But I have run dry. I need to go outside. Home – Depart – Gather – Return

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Pretty girls and their IPhones. Observing modern Chinese women has its challenges. Sometimes I am left wondering, ‘what are they thinking?” You see girls (and some guys) taking dozens of photos of themselves in countless cute poses in numerous different locations, oblivious to the world around them. Their IPhones must be jampacked with these images. Gigabytes of sweet pictures of pretty faces. And if they are not taking pictures they are sending text messages to somebody somewhere far away. I wonder if this is a distraction from living this moment with the people who are currently with them. But then maybe photographing and texting are a way of ! “Hello world, I am here.” saying

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Perhaps it is in the staying with something long enough that we discover how to really work and as a result, find something that matters. This training, this period, this extended battle within my studio wages on continuously. It could go on forever, or at least until I leave in September. I am daunted by the task ahead, to stay with this journey and not let up. To see it through, only occasionally popping up for air before diving down again into the currents that whip me about and splatter my emotions across the canvas. It is a torture at times to have so much time. Time to either do, or to turn away. Time to pick up the brush, or time to say ‘no’. But here in Shanghai, I have time. I have all the time I need, more than I have ever had before, to go deeper into this ‘journey’. For this I am grateful. For the occasional respites from the siege I gather strength. From the quiet moments left alone to ponder the seashells on the seabed before I must shoot back up to the surface for air. I am getting close, I know, to something I don’t know. And I think that is good. And I think that is what it means to say and be, ‘Yes’. 30


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For decades I have thought that putting my best foot forward into my paintings was the only answer. My misguided assumption was that painting was the pinnacle of my creativity (and by extension my being) and if during that time, I were able to be at my best, then something special would be born from this moment of communion. Other less glamorous activities such as washing clothes, eating lunch, making the bed paled in comparison to the ‘virtue’ and ‘significance’ of what I did with my brush. This perception drove my motivations and my views of how I valued different activities. I felt that taking care of the ‘mundane’ activities, which we mere mortals must do, was not as important as the ‘inspired’ work completed in my studio or on the mountaintop. Fortunately, finally, I had to ask, “Was this, or was this not a fabulous recipe for disaster?” Today I started the morning with my usual set of value propositions. #1) Eat breakfast so I have energy to spend the day in the studio. #2) Go to the studio and paint up some answers to the universe not yet discovered. BUT, life intervened. Today I needed to take my suit to the dry cleaners for tomorrow’s Miss Universe China Beauty Charity Gala to which I’d been invited. So I decided to live dangerously and threw all caution to the wind. Banishing my impulse to spend the best morning moments in the studio, I raced across Nanjing East Road (the Shanghai equivalent of Times Square), through the throngs of tourists and to the laundromat. Having dropped off my cache after heavy negotiations with the clerk, on my return I went into a shop to look for a new shirt that would hopefully pass for the ‘black tie look’ I need to pull off tomorrow without a true tuxedo. Outside the store I chatted with an old man on a three-wheeled motorcycle for people with disabilities about how much a bike like this costs and where I might procure one. Three strangers overhearing the conversation piped in that I would need to get a local ‘friend’ to assist me in getting a license from the local police station. Finally, while walking back to the studio I realized that the ‘Heroes Journey’ series I am currently working on was also about all these individual local Chinese people, who flock to The Bund to take photos with victory finger signs and cadmium red shoes. So I took some pictures of people taking pictures and following tour operator flags while wearing all the same colored baseball caps so they are easily recognized and less likely to get lost. So you see that before I set foot in my studio, I had lived a big morning already. My previous fear that I would deplete my ‘creative’ energy before picking up a brush still burnished my brain. BUT somehow, for a moment, I stopped the recording. For a moment I understood what my art is really about. It’s about something I have talked about in interviews for years but failed to truly see. My art is from and about living a big life. My art is not only about what can be created with physical materials. My art is about the world I have touched and traversed for five decades. It is about all the people and places I have seen and which have seen me. It is about how I have touched and been touched by all of it. My art is about everybody and everything that happens on this planet. My art cries and laughs with the wind. So I see, that I don’t have to ‘trap’ my moments with brushes in front of a canvas to succeed. I must live honestly and deeply every moment, every step along this journey. In this way, maybe, I will be able to distill something that is universal and can speak to all people or all nations about all things that their lives are about. Because as I have heard said by sages and sailors, ‘all people are the same, and we are all looking for that which ! 31 makes us happy”.


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Archeologists found some hand silhouette type paintings on cave walls recently and they wonder if these images are the oldest known works of any human being. A painting of a hand. I am reminded that the starting point of a single calligraphy stroke begins with a point, a dot, before taking its journey of creation and communication. The hand, like the dot, is the starting point. I suspect the archeologists are correct. The heart is the starting point of creativity, which the hand executes. It makes sense that the first thing developing man would create a painting of, was that which he would use for eternity to generate images.

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So I am in the shopping district and it is pouring down rain. I walk gingerly along, doing my best to stay upright and not slip on the wet marble floor outside one of these mega malls. Suddenly, a street vendor zips up to me and asks if I am interested in a new pair of roller skates that can attach directly to my shoes. The only obvious answer I have is, ‘what the #@+*% are you thinking?�

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Recreating my methodology. I approach this series of four works like an anthropologist. I reach back to my Chinese landscape journey concept and bring it to the front of the class. Layering upon it a decade of updates and all the emotions and data of this day and place, I recreate a new dynamic within the loose confines of my earlier discoveries. I press it forward and backwards simultaneously. I remain simple and light – could I even border on fun and joyous with a bit of wit and humor thrown in? Do I dare? Creating thumbnail sketches and collages of what direction I will go, I feel very settled and confident at this stage. But the pool holds the water and now I must dive in and swim. How I exit at the other end remains a mystery. For this reason, I am still free. Yes, free.

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Like water dripping on rock, over time, progress is made. It is not in the one-off throwing of everything we have at a challenge that brings success. It is the daily concentrated simple practices and actions we take that eventually bring us to fruition and fulfillment.

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Ritual – Begin – Concentrate – Complete !

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Shanghai is a caldron of people, places, emotions, passions, poisons, elixirs and dreams. Within this quagmire, I try to ground myself, lashing myself to the mast of this vessel, which rears up like a ship in stormy seas. Hanging on to the art, trying to go deeper into my soul, I try to clarify and express ‘it’ on the canvas with paint. Hoping the mistakes will add up to something, hoping that I will discover something that makes it all come together clearly. Searching for a vision and a way to sum this one big wild ride up. I dive back down into the fray, clinging like kelp to the sea floor. Trying not to get bashed about only to realize that it is in the letting go that we are set free.

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It is Sunday again. I need the rest. I need to recharge. I need to look away so that I can again see.

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The Yu Garden in Shanghai is anything but just a garden. Shops, stalls and restaurants sell everything under the sun and then some. Tourists both local and foreign wander the grounds snapping up photos and foodstuffs. A lot of oil and flour mostly but tea and souvenirs abound as well. If one happens to notice, and is willing to buy the 40RMB ticket, another world opens up through an old stone gate; the inner gardens and lodgings of Shanghai’s deputy mayor some hundred plus years ago. Perhaps not as grand as those found in Suzhou, but this oasis while juxtaposed with the rampant commercialism of the merchants outside provides a welcome respite from the onslaught of capitalism on steroids. Stately pavilions and ponds connected by stone stairways and bridges offer a glimpse into a life of leisure found in quieter times. One can step in and back to an era when eunuchs roamed the corridors and corralled the lives of those trapped inside this fortress against the mundane. Like today, we spend an hour as nobles and aristocrats once did, enjoying the shapes and forms of a refined aesthetic that now slowly crumbles away with the changing priorities of China’s modernizing society.

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The rains begin in Shanghai. This is why, those who can, avoid the city in the summer. Besides the oppressive heat, the rains now bring things inside. Everything is wet and grey. It can only mean that it is time to paint more and do what it was I came here for.

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From the mega-city Shanghai, I fly to the equally crowded Shenzhen in the South. Leaving behind the rain and mountainous buildings, after deplaning I am whisked away to the countryside where I will speak at a conference tomorrow. Along the highway, I drink in the trees, the views of mountains and all this green. Almost two months trapped in the city has left me dry and lacking. But here, banana trees wave as we pass and the distant grey-silhouetted peaks make my spirit rise up. If we go too long without feeding on nature, we grow stale and are no longer connected with our True North.

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I have been in Shenzhen, China for 28 hours to speak at a Colgate conference. The audience seemed enthralled and shed some tears and it felt like a good presentation all around. But the highlight of the past day must have been the hour spent at the driving range. Let’s be honest, Gregory does not do golf. Most other sports yes, but golf? Once viewed as a silly pastime whacking a small ball around some greenery for folks who don’t get out enough, I have been anything but a fan. Today however, I saw the light, or at least the ball, as a focal point and a metaphor for life. Standing over this little round thing, with a long stick, concentrating as hard as I can to hit the ball just right and deliver that ‘ping’ sound, I became the Neanderthal seeking prey on the prairie. With clear focus, I connected with the ball, and occasionally sent it sailing satisfactorily far away. Four buckets of balls later; my one-armed 45-degree slice had been perfected. Consistently I could hit the ball in the same direction, albeit at an angle to my stance. But this seemed okay at the time. I had fun. It forced me to concentrate on something foreign. And this convinced me of the value of the pursuit of little white balls and round holes. !

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I am 279. This is my call number as an extra for the shooting of a futuristic film called, “Her” by director Spike Jonas. Changing into some retro-futuristic clothing that doesn’t suit me, I pose for mug shots. Laughing at the randomness of it all. American artist in Shanghai playing a bar scene in a futuristic film shot in the city by the director of one of my favorite films, ‘Adaptation’. Well, if anything, Shanghai is all about random adaptation.

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Nippon Paints commissioned a local graffiti-artist friend of mine to do five 50meter murals in the Shanghai Metro stations using only fire-retardant company paints. So no spray-cans. Initial plans were a hip trendy look. But what some safe marketing team decided on in all their wisdom, was to settle for some milk-toast kind of happy family with baby themed imagery that is anything but inspiring. Now, a team of a dozen folks is filling in the lines of the design with flat Nippon wall paint colors. No layering. No feeling. Just colors inside the lines. If there is one, this must be what artists’ hell is like. No creativity, only execution, which would make me want to slit my wrists. It makes me realize just how much freedom and life I am blessed with. Gratitude is the word that comes to mind when I think of my big sloppy brushes and colors developed by layering paint. Strokes and gestures. Colors and feelings. Attack, respond, fall, fail, and get up again, carry on, breakthrough - keep going again. Maybe problematic and random at times but wow, I am such a lucky man. I have everything! 37


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Two months into the program and things keep motoring along. Though I try to maintain a balanced lifestyle, I am still not sleeping well and feel some irregularity with my heart. Perhaps it is self-induced stress similar to what I experienced in India during the Oberoi Udaivilas saga. But I trust I must simply carry on and all will work itself out as one’s heartbeat does after any disruption.

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We went to Suzhou today by train for a wonderful visit of several gardens. We avoided the scrum in the ticket office at the Shanghai Railway Station as a very helpful punter outside the entry gates sold us train tickets for just 10RMB more per seat. In the old city, ancient rock sculptures, pagodas, lotus and bridges interspersed with classical Chinese architecture. After a long day exploring we head back to the train station for our return trip to Shanghai. However, when trying to buy tickets, I was told that we could not get any without our passports, which we had failed to bring. The salesperson insisted I speak to the police about my situation but this seemed the last place to go, as I did not have any identification. So I tried unsuccessfully several times to enlist help from strangers, but learned that one “ID” card can only buy one ticket. Left with no alternatives, I approached a tall thin police officer that was supervising what seemed to be a woman having convulsions on the floor of the train station. Upon hearing my plight, he asked his colleague what to do. They both asked me to come with them and we went to their office where I was asked to wait. Things did not seem to bode well. The officer rooted around in his locker until he found a stack of “ID” cards. He asked how many male and female travelers we had. One man and three women I replied. We handed me four official “ID” cards of what I could only assume were dead people, and off to the ticket counter I went with the tall officer who bought us our tickets. When I tried to pass the officer a 20RMB note for his trouble, he waved me away with a smile. Now this was a ‘China moment’. !

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I have been here in the Center Kingdom for two months and two days. The ebb and flow of events continues to move and inspire me. Perhaps it is the steam of pedestrians outside this old building on the Bund that feeds into the energy pool from which I drink. Perhaps it is the gong of the old bell from the Peace Hotel, which drives me forward, and keeps me aware of the passing time. Whatever it is, the days here are filled with more focus in my work than in previous residencies. I am not stressed with the need 1 J u l y 2 0 1 2 to produce. I go deeper and deeper into my works. Sadly, they can often get heavy because of this abundant time without deadlines. Yet, I believe I can go deep and still resurrect something gentle and soft, something that speaks to the joy within us all.

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It is my country’s birthday today and I am an extra on the stage of a movie shoot by one of America’s top directors. Spike Jonas is shooting ‘Her’ in Shanghai, and for this they needed 100 bodies to fill various scenes. I am fitted out with burgundy awful pants and a green shirt while for dessert I have a shaggy wig, which the make-up lady says is divine. I think it sucks. My ‘role’ is to sit in a chair in a bar scene while Joachin Phoenix and Olivia Wilde perform dozens of takes behind me. I am surrounded mostly by Russian actors and hungry mosquitoes. My ‘date’ across from me and I raise our glasses to each other while the colored water never reaches our lips. Its not hard being an extra. A lot of hurry up and wait. Lots of repetition. After six hours of shooting the evening drags into night. On a toilet break I bump into Joachin, telling him l liked his portrayal of Johnny Cash in ‘Walk the Line’. But he disagrees as I try to convince him that he nailed the role. He thanks me, takes a drag on his 100th cigarette of the night and its back to the set and the slow ticking of the clock. After another four hours they have completed a two-minute scene. It must be harder redoing the same dialogue 20 times than it is to sit listening to it. Any footage of me in this movie will feature my shoulder and the back of my wig and head. I will not likely be nominated for any awards. But before the shooting was over at 4am, I had the pleasure to speak at length with Spike Jonas about the comparison between China’s leaders and those of the USA. Engineers vs. lawyers. Perhaps that sums it up. Perhaps being the president of a country is something like being an extra for a movie shoot. You only need to do it once. !

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We go to the animal market where locals sell all kinds of creatures from cats to crickets. Seeing birds in cages too small to do more than hop to three spots makes me sad. There are turtles, bugs and dogs. But then the multi-colored fluorescent frogs that looked like they had been dipped in dye took the prize. This is all juxtaposed with a man tenderly holding a baby sparrow and hand feeding hungry chicks with a chopstick. I feel sorry for all these living things, the ones inside and outside the cages.

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We spend the day photographing my two months of work. It is a period at the end of a sentence and good exercise in reflection and moving forward. The challenge I see still is completing one series of 20 paintings that holds together as a group instead of three different series. This will require courage and painting over good to perhaps get to great.

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It feels like round two now of this boxing match between Gregory and himself. I have started strong and produced some good work. Will I have the stamina to go another round and to put my heart further out into the ring? !

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I may not know what it is, but I do know that there is a big difference between love and attention. In China, I receive tons of attention. Wearing shorts with my braces is an irresistible opportunity for the locals to stare. Their attention is glued to my legs. They stop, look, point and often ask questions. They are curious. They may also be afraid. But whatever they feel, I have grabbed their attention. But despite the millions who acknowledge my existence everyday, I need more than this. Though I cannot define what love is, perhaps because I get so much scrutiny, I require a major dose of love to create a balance of payments in my emotional quadrant. Whatever the case, the Beatles had it right when they sang, ‘All you need is Love’.

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We all pay penance for past failures. Being humbled is not a bad thing and these payments often help others as well. It’s all good. But what is better is when paying our dues actually helps everybody, ourselves included, because we are striving to be the best that we can be.

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I do not fight rush hour traffic except on rare occasions. I work in my studio down the hall and there is rarely anybody around. The traffic I deal with is in my head. The thoughts and emotions that bounce and ricochet around inside of me. Should I do this? What if I do that? Will I lose this? Will I gain that? I stop and go. Fast and slow. Trying to get to some destination so that I can go on to yet another. All along, I have the option to fight or go with the flow. The only difference between spending time in my studio vs. time in traffic is that rush hour on the streets only lasts a few hours of the day.

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When Franklin Delano Roosevelt took office, the US economy and psyche was in the toilet. Besides stiff-arming political and business leaders to come up with a solution to the problem, which resulted in stemming the failure of the country’s banking system and ultimately capitalism, Franklin had one simple solution to uplift the spirits of his countrymen. He repealed, to some extent, prohibition. If the world and the country’s economy were coming off the rails, at least now, people could celebrate without breaking the law. It helped and the rest is history.

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Polio galvanized Roosevelt through struggle and frustration. It also taught him compassion for those less fortunate. Born with a silver spoon in his mouth, had he not contracted polio, perhaps America would not have had the same man as president. But his struggle with paralysis was something he hid from the world. He orchestrated all public appearances so that America did not see or know that their president was paralyzed. Elaborate stagings were created to hide his infirmity. He struggled with polio alone, but exuded confidence and optimism to others. By faking it, he prevailed and is thought by most to have been America’s greatest president.

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As a boy, I had friends who knew what they wanted to be when they grew up and who often did actualize their boyhood dreams. It always amazed me that people were sure that they wanted to be doctors or lawyers and then went about constructing that life for themselves. I on the other hand, besides wanting to be a rock and roll singer or an astronaut, had few childhood visions for my future. Along the way, my life has unfolded. Once in Tahiti on vacation, I stumbled upon a group of people making TV documentaries while they sailed around the world on a wooden boat and I joined them. Today, having attended a random dinner party a year ago, I am living a dream I never had on Shanghai’s Bund. My point is that my life and my art evolve on their own terms. I did not intend to be a painter or speaker when I was a boy, just as I do not know what my paintings will look like before I start them. Beginning the journey, I may have an idea or a simple goal in mind, but the roadmap and conclusion are determined in the process of moving forward. Thus, inertia is my worst enemy. Like a fish, I must keep swimming to keep breathing and to stay alive.

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Life is a process of throwing spaghetti against the wall to see if it's ready to stick (and eat).

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Today really feels like the first day of the rest of my life. !

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Mondays and Thursdays are special. These days the cleaning staff washes my sheet and towels and makes my bed. It is a lovely feeling to come into my clean room. If they were to clean the room everyday, Mondays and Thursdays would no longer be special.

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My friend, and Shanghai River South Art Center owner, Steve Wang introduces me as an artist who happens to also be an athlete. This contrasts how I once thought of myself as an athlete who was also an artist. I think Steve is right. From young, I tried proving myself physically to the world. Lying under my father’s chair as he sat at the dinner table, my five-year old arms attempted to bench press him off the ground. I succeeded in lifting him slightly. But this stretching after strength began long ago, and Paralympics and IronMan events were a natural extension. As a child, I used to embellish my English class reports with illustrations and elaborate penmanship. Art classes were fun and teachers always encouraging. On the back of a comic book there was an advertisement for an art school. To qualify, you needed to draw ‘Winky’ the deer and so I did. Many times. Exhibitions and an MFA were just a natural extension of this passion. !

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In Shanghai, perhaps like in New York in the middle of the last century, art has its place. Though the local community more confidently trusts their instincts when it comes to the aesthetic and noncommercial value of ‘art’, there is a small community of artists who strive to do good work. It is this interaction that feeds me here. Living and breathing art daily comes naturally for me here. I work a six-day week and rest on Sunday. It is also the possibilities that Shanghai offers artists, which is galvanizing. If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.

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Monday morning and I will soon walk from my bedroom down the hall to my office. I will turn on the lights and air-con and probably some music. Like a Chinese calligrapher I will warm up by methodically mixing my paint. Approaching a work in progress or a blank canvas, after some time my strokes will become bolder and more confident as the day moves forward. Soon, I may be singing or whistling along with the music. If I am lucky, and the spirit moves through me, I may begin dancing as paint from tubes passes across my brush onto the canvas. And if I am really lucky and aware, I may know when it is time to stop.

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For one week I have mixed Chinese herbs with water and consumed it twice per day. The concoction looks and tastes like dirt. It must be doing me good. Anything this bad must be good.

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If I want to make good art, I think I must be a good and honest person. I must be true to myself and fair with others. Before I can create something pure and beautiful, I too must be this. Pruning away distractions, which dilute the little energy I have to work with, I try to distill my life into the lowest common denominators. Simplify. The artist prepares him or herself in order to be a vessel through which might flow morsels of wisdom and beauty, which combine into something that can feed the hearts and souls of mankind. The cleaner the conduit, the better the reception. Half the battle is preparing the weapon. The other half is feeling what it is that needs to be kept, and discarded. It is about quality and retaining that which is pure and beautiful. Speaking from and to the heart at the same time.

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We can’t win and hit home runs everyday and that is okay because we always return to play another day.

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How do we go from good to great? In the words of Chuck Close, ‘we show up’. We take thousands of small steps. Occasionally one of these little steps increases in stature but for the most part, it is a long slow burn. We gradually get better if we stay the course and stick with what we believe in. But it is not enough to just show up and put in the time. We need to focus and not just go through the motions. We need to feel what we are doing and concentrate in order to make progress. I recall, in 1985, listening to the Dali Lama counseling 100,000 Tibetan pilgrims at a significant Buddhist celebration in Bodi Gaya, India. He told the crowd that it was not enough to just regurgitate mantras. The devoted needed to think about what they were endlessly repeating. In swimming or painting, if I want to get from good to great, I need to be fully present in the moment. Then I will know where to go and what to do next.

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I am good in spurts and sprints. I held world records in swimming the short 50 and 100meter events. Some of the best paintings and writings of mine are done with the least amount of time. Perhaps this is because I can only hold my concentration for a limited time. Perhaps with practice (and meditation) I might be able to extend my range and stay focused for 200 meters. And then again, maybe the quick, fresh sparks that ignite the spirit in me is all I will ever be able to handle. I think I am okay with this as long as I do utilize my gifts to the best of my ability. Knowing when to stop is as hard as knowing what to do.

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It is summer in Shanghai, and on the weekends a sea of locals converge on the world-famous Bund to look, and more importantly, take pictures. Like salmon swimming up stream, I dodge the throngs while trying to make my way down Nanjing Road, looking for some dinner. I am struck by how many people there are here, like a tsunami, pouring down the road. I am surrounded by humanity yet still remain a little lonely. 2

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Today Mila, the Russian ‘student’ who had posed nude for me (and her ‘minder’ from Ukraine who had watched and translated) returned to collect one of the mixed media portraits on paper I’d agreed to give her as an exchange for modeling. Reviewing all four versions, the Ukrainian angrily rejected the painting I was gifting Mila and the situation quickly deteriorated. Mila said that she didn’t want the painting and that it was a gift for me. But her friend was not satisfied. After much was muttered in her native language, she suddenly snatched the painting and after folding it in half, tore it into pieces, throwing everything on the floor. At this, losing my temper, I told them to get the #@%< out of my studio. Shaking and stunned, I tried clearing the air of the bad energy, feeling that I had been violated. Shards of Mila lay on the floor. After a few minutes surveying the damage, it occurred to me that there was something interesting about the pieces. Sorting through them, I discovered that miraculously, Mila had been torn exactly down the middle. Interestingly, one half of her face looked happy while the other side looked angry. I was floored by the juxtaposition of Yin and Yang which had somehow been captured in paint. I then realized that I could collage one ‘side’ of Mila into one painting and her other ‘side’ into another. I could make lemonade out of lemons and create something more meaningful in the process. It was an epiphany! I would never have had the courage to destroy my painting with the hope of incorporating it into another painting, giving it a second and more dynamic life. Thanks to an altercation with a naked lady, I was forced out of my comfort zone and learned not to be afraid to sacrifice something that I like to achieve something even better.

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On the Bund stands an oversized, bronze bull. It is named, ‘Bund Bull’ and was created by the same sculptor who fashioned the same bovine on Wall Street. ‘Bund Bull’ is so large and famous that he has his own security guard standing watch under a beach umbrella 24-7. Thousands of tourists interact with the beast daily. They pose for photos and rub the metal surface, leaving a golden patina where the oil and friction of countless hands have left their marks. Interestingly, the part of the bull which has receive the most attention and thus has the brightest glow, would be the oversized bull balls that hang between the animal’s back legs.

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Walking around the neighborhood that is now my home here in Shanghai, I see and learn about Western architecture as all the major old buildings are fashioned on our 'European' aesthetic. In my room on the Bund, I watch videos about past US presidents. Tonight I learned about how L.B. Johnson's vision of a great America was railroaded by the Vietnam War. How we traded guns for butter and fought for health care. Here in China, I learn more about my own country. !

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Forty-three years ago, while living in Germany, my parents sent me off to summer camp in England. Camp Mohawk offered tents and plenty of outdoor activities. The problem was, upon arriving all I wanted to do was to return home. The flight to Heathrow airport was bumpy and as we landed, I vomited all over the stewardess who was holding my hand. At the airport, my suitcase with everything I needed and my pocket money went missing. For the bouncy threehour bus ride from the airport to the camp I lay on the back seat in agony. After checking into my tent I was sent to speak with the camp director. This stocky older woman had the demeanor of a drill sergeant. Over the next fifteen minutes I related to her my recent journey from happy home to forest outpost. My story completed, I looked up to see the director in tears. After some camp cafeteria food, I went to bed, longing to be returned home in the morning. But the next day dawned anew and the last thing on my mind was to return home. I was thrilled to be at camp and to have the chance to live outdoors and eat s’mores over a campfire. I had the best two weeks of my short life and marched home with the ‘Best Camper’ award. Yesterday, here in Shanghai, I felt like I did upon arriving at Camp Mohawk. I was exhausted and emotionally pummeled and really wanted nothing more than to return home. It was a low terrible day. But as before, the dawning of a new day brought with it renewed excitement and possibility. And I now feel what lies ahead may be one of the best periods in my not so short life. !

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Some folks who conduct the IQ tests don’t like to tell the students how they score so I do not know how my intelligence rates on some scale. But I have heard that humans can only be conscious of something if they have a word, which is associated with it. This makes sense to me because it has been my observation that I don’t really know what I know, until I express it in some form. It may be in a painting or in words, but I need to communicate what is inside of me so that I can then ‘observe’ it and then ‘know’ it. Perhaps this is why I have a need to paint and write. I am trying to understand what is underneath my consciousness for this is where the most interesting part of myself is.

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"In this state one enriches everything out of one's own fullness: whatever one sees, whatever wills is seen swelled, taut, strong, overloaded with strength. A man in this state transforms things until they mirror his power - until they are reflections of his perfection. This having to transform into perfection is - art." - Nietzsche

!

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Like tonight, my time in Shanghai includes lots of white rice and meals alone. A bit boring, but time to reflect - time to look around - time even to write. It’s The Olympics now, and London is the place to be. The closest I get is catching a few events on the TV of my local diner. I relish the Games and what they encourage greatness. Politics and profits aside - they provide a venue for humans to excel. This is really great. Shanghai is my Olympics this year. It is a training - a galvanizing time. It is full of promise and doubts. But it is a unique moment in time where, as the athletes in London, I can see what I am made of. Eggplant and tofu arrive and I tuck in. Tomorrow I begin my ‘Olympic Journey’ series. But I wonder about the busboy here, and how distant he is from earning any medal for laying out a clean tablecloth.

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By rights, I should not be writing this. I should be on a plane home. Three months ago I arrived in Shanghai with a 90-day residency before me. However, along the way, I was able to extend it for another 6 weeks, so you are not rid of me just yet. Hard to believe it has been that long. The first month crawled along while the last month has swept by. I remain inspired to work here and that says a lot for something that must brew in the atmosphere. I really don’t know what it is, but I work harder here than most anywhere else I have painted. Surely I will look back someday and realize that this was my Olympic Journey in paint. I continue to try to stretch myself and do that which I don’t always do. As an old dog trying to learn new tricks, I can’t say that it comes easy. Though there have been no tectonic shifts, I do feel some realignment has occurred. I am eager to continue until the end of my term and hope that this final push to the summit will bring with it some fruit worth keeping. But today, I celebrate 90 days of a colorful palette. !

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After 90 days in my Shanghai studio, I feel the need to start over and begin again. What worked three months ago no longer satisfies. Perhaps I get bored too easily or I am too hard to please. But it seems to me that when things are stable, we get restless and seek alternatives. When life becomes wild and crazy, we look for refuge in that which is secure. What is there to do, but dance between contentment and chaos? Otherwise, we just keep making the same old self-portraits.

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I spend the whole day gluing images to my ‘Olympic Journey” paintings. It is slow and focused work. I feel a build-up of energy, which is waiting to be released through big brush strokes and globs of paint once the ‘structure’ and ‘under-collage’ is complete. I will try something different though. Instead of using all the colors in my quiver, I will reduce my palette to some light earth colors and hopefully let some of the colorful under-painting I did yesterday seep through. That is the intention, but as we know, ‘life’ usually has the final word.

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I have my rituals, which help to keep me regular in this ever-changing Shanghai mind-scape. Each morning I have breakfast and then retire to my office. Here in this rich silence, I plan my day and organize my thoughts. I take no phone calls and see no people. This is my time. I then flush the toilet and go to work in my studio.

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You know I need to get out more when finding the only lone dryer available on laundry day makes my week.

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I have done a series of four ‘Zen’ type paintings which were all completed very fast while each boasts a single umber stroke. One could argue that they reference the thousand-year-old tradition of Chinese calligraphy. One could also claim rightfully that any five year old could do the same if not better. Regardless, I enjoyed them for a month but have come to the conclusion that they are not ‘enough’ and will thus begin again on them with some form of intervention. Perhaps after days or weeks of wasting paint, if I am lucky, I may be able return to them and their original beautiful simplicity. However, it is possible that they will be much deeper and richer than their Zen-Koan parents. The Buddhists believe that one can obtain enlightenment in a flash, or after eons of struggle. Perhaps I have had my flash, but I keep returning to the struggle. Maybe one day I will realize that I have already arrived.

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It appears to me that we are all saddled with challenges equal to that which we can handle. Looking at the Olympians and Paralympians, they seem to win and reflect lives lived with struggle and success. However, not everybody wins and not all of us seem to be given his or her due. Some seem to work harder and have more setbacks than others; while some people seem to have everything, including perfect lives. I am reminded of my impressions of the cheerleaders and star sports players in High School who walked on water. But I don’t think that anyone gets out of here without a fight. We are all battered and buffeted in proportion to what we are capable of. And we are all rewarded and experience joy and exuberance in proportion to what we put into the game.

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Today is my Asian anniversary. Twenty-eight years ago I landed in a rainy Chiang Kai-shek airport and moved my life from green California to a grey cement city called Taipei. Without family or friends I lived with local students in a leaky apartment on a metal bed. My courses in Chinese arts were fascinating but I was required to study Mandarin Chinese, which held no interest for me as I was only planning to be away from America for a year. My world in Taipei included serious studies and practices, which would inform my artwork for decades to come. The people of Taiwan welcomed me, along with many other strangers, as we all shared our different talents. After my year of studies, I ventured across the straits to the Center Kingdom and what would roll into a 16-month sojourn across China, through Tibet, into Nepal, around India, over to Pakistan and back into China. Along the way, I compiled boxes of sketches and paintings of â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;Sacred Sitesâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; I created visiting various religious sanctuaries. My belief was that though I could not read and learn enough about all I was seeing and experiencing, if I were to sit long enough drawing, I would absorb the essence of these amazing places. After my trip I settled into a working life in Taiwan and then in Hong Kong. Sandwiched in the middle was a year spent making TV documentaries while sailing between Tahiti and China. From Hong Kong I was transferred to Singapore while working for a major multi national firm and when I eventually became a full time artist, I made Singapore my Asian base of operations. It was from there that I departed 10 weeks ago for this residency in Shanghai. Perhaps I have come full circle. But today a typhoon smashed into Shanghai and I am left wondering if this is the kind of punctuation mark every anniversary deserves. More importantly, I can only imagine that the next twenty-eight years will only get better.

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The roof of my friendâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s apartment blew off in the typhoon. Then all the windows fell out and crashed to the ground, damaging three apartments on the way down. Fortunately, nobody was hurt. Sadly, across town, two people were not so lucky when falling debris took their lives. Large trees were uprooted and major construction projects were affected. The next day, Shanghai cleans up the mess and carries on. There is resiliency here. 1

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Shanghai is a beehive of activity, which, I must confess, I have become addicted to. Random interesting experiences fill up my days and I feel that my life is packed. There is a joy in incorporating opposites sprinkled with the satisfaction of completing tasks (mostly paintings). It is getting everything done and still having more to do. Places to go, people to see, things to do. Was this not some marching tune once advertised as the true fulfillment of lifeâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s dream? Yet I also feel a lack of grounding and a deep appreciation for all that is happening. I want to fully feel these moments so that they will enrich my life and make me a better artist and writer (but maybe I should be asking myself if all this can make me a better person). I try to center myself with sheepish attempts at meditation. My painting process does provide an arena within which I embrace and hold my energy. Where the swirling stops and I am in the moment. It is kind of a tai-chi dance in my studio, which probably keeps me from spinning out of control. To truly live well and actualize all this, I must stop the bus long enough to digest and be thankful. Embracing a deep sense of gratitude can go a long way towards making sense of it all and bringing me back to earth. Thank you, thank you, and thank you Universe. !

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With just over a month to go, I begin to get anxious. Intellectually I know that everything will get done, but I still feel there are so many questions and unfinished business. Where will these paintings go? USA, Singapore or stay here? If so, how? I feel that my series is slowly drawing to a close. With a few canvases to rework and complete, I think there may be a light at the end of the tunnel. But I worry. And of course, this is one of the key learning points of this and any journey. Worrying helps nothing and in fact prompts the little hair and few remaining brain cells I still have to run for cover.

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In my teens, I was incredulous how so many people seemed to be trying to ‘find themselves’. Where had they gone and what was the point? I wasn’t lost. Then in my twenties I began asking God and myself the serious questions about the meaning of life and I got lost. So many emotional doubts and disasters sent me into a tailspin it would take years to pull out of. To deal with the turbulence, I turned to swimming and painting as counselors and soul soothers. Living in the beautiful world of the California Dream, where there was easy access to gurus and self-help seminars, I swam in a soup of spiritual and psychological semi-consciousness. Eventually, I would ‘find myself’ again. By this time, I was living in Asia, trying to keep up with the frenzied pace of the local folk as they got down to the unglamorous business of making a living. Along the way, I stopped asking all the deep questions I did in my twenties. I got on with living life and that seemed to be enough. With a bit of distance, I can see that asking the questions and being lost is not a bad thing. Striving to be a good athlete, and now artist, has given me focus and fulfillment. I have created a comfortable and international lifestyle. But I have to ask myself if, in the process of becoming successful… Am I becoming a better person too? I remember reading long ago a biblical passage and must ask myself again, “What is love? And even if I have an amazing life, and not love, of what use is it?” I am twenty again. !

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Breakfast, as provided by Swatch, is basic. Besides dinners, my diet in China consists of eggs, bread and coffee. Today, feeling like I needed some different food groups, I entered a supermarket to buy some items. Looking around, I was astonished to realize that I was hard pressed to find something healthy to eat. I settled on some Italian pasta, spaghetti sauce from the USA, some pumpernickel bread from Germany and two local carrots and mushrooms. It then occurred to me that the raw ingredients of everything I eat when dining out, which I do 90% of the time, do not receive such scrutiny and care. In fact, it dawned on me that most everything I eat here in China, as well as on many of my travels throughout the world, is in some way compromised and this may be why my energy level is waxing. I will need to do some heavy duty cleaning once I return home just to get back to zero. I suddenly appreciate more fully how important home cooked food with love is.

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My Mandarin has improved somewhat over the past months. But I know that fluency is not within my reach. The fact that I do not actually study is not my only excuse. It feels like my brain is a cup full to the brim with water. No matter how much more I try to pour into the vessel, everything spills over, and nothing new is absorbed.

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Another month. This is all I have left here. Like a convict on death row, I count down the days to my departure. I really don’t want to go.

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When it comes to greed, it is easy to take potshots at the Chinese. Confucianism taught people to respect elders and authority while always taking care of family. Much of this ideology crumbled during decades of Communism, culminating with the young Red Guards turning in their own parents. Set adrift with no moorings, it is understandable how the Chinese may now favor a ‘me first’ attitude. The current version of Chinese Capitalism started with Deng Hsiao-Ping’s famous saying, ‘To be rich is glorious’. Without Confucianism or other alternatives, this slogan has become religion. The principle of ‘me-first’ is practiced on trains and buses as well as in much of everyday life. It is easy to see and to understand. And this is why foreigners can sometimes judge and feel superior. But when I look at the greed that runs rampant on Wall Street, and how a small, well-heeled group of people has stolen the savings of so many, I cannot feel so smug.

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After 3.5 months I am still inspired and working well. So what is it? What drives me here? Why do I cherish time in my studio and go there willingly to work? Perhaps it is because I have nothing else to do, which is not true. There are plenty of distractions in Shanghai. Perhaps it is because the landscape and people are so colorful. Yet, my work only references this minimally. Perhaps it is because I have only a limited time to work in such an amazing place. But as this is my 20th residency in fabulous surroundings, this does not seem to be the cause. I am left wondering if perhaps after 28 years of flirting with China, we may now have finally started a relationship. !

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Last month I met Tiger. He was sitting in Wagas Restaurant drawing while his parents worked on some architectural renderings. I watch for almost an hour as this child of 10 occupied and entertained himself with deep concentration. As I was about to leave, I walked over the family and asked if I could see what the young man was doing. Tiger perked up and then launched into a detailed explanation of the drawings and futuristic furniture ideas he had created. We talked for a while and it was immediately apparent that this kid was special. Though his parents had only a smattering of English words between them, Tiger spoke like an American born Chinese. Out side the restaurant, I invited Tiger to give me his impressions of a very large abstract painting on the wall. After asking me if the work was one of mine, which it wasnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t, he explained that he liked the work because though it looked simple to do, it was not a simple painting. There was something going on within the built up areas as well as the empty spaces.

ADDRESS

Room 507 No. 170 Central Jiangxi Road Shanghai China 200002

EMAIL

m

tiger_ykpao@me.co

s,

Dear Gregory Burn Hi!

TELEPHONE +86 21 6464 8686

I am Tiger that you

met at Wagas this

I hope to hear from

you soon.

Best Wishes,

Tiger F.!

A week ago, I invited Tiger and his family to visit my studio. They spent over an hour absorbing my art while Tiger expounded upon why he liked the work. I gave him a t-shirt with my painting and name on it after he had given me a book on the Bund. Yesterday, I received an email from Tiger while vacationing on Paris. The image is of Tiger in front of the Louvre, sporting my t-shirt. I was tickled to know that this boy has perhaps gleaned as much inspiration from me as I have from him. And I am again hopeful for the future of China, when a boy named Tiger can humble an old salt like me.

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As a child, I watched as the first astronauts walked on the moon. I was impressed by NASA and dreamed of going into space. I too wanted the world to watch me land on a distant planet. Perhaps I may yet do this someday with my art. Space travel encouraged dreams. But more practically speaking, I am grateful to the space program because of Velcro. Prior to its invention, I wore heavy braces with straps and buckles which took several minutes to fasten. With Velcro, suddenly, I could strip off these braces in a matter of seconds. As a child, this to me represented real progress. I may never get to the moon, but I can get dressed (or undressed) faster than you think. !

afternoon.

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About now, in America, the Olympic medalists will be celebrating their success at home with their respective communities. There will be parades, fanfare, parties, interviews, sponsorship deals and reality TV show spots. The sky is the limit for many of these stars. As a token of the countryâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s pride and appreciation, each Gold medalist will receive a token $25,000, while Silver and Bronze medalists will receive proportionally less. When these checks arrive in the mail, there will be more celebrations. However, this joy may be short lived with the realization that approximately one third of the proceeds will need to be paid back to Uncle Sam when filing for the 2012 tax year. About now, in China, the Olympic medalists will be celebrating their success at home with their respective communities. There will be parades, fanfare, parties, interviews, sponsorship deals and reality TV show spots. The sky is the limit for many of these stars. As a token of the countries pride and appreciation, each Gold medalist will receive a token RMB 1 million (approx. US $160,000), while Silver and Bronze medalists will receive proportionally less. These rewards come from the central government while the local provincial governments and communities will pour in additional cash, gifts and apartments. A double gold medalist in China can stand to earn RMB 6-7 million (approx. US $1,000,000) in booty once the dust settles. When Deng Hsiao-Ping decided it was okay to be rich, I doubt he could have imagined how wealthy some of his countryâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s athletes might one day become.

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Yesterday I spoke with a local friend in public relations. Her simple message for me was that the Chinese people could benefit from my lifestory. It is now my challenge to figure out what to do next. The story of my life is to tell the story of my life. !

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Every few weeks I splurge and spend $2 for a haircut. Since there is not so much to cut anymore, it only takes a few minutes. Today one of the artists lent me his headshaver as I thought I could trim my hair myself. Sadly, this proved to be a bad idea and soon my head looked like a hay field with tractor burns through it. So I had to return to my barber to salvage the mess. Some things are best left to professionals.

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In my teens, in California, art supplies were expensive. Every so often I would splurge and buy some very nice pieces of paper, which I assumed I would paint on when the time was right. Most of those pieces of paper are still in a drawer, unused, in California. The problem was knowing when was the right time to use the â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;good stuffâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;. As a result, out of fear of making mistakes, it never got used. Here in China, where art supplies are not expensive, I have a freedom to work freely and not be overly concerned with materials. Now all I need to do is make every day a special painting occasion.

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I get lost in my thoughts and feelings in the silence of my studio. Stopping long enough to look into my soul, so that when I start again, I know which way to go. I know I must be getting closer to truth. Yet I fear at the same time I may be running in the opposite direction. Could I possibly be motivated by loving kindness instead of by my fears? If so, how would I know? !

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In California, we ate alfalfa sprouts and avocados. We sat in silent meditation retreats. We experimented with colonics. We did not eat meat. Our quest must have been spiritual union with the universe or a version of â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;Godâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; we could understand. We sat in contemplation. I got lost in this world. In Asia, we ate what was available and rarely sat in silence. We ran to keep up with the unfolding economic miracle. We made a living. Our search must have been for a better life. We kept running. I got lost in this world too.

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My life is a mass of confusion punctuated occasionally by moments of clarity. If I were wise, I would not seek to cling to either states of mind. I need to stop doing the same thing over and over again. I need to stop ordering eggplant and tofu for dinner every night too.

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Methodology: 1) Set intention. 2) Choose images and color base. 3) Slap on color ground. 4) Add bold brush-strokes. 5) Prepare and collage images. 6) Add text. 7) Collage more images. 8) White paintbrush stroke. 9) Glaze oil paint over as necessary. !

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Maybe it is because I am a male that I have always thought that loving and showing love was an activity I had to perform. It dawns on me that maybe this idea is flawed and that loving and showing love is about feeling and allowing life to be.

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Lesson 1: Being able to say ‘no’ to things you want and being able to say ‘yes’ to things you don’t want. Lesson 2: Knowing when to do lesson 1.

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Shanghai makes me want more. More of what I am not sure. But there is an overarching feeling in this city (and perhaps the country) of want. Everyone here is seeking more and they are willing to do whatever it takes to get it. This psyche permeates my world on the Bund. I find myself desirous of more. In and of itself, this may not be a bad thing. But I find it alarming when I have not identified what it is I am unconsciously seeking, but simply carry a sense of lack around with me since by definition if I want more, I am not satiated. I would like to stem the tide of this desire surge and get back to a place of being satisfied with what is, and what I have. I can acknowledge these cravings for more as just my mind chasing its tail and an illusion. But I don’t need to feel dissatisfied because I really do have everything I need right now. I am a very blessed man.

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Three months ago, I began the process of working on a commission for an international law firm with an office on the Bund. After much discussion, it was agreed that the 1 x 4 meter painting would represent the company’s worldwide operations. I set about creating a piece that would express a type of ‘net’ through which their 37 office cover the globe. Yesterday it was time to deliver the painting to their office at the Roosevelt House on the Bund. I am particularly happy and proud to have my painting at this distinguished address in honor of my favorite American president, who as we know was also challenged by polio. Like the cover of the Beatles’ Abbey Road album, three bell-boys from the Swatch Art Peace Hotel in smart uniforms carried my painting across Nanjing East Road, stopping momentarily on the cross walk for a photoop. Crowds of people stopped to stare and take their own photographs as our entourage made its way south down on Bund. A gust of wind caught us as we turned the corner but fortunately the men regained control of the painting before it ended up in the street. Finally, our team managed to hoist the painting up the last 4 flights of stairs and into the stunning new office. Placing the painting in position in the main boardroom, my job was finished and I am pleased that everybody, including myself, was over the moon.

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My time in Shanghai winds down. Clinging to the last moments of this amazing ride, I try to wrap up what seems like a lifetime of work, before the chapter closes. The process forces me into the moment, and I realize that ‘now’ is all we ever have. !

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The Swatch Peace Hotel world changes with new faces coming and old ones leaving. The dynamic is different from when I arrived. Grateful I am for the communion and sharing I have had here with other artists. I no longer paint in a bubble, but have other eyes through which to see my progress. This is invaluable and keeps me from finding myself in darkened downward spirals, which I often experience when left alone with my work for too long. Sharing the journey with others brings light into the process.

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Today I spoke for the management and then the staff at the Kerry Parkside Hotel in Pudong. After utilizing their wonderful pool and restaurants over the past three months, this is how I repaid their hospitality. The exercise and food fueled me through this period of my life in Shanghai when maintaining a balance and healthy lifestyle was critical to my survival.

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It feels like trying to squeeze the last bit of toothpaste out of the tube. You get down to the end and try as hard as you can to coax the last remaining solution out before you throw away the container. Here in my studio, I try to get the final dabs of passion and insight out of me and onto the canvas before I close this chapter and reach for a new tube of Crest.

!

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Someone tells me that I am not all that I thought I was. It is a lot to take. But I want to give it some thought and try to right the wrong. Where must I begin?

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I have been working on one painting off and on for over six weeks. I paint it, I change it, I repaint it, and I change it. It is getting very rich if for no other reason than that there is more and more paint and thought in it as the layers go down. I have been painting it in oil and using not only a brush. For the first time in my process, I have utilized a rag and rubbed paint onto the surface. This is much different than a brush and it gives a very even and soft glaze. I get feedback from others who view the work. This in turn gives me new ideas and directions to go. I add this or that. Write this or that. All along I am wondering, â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;what is it I am really trying to say?â&#x20AC;&#x2122; It occurs to me that the painting may be a reflection of my life. I keep circling around a central core of intentions and feelings, gingerly committing to this or that for a period until finally, I trust, a light will go on and I will see what it is that I am all about and what it is that I am really trying to say. The painting and I are still a work in progress.

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We have the choice of whether we end on a happy or sad note. We can choose if we wish to go out with a smile or a tear. My paintings are positive and I hope that my life and art never lose sight of the happy ending.

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Today I spoke at the Kerry Hotel to a group of mostly foreign expat families. The message was one of encouragement and the importance of following one’s passions. The videos were the usual ones I show of the Paralympics and the Ironman events. But for the first time I included a video of Chelsea painting in her electric wheelchair. I spoke about her history, going from a normal schoolgirl to a teenage quadriplegic. I tried to impress upon the audience, and especially the young ones, that she had lost so much but still retained a love for making art in her way. Watching as Chelsea steered her electric wheelchair with her mouth, driving the brushes taped to the bottom through and over the paint, I broke down in tears. I could not help myself. I ended the talk sniffling, and by saying that it is important that we all follow our passions and push our limits because this is how we can make the world a better place.

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Toady was my ‘Open Studio’ and the final curtain call for my four-month residency. It seems like just yesterday that the staff was clipping up protective sheets in my studio to prevent me from leaving too many traces on the walls and floor. Time has zipped by and though it appears that my painting output was productive, I can’t imagine where all the 120 days went. But wherever they are, the experiences and learning’s have fueled me to carry on. To keep going and to cherish uninterrupted periods where I can focus and work. Not all days go well in the studio, but putting in the time eventually brings some positive results. The period is at the end of this sentence. Turning the page, I seek out the next prose.

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We gathered for my going away party at the local Chinese restaurant often frequented. It was the largest gathering for such an occasion since I have been at the residency. I guess a lot of people are going to be happy or sad to see me go. I will miss them too and this moment in time when we could be all that we really are.

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In 24 hours I will be on a plane to Tokyo. Leaving here feels like leaving home, college and something incredible all at the same time. Melancholy would be the word I am looking for. Saying goodbye feels so sad, yet this is the only way we can ever invite in new and wonderful experiences. It is all a cycle of coming and going. I just get stuck clinging on to the past for a little longer than I should.

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As China Eastern Airline flight 523 lifts off towards Tokyo, my Swatch Art Peace Hotel Residency draws to a close. Yesterday, my watch stopped running. Perhaps the universe is gently closing a chapter of my life, which will prove to be a turning point. Too much has happened to recount. One hundred and thirty five days in Shanghai and I am a different person. On my last night in town, I visited with my ten-year-old friend and his family for dinner. Tiger is a wonderful young boy turning into a true gentleman. He said several things over the course of the evening that I hope will guide the rest of my life. He said, ‘Don’t hurry and don’t worry’ and, ‘People who smile live longer’. I believe this about sums up all one needs to know to live a good life. Thank you Shanghai and thank you Tiger. Dzai jen.

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Postscript The Eagle has now landed in the House of the Rising Sun. The four months in the Center Kingdom with an overall diet of chaos slowly recedes in sharp contrast to the orderly nature of our current residence. Having burned my candle at both ends since May now is a time to consolidate and sit while riding the bullet train to the next destination.

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In Tokyo I can use the cross-walk and not worry that a car will drive over me. Getting into an elevator or train car is not a contact sport. People move about in relative silence, not even using hand-phones on the subway. The human being is more important than the car here. Garage attendants wait until pedestrians have passed before allowing vehicles to drive forward. Countless men with uniforms, caps and gloves direct traffic and humans on their way. Construction site cranes stand at attention in neat order when not being used. Elsewhere, there is an attitude of doing things that are 90% there. Here, you give 110%. Perfection is acceptable. 71

Shanghai Sojourn by Gregory Burns  

A seminal residency at the Swatch Art Peace Hotel in Shanghai, China, brings out the intimate soundings of Gregory Burns, an artist searchin...

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