My work draws from storytelling, proto-feminism, Indigenous teachings, and biography. It addresses the interaction of the arc of history with intimacy of memory. Blankets, one of my primary materials, are everyday objects that can carry extraordinary histories of use. In my tribe and other Indigenous communities, we give blankets away to honor those who are witness to important life events. In working with blankets, my process is both solitary and collaborative. Small works are personal meditations. Large works are often realized by community sewing circles: participants range from 3 to 93 in age, and no sewing experience is required. The intercultural fellowship around the table is as much a part of the work as the resulting artifact.
This series plays with the overlap between a range of longstanding influences on my visual vocabulary: Indian miniatures, scientific imagery, musical notation and mapping.
Central forms suggest landmass, non-specific geographic shapes containing hundreds of brushed dots of gold acrylic and powdered pigment, the ground multiple layers of deep velvety color. While painting these dots, over time shapes form, figures emerge. I add more marks, figures disappear into their neighbors, and a larger shape appears. Depending on the angle of the lighting and the position of the viewer, the metallic paint shimmers like a scrim floating on the surface, concealing the underlying forms, or recedes into the surface color, revealing the marks more clearly.
The larger works function as externalized thinking–visual stories emerge and current events impinge on the painting, leaving indefinable traces. The smaller works are in some ways the children of the larger ones, products of their conceptual labor.
The collages are intuitive accretions, built-up layers of intricately contoured cut paper fragments—fragments found sifting through outmoded textbooks, encyclopedias, technical manuals and the like. Lyric improvisations recontextualize the natural, biological world with scientific, mechanical elements evoking recognition while simultaneously remaining enigmatic. I began acquiring old, discarded volumes long before their possibilities unfolded attracted by the visual beauty and richness, the soft warmth of the patina, the fragility inherent of this arcane printed matter—its evocative obsolescence, qualities redolent of another age—an authenticity that I desire to preserve and channel. Selections are made with a practiced eye—informed by snatches of memory and meditations on the micro- macro cosmos—finding inspiration in antiquated print aberrations, engraved optical eccentricities, and odd, inartful renderings. All coalesce to imbue the work with a sense of immediacy, and detached timelessness.
Growing up in rural Ireland in the 1960s through 1980s, I often heard my mother talking of the “big house” and the class system that was clearly in place, ending each story with “Their ways weren’t our ways”; later, when my family ran a boarding house, she would dismiss the tourists who stayed with us with the same comment. My childhood was defined by the “if you can’t make it, you can’t have it” Ireland, a place where making things—food, shelter, ornament—and making do were central to both the physical and emotional survival of the family. That reality and the resulting radical attitude to tradition, high-class impurity, and rascality inherent in the Irish culture of that time expressed itself not only in my mother’s words but in the language, literature, people, and music that surrounded me as an adolescent. As a young painter this sensibility naturally carried over into how I looked at the modern masters, and to the questions asked of their conventions and their “ways.” I’ve always been most interested in the modest lyricism of the purely mundane, never feeling abstraction to be the sole province of the heroic and the cerebral. Throughout my career, I have been constructing a very personal and idiomatic formal language based in simple materials and unglamorous gestures, a framework which functions as a kind of syntactical grid of shifting equivalences. The “paintings” that emerge from this process know their family history, a narrative of greatness fallen on hard times. Yet, for all that, they remain remarkably un-defensive, wobbly, presuming no need to disavow the past or defy the present. I work from memoir, stories of growing up on the farm in Wexford and my life now in the States, short stories that I then fashion from the archaeology of my studio. I work the studio as my father worked the farm, with invention out of need, using my own displacement as fodder for meaning. I take things apart, forgetting conventions and reapply my own story to the form. I revel in the history of painting, its rules, its beauty, its techniques, but fold them back into the agricultural language I grew up with. I’m interested in the personal, my own story, and the history of storytelling. My new work delves into my own history as a painter, rooting in the ruins and failures of my own studio for both subject matter and raw material. I have disassembled the wooden structures of previous paintings—the stretchers, panels, and frames—and have cut them back to rudimentary hand-built slabs of wood, glued and patched together, their history of being stapled, splashed with bits of paint, and stapled again to linen clearly evident. The residual marks on the frames, coupled with their internal organization, begin to form a constellation of densities, implying an idiomatic syntax of organic fluctuation where compact spaces coexist with the appearance of gaping holes where the rickety bridges have given way. Formal and structural concerns become inseparable, the slippery organization of their fluctuating grids showing a transparency both literal and historical. With both serenity and abandon, these structures imagine the possibility that painting might take root and find a place to press forward into fertile new terrain. Humorous, enigmatic, these fragments bare their histories as well-worn objects, and in that maintain a certain irrefutable integrity, speaking to both the strengths and frailties ingrained by hard use and the passage of time. What long remained hidden as merely the bones behind the image plane have been exhumed and remade into the tendons and sinews of the image itself. Through the process of deconstruction and reassembly, the pieces invert the conventional anatomical hierarchies of painting in an attempt to find what is fresh and vital among the entrails of the image. The paintings affirm over and over again in elegant fashion the pleasures of a demanding and nonjudgmental yet always self-conscious practice of painting that gives joy to the eye and substance to the spirit. I am interested in painting that would stand up without the usual structures of support. I am looking at my own life, the history of Sean-nós singing in Irish music, Beckett’s pared-down language, and the currency of need found in most houses when I was growing up.
My recent paintings are in large part a reflection of contemporary individuals who are showing different states of mind. These figures are mostly a record of some images in my mind which I make visual. In the recent years I have developed a new view in painting, focusing mostly on figures who are sitting, standing or doing things as if in a theatre set.
I make wooden sculptures that look like animal anthropomorphic creatures, sometimes monsters too. Actually I think that these are all humans. (A metaphor of the human condition.) “What is it to be human?” “What is the human being?” I am interested in these questions. I am also interested in the question of what is it to be Japanese. Sometimes humans are animals and monsters. Human beings have various aspects.
I sometimes imagine that my work looks silly, funny and the characters are foolish but also cute, lovely and sweet. Also sometimes they are expressionless and we can’t tell from their expression what they are thinking. In a sense possibly they are like the Japanese character… perhaps.
I have been making a series of works called Faithful Dog Man. Actually, when I make this work I imagine a “faithful person character” in my mind. Who is the Faithful Dog Man faithful to? What is the Faithful Dog Man faithful to? What country is the Faithful Dog Man faithful to? I sometimes put messages and humor in my work, like this. However I am not interested in directly telling people only an ironic message. Because I would like my work “people and creatures” to be loved by other people and me. I would like my characters to be loved by people, and my characters to feel close to people and me. Because they are always looking for a new owner.
My work in ceramics and mixed media collage revolves primarily around issues of family and my Asian-American background. Cultural marginality and blending, tradition vs. Westernization, language and translation are key elements in my work. Since the birth of my son in 1987, I have been drawing inspiration from major events in my family’s history, the day-to-day challenges of parenting, and my own childhood memories of being raised in a minority culture in the United States. I use the image of a child as a symbol of innocence, potential and vulnerability.
Making art is a function of living, a material practice that allows me to examine the ordinary and illuminate the familiar. My creative attitude and working process are largely informed by the inherent displacement and fragmentation characteristic of contemporary life and the landscape we now inhabit, against a diminishing wilderness. Allusions to aftermath and anachronism reflect my fascination with the experience of time. Finding that text and sound are potent collaborators, I now make short time-based media projects alongside painting, which constitutes the core of my studio practice.
For almost 50 years I have created conceptual multimedia artworks exploring the friction between our interior lives and public selves. I have secretly observed, listened to, photographed, filmed and recorded strangers in public places while remaining largely invisible. When using myself as subject, I have appeared masked or hidden, as in several recent series.
After graduating Carnegie Mellon, I moved to New York from the suburbs of Cleveland and found myself in a densely populated metropolis. For me, each person was a matchless original as well as a stereotype. In 1970, with a small, cheap camera, I began surreptitiously photographing people on the streets, often listening to their conversations. In an attempt to tease out patterns of human experience, I aggregated thousands of photographs.
For years, I repurposed my street photographs in many forms: books, videos, photographs, installations and sculptures, and even created Who I Saw in New York from 1970-2000, a book and gallery installation consisting of photographs of thousands of people.
When I moved from SoHo to Williamsburg, Brooklyn in 2008, I became dependent on the L train to visit Manhattan. This made it easy to go to galleries, museums, visit friends, see doctors, etc. I now found myself in close quarters with a vast and, for me, new, population. As a pastime, I began photographing other passengers with my iPhone. At the same time, I continued my art in the studio by developing several series of myself behind masks.
In 2017, it was announced that the L train would be closed for 18 months for repairs. What would this mean? How would my life be affected? Would my work practice change? It would not, but the focus, the idea would have a different urgency. I decided to start a new project, painting portraits of the passengers I had photographed. With free, quick, gestural strokes and a palette of both muted and intense colors, I tried to bring life to the gray underground. The speed of my painting reflected, for me, the crowded, ever-moving population of passengers; hurried, contemplative, sometimes angry, occasionally musical and lyrical. Almost half a million of us would be dislocated or stranded every day.
Underground became integrated with above ground. Everywhere I walked, construction crossed my paths. I photographed my altered landscape. The images became backgrounds on which I mounted several of the portraits. This recombination created context which has always been crucial to my art practice. I called the series L Train Bye, Bye. But then, overnight, everything seemed about to change. The governor had somehow discovered a new technology at the last minute. No shutdown, he said. No fast track. But my work would stand with a new title, They Rode the L Train.
In my artwork I create visual parallels between rational and cosmological worlds through constructing and deconstructing, layering and erasing, scraping and marking, unraveling and reconnecting. I incorporate techniques of drawing, painting, sewing and weaving. I started using thread in my work more than twenty years ago. I liked the practical properties of the material, thread’s use to put things together, to mantle, to unify. Threads also soothed my desire for fluidity: I could manipulate them to create mass, sculptural forms, to penetrate the canvas or just leave them loose. I would sew different layers of colored yarns to create chromatic filters where underneath you could see shimmering shapes.