This year marks a serious entry into large canvases, live models, nature; away from constructed realities, animals invading spaces. I solidified my brushstroke work as I grew from from "James" to "David."
Any statement made here should be considered ephemeral. It serves as a note to myself. Your presence makes this entry a
witnessed one, I suppose.
For four years prior to 2017, I had been fascinated with mammals, especially four legged wild beasts: jaguars and any sorts of large cats, rhinos, elephants, hyenas, grizzlies, even ancient ones like mammoths. To learn about them, often my only resort was to capture their movements, behaviors, on camera, then, later, refer to the images.
National geographic images, Pinterest, DK science illustrations, “The Prehistoric” were all references I would cling onto. I wanted to understand them, perhaps, because I did not consider myself one of them. I wanted to experience forms that were not me. I studied them, drew them, and drew references of them, learned from the renditions of beasts from artists before me like Eugene Delacroix, George Stubbs.
Odele Zhang, Dancer, 2017 / ink on paper / 8" x 10"
Slowly, I began to realize my departure from real life engagements. In the same scope, as I traversed art shows. I noticed that few of my expressions today are based off of a live object/subject. As an artist, I engaged in reference after reference, the layers of references adding to my artificial grasp with the world that I currently indulge in. Via my initial plein air sessions, in observing nature, I found that all is lost when fixated to pixels. It was not my memory I captured, they were codes of the image, unrelated to my being, or my way of perceiving. Layers of greens never reaching what my eyes or body really experienced. Depths of view, and angles of view, were all trapped.
On a high wind day, gray, and pre-storm in the autumn, at the Bronx Zoo, I tied a
56 in. x 36 in. large canvas to the bars that stopped the grizzlies from roaming the zoo, so that the canvas would not fall to the ground. The canvas already had two nudes on it I painted a few days prior with professional models in my New York studio. I did not take photos of the grizzlies. I followed their movements with my brush and pinned down what I saw. My live interaction with them was stressful, changeful, and unpredictable. They can screw up my composition within segments of
15 seconds. How do I process that information? How do I commemorate their being? They wouldn’t sit still for me. From this painting onward, I changed my practice.
It was frustrating at first: to have the language to paint fluidly within a constraint of time wherein your subjects can be in front of you meant I had to improve my precision. Then, I began to enjoy how the use of a few lines can render my moving targets. Male nudes became my first fascination to interact with live.
They are also a species I am not, and I long to understand. Then I moved my interest to couples, and now perhaps will move back to animal forms and trees.
The central moving force is the moment. Now, really a variation on the same theme: The ephemeral is invading the permanent.
The live is invading the artificial.
My actions are seized by time (or I seize time?)
I am limited by subject and time, as is the subject. The live painting sessions forced all subjects to remove distractions, to focus on what, at the moment, was significant to show. Was this artist/subject relationship an opportunity to challenge our behaviors?
Interacting with an alive subject. My subject and I being there for that short duration, minutes or hours, will never again be replicated. Even if we reconvene at some point in the future, I’ll be in a different state, as will they. We will be in another set of amalgamated skills and thoughts and flesh (cells).
No stroke is the same.
Free, fluid, in the moment. Once it’s over, we are done. We don’t revisit the past. I don’t enjoy to. Keeping the free and fluid strokes alive is like keeping some untainted part of yourself alive. It’s very easy to lose it. To be tampered with authority, rules, painting rules, conceptual art rules, contemporary art rules.
I enjoy taking information from many different disciplines, living real lives of a modern man to understand it; I don’t like to be stuck in the art world nor any particular world. My thoughts rest on contemplations beyond the painting stroke, YET, it all comes back to the stroke, to the way layers of paint react with each other, which colors are chosen, splashed first, dabbled second, the energy the serendipity, the vivacity.
The stroke is the mark of existence. It all comes back to making a mark about that existence.
So what is it a mark of?
It’s not really for you to remember me. It’s more for me to not forget me
Reencountering earlier me(s) became rather fun.
Odele E. Zhang, as of August 15th, 2017