The day started out early as usual. I'm generally a morning person but the combination of jetlag and breakfast at the Guest House are just additional motivations for getting up early.
The mornings are great since Sissy or Kelli are always around whenever I get up. I move from my room to the formal dining room and set up my computer and grab coffee, granola and yogurt. If I'm feeling like a deserve a treat (which has been everyday for no real reason except because I'm back at Davidson which obviously warrants a treat) I grab a slice of the zucchini breakfast bread. Sissy informed me that the zucchini comes from Davidson's newly acquired organic farm and the bread is made down at Vail Commons (the main dining area on campus) and delivered to the guest house.
Over breakfast I review the images from the previous day's progress and determine which section of the mural requires more work or which section to focus on for the day. Afterwards, I grab my camera and laptop and I'm off.
I headed to the union around 8:30 since I was determined to correct some details on President Spencer's portrait before Isabel arrived. A few minutes after I set out the materials for the day Bill Giduz, Davidson College's Director of Media Relations, and a fellow, Robert, arrived to inform me he'd sent a note to local news publications about the project and several had been in contact with him as they were interested in running pieces on the mural and my progress to date. But he also described that he wanted to send them a photo of me with the mural that "needed to be taken in the next 20 minutes," as he was in between appointments.
Bill and Robert quickly set up lights and posed me using "Isabel's ladder," as a prop. Do you remember when you had to take high school year book photos and every time they told you to smile, it was as if you'd forgotten how to. Rather than smiling an awkward grimace spread across your face and you were suddenly blatantly conscious that your awkwardness would somehow be captured on camera. That never happened to you? Well, it did to me in high school and it happened again over the next 20 minutes. However, by the end of it we were having fun, though Robert looked a bit bored by us all as he realized Isabel and I could go on for hours :)
After they left, I began to work on the "First Portraits." This would be a series of six portraits representing the various significant firsts at the college such as the first international student, the first African American student, first woman to graduate Davidson and so on. All of these firsts represent a significant milestone in the college's history and path towards embracing diversity and inclusion on campus. Today, I began on the portrait of Leslie Brown who was the first African American student to integrate at Davidson when previously the college had only admitted white Americans to attend. I hope that I have a chance to meet Leslie, who recently visited the college, before heading back to London.
As a tribute, I "photobombed" the time-lapse camera that is set up to document our progress with a picture of Leslie's college portrait (see below).
My soror and best friend, Ebony Harley, paid me a visit while we were painting. I've such an amazing time talking to everyone who has come by to see the mural and chat. I will post the invite to the official Meet & Greet scheduled for July 8th from 12pm- 1pm. Hope to see you there :)
Today we focused on adding detail to portions of the mural that already have their second coats of paint, meaning that was a bit slow on any major changes. I focused on perfecting my friend Pres. Spencer's eyes and glasses and adding chains to the figures supporting the Chambers building while Isabel worked on the Delta letter jacket.
In the afternoon I had a chance to catch up with one of my former art professors, Herb Jackson. Throughout my career at Davidson, Herb was both my professor and mentor. His works are part of private and institutional collections around the world. He's most renown for his Veronica's Veil series, though he works with various subjects.
It was in Herb's classes did I begin to understand the power and place of vibrant color and texture in painting. Over lunch we chatted about our art, upcoming shows, and new projects in the pipeline. Herb described since his retirement in 2011 he has been able to paint everyday uninterrupted and on his own schedule. I've been to his studio in Davidson along with other art majors and it is a place of envy among artists. So the thought of being able to spend your day in a studio with nothing but the canvas, a bit of paint and XM radio's top 40 sounds like the perfect retirement plan. Please note, I doubt that Herb listens to XM's top 40 but who doesn't love Carly Rae's Call me Maybe?! Don't judge.
It is safe to say that Isabel and I have gotten in a "mural routine." We arrive at the union around 9am, turn on music, Isabel puts on a painting smock (I don't in an attempt to defy the painting gods- I prefer to paint in "high fashion" as a professor once accused) and we begin.
At the moment I've started working on both the American flag, which serves as an anchor for the mural, as well as the portrait of Samuel R. Spencer the former Davidson College President. I've found that working on multiple areas of mural simultaneously is the best way to get your mind and technique engaged. Especially, since the technique for painting the flesh of a portrait is much softer and requires a round brush versus the cloth of the flag which can be harsh and angular which is more conducive to the use of a flat brush (natural hair).
As we worked through the morning we were visited by a number of faculty and staff to see the progress we'd made over the weekend. I was pleasantly surprised to see Anne Wills, my former professor of African-American religion. It was in Professor Wills class that we discussed the paradox of learning religion and employing its teaching, which ultimately led to the theme Christian Limitation and foundation of my senior thesis and exhibition at Davidson. Professor Wills was a wonderful supporter of my art and recounted stories of people's reaction to one of my pieces (Mammy and Child) located in her office.
Isabel and I continued to work throughout the morning and afternoon to the tunes of Macklemore ringing through the room. As I continued add detail to the portrait of Pres. Spencer I couldn't help notice something was a bit off with the overall rendering. Usually, when I have this issue I take a minute to go away from whatever I'm working on and upon my return I can figure out what it is I need to change. However, after several attempts at going away and coming back (I'm pretty sure people in the union thought I'd developed an obsessive compulsion of leaving the room, walking around for a few seconds only to return) I still couldn't figure it out. I eventually enlisted the help of Isabel to see what she thought might needed to be changed. She'd be my "fresh eyes" since she had not been staring at it for the past several hours. She walked over, squinted, tilted her head and without missing a beat said "he looks like he's eating the flag." Well... I did ask.
She was right! I'd used an image of Pres. Spencer as he was giving a speech and realized out of context of the audience, the microphone and the implied setting, he just looked like he was eating the flag. Luckily, this was easily fixed.
I'm looking forward to showing it when it is finally complete.
The campus is always quiet during the summer. While attending Davidson the summer was the best part of the year. Aside from the obvious reasons, I always looked forward to the summertime because campus felt like an oasis from the rest of the world. I spent the majority of the summers at Davidson babysitting two young children of a local family. During my four years in school they felt more like my little brother and sister. Whenever we didn't have to rush off to soccer practice or play dates we'd come of campus and enjoy the peace and quiet of the grounds. Getting up early this morning and walking over to the union reminded me of just how peaceful this place can be.
The morning was cool from the previous evening's showers and the birds were just starting to stir. Apparently, they too were enjoying the quiet. That early in the morning the union was completely still as I made my way to the mural. I quickly set up my materials before closing the door and turning on my "painting mix," which spans from Aretha Franklin to Macklemore and even a bit of Beethoven. If I thought that painting while people looked through the glass was a performance then anyone who walked by this morning was in for a treat to witness me singing at the top of my lungs while painting. Now that is a performance piece.
Today, I started the portrait that will be of a young woman wearing a hijab that is composed of the different national flags of the international student body. Since the portrait is placed on the curved portion of the wall it has been a bit difficult to ensure the proportions and perspective of the portrait appear correct. I will continue to work on the female portrait tomorrow along with finishing Sam Spencer's portrait.
Isabel and I started bright and early on Day 2 after realizing that "this is going to take a while" to paint. We've tentatively dismissed the project plan as it seems much more organic and comfortable to work on portions of the mural whenever it "feels right." I've decided that instead of consulting the project plan to gauge how far ahead or behind we are that I will gauged based on the percentage of the wall covered in paint.
Over the past two days we've attracted quite a crowd, from the patrons of the Duke Performance theatre to the various people on campus for the different events. Since the the mural is in on the ground floor of the union in an area with a glass wall it's hard not to feel like we're in a fish bowl on display. We've joked that this is more of a performance piece than solely a painting.
We took a brief break in the middle of the day to grab lunch at one of the cafes on Main Street. While there I was pleasantly surprised to run into a few classmates who were in town for a wedding. It was so nice to see them and somehow felt like no time has passed since we were enrolled in school. One joked that I looked exactly the same as when we were freshman. That just made me realize I should probably stop wearing my clothes from college :)
I arrived onto campus Thursday afternoon after the eight and a half hour flight from London. I'm not sure if I'm the only one, but I absolutely love long haul flights. It's the only time when you can completely relax and not feel obligated to be doing something, producing something, or in general just being a contributing part of society. No, I feel no need.
Instead, I receive the airplane refreshments with an open smile and fully recline my seat (to the dismay of the person behind me) and begin to catch up on the latest cinema releases.
However, I couldn't stop myself from wondering "how will it feel to be back at Davidson?" Would I feel like a stranger looking in? Would it feel like I'd never left? I was excited but also a bit nervous. Often time after being away from a place, a person or a thing we make it much more grandiose than it actually was or ever will be. I wondered, Would this be the case? Well, I wouldn't find out for another seven hours so no need to dwell on it now, my movie was about to begin.
I thought London has a quick pace, but there is nothing to compare to painting a mural on a pretty tight deadline. As soon as landed I was picked up at the airport and promptly I arrived on campus 30 minutes later. I dropped my things off at the Guest House (which is reason enough to come back to Davidson) where I was met by Tae-Sun, the Director of Multi-culturalism on campus. It was wonderful finally meet her in person as we'd planned the entire project via conference calls and emails. Tae-Sun joined Davidson's faculty two years ago in the inaugural position with the purpose of promoting diversity and inclusion on campus. I was quickly given an update on the preparation of the space and off we were towards the union.
The first thing you notice about North Carolina in the summer is the heat. The heavy heat that clings to your body as you move from one air-conditioned building to the next. Immediate sweating aside, as we walked the short four minutes from the Guest House to the Alvarez Union I couldn't help but let the biggest smile stretch across my face. I was home. Well, what I considered home for four years and somehow felt like I'd never left and that my time at Davidson lasted decades rather than four years. The campus in itself is striking - it looks like a university has be dropped in the middle of Regents Park in London.
After viewing the wall in the union where the mural would find its home and reviewing the final-updated-revised-altered design we discussed a few more changes and headed off to dinner after grabbing my catcard (to allow access to the necessary buildings).
The next day (Friday) Isabel, my assistant for the project who is a current student at Davidson, met me at the Guest House bright and early. I was keen to get started as quickly as possible since I knew I would have a few meetings throughout the day. Isabel is a sophomore (art and psychology major) who is beautiful both inside and out. We'd corresponded prior my arrival to discuss the project plan (yes, I created a project plan- to ensure we remained on track). She seemed as excited as I was to begin the project.
Our plan was simple, grid the wall in 2' x 2' areas, the drawing would be gridded to the same units, then transfer onto the wall with graphite. That simple plan took a lot longer than anticipated. But eventually we got there and began painting.
We soon realized that the combination of the paints (System 3 Acrylic), the brushes (natural hair) and the finish on the wall meant that it would require a minimum of two coats on the entire mural.
Throughout the day I met with our dean of students, Dean Shandley and Dean Jeffries to discuss the project and hopefully it's impact on student life and the face of the student union. It was so nice seeing them both and catching up on what I've been up to since graduation. That is one of the many benefits of attending a smaller university. I have no doubt that Dean Shandley and Jeffries would've been able to greet virtually any alum by the first name and welcome them back with the same warmth.
I also had a chance to introduce myself to the new president of the college, Carol Quillen who had taken the position after I'd graduated.
Afterwards, I was back to continue working on the painting. Isabel and I have decided to work on opposite ends of the mural as to avoid getting in each other's way. I'm excited to see how it comes along over the next couple of weeks.
In less than 24 hours I will return to my alma mater, Davidson College! At the moment it is a bit impossible to put into words exactly what I am feeling, which makes sense as I am an artist, not a writer.
I had the honor of being asked by Davidson to create an original piece of artwork for the new multicultural space in the Alvarez Student Union. The work, in the form a of mural, will span 27ft x 8ft (for a total of 216 square feet). I will be on campus working on the mural for two weeks. To say that I am both thrilled and daunted by the project is a massive understatement.
I have been working alongside faculty at Davidson to develop the design of the mural that will document the evolution of the diversity and multiculturalism on campus. In essence, the work will serve as a visual history of Davidson's sometimes difficult past as an institution of its time by paying homage to the men and women who made Davidson what it is today as well as celebrating the continuous change and diversity of the present and future. No pressure.
I have included several proposed versions of the mural, but you will have to wait to see which will be the final design :)
The past few days have been incredible and all leading up to this evening's opening. We had a number of local artists and other residents attend to view the various works produced during our stay in Beijing. It was really nice to witness the reactions of the local Chinese artists since our work is extremely different from the contemporary Chinese art we've seen over the past few weeks.
Tong (captured to the left with his portrait) seemed particularly pleased with the art on display. I can't help but wonder how it must feel to have Western foreigners visit your culture and create reaction pieces to what you consider ordinary or even mundane but very personal.
The show "Caste into the Light," is composed of 12 of my individual paintings created during the two and a half weeks I have been in China. The works are directly related to people I have encountered and attempt to capture my immediate perception of these various characters. Similar to my thesis during my residency in Estonia- I intend my immediate reactions will be superficial in nature to mimic the action of "snap judgements" or passing judgement on a person or a group of people based on superficial factors. I propose these snap judgements merely reiterate the caricature-like preconceived notions we possess on certain ethnic and racial groups. The purpose of these works are to question the validity of these preconceived notions and determine if they actually hold true or if they perpetuate racial tensions as a result of ignorance.
This evening's opening was a great success. It is hard to believe that in a mere 48 hours I will be on a plane back to London. I've had such a wonderful experience in Beijing I am excited to see how these experiences translate into my work produced in the UK.