mats’ series of eight
Mats is an acupuncturist and all-around-interesting-person-and-B52s-super-fan back in Minneapolis. When I first arrived in Shanghai, he asked me to do a series of drawings for the hallway at his clinic. We settled on eight drawings, since eight is so lucky here. I finally finished them at the end of April and sent them on their way!
Commissions are unique projects. I must consider the needs of the person who commissioned the work, their space, their style, while still createing in my usual spontaneous style, allowing a work of art to grow into itself. In this case, I chose a style similar to my home-for-rocks drawings I did a few years ago, one of which Mats owns. The process involved lots of collage and also chopping-up of collage. I wanted to capture the experience of my early days here, my understanding of the spirit of Shanghai, and include ideas related to Chinese Medicine, since that is the environment in which the drawings will live. You can read more about my process below. Some scenes should be familiar to you, if you’ve been following the blog.
I think it will be interesting to see, months down the road, how my impressions of the city will have changed. Thanks Mats for this intriguing challenge. Let me know if you have a favorite! And check out Mats’ website to read about his skills.
This series reflects Mats’ profession, our shared interest in Chinese Medicine, and the business of me finding my way during my first two months living in Shanghai.
It is series containing abstract images, bright colors, images of Shanghai and Chinese traditional medicine. The series reflects my feeling of Shanghai as a puzzle for me to solve–an endless puzzle, with not only many pieces, but also many layers.
I often incorporate stitching into my drawings. It’s an attempt to mar and re-shape a drawing, which shows its interaction with human hands, and makes it less precious. In this series it also references the use of the acupuncture needle. With a needle an acupuncturist may stimulate a point to bring energy to it, or he may break up tension with friction in guasha or tui na, or he may use an herbal formula to alter the structure of tissues or fluids–breaking down and building up the energetic and physical to create the harmony called health. It also occurs to me that as I go in and out of the subway system, I am like a needle traveling up and down through the surface of this city, trying to keep the thread going.
The images in this series layer and mix together in a way similar to how we create our health through a mix of foods, habits and environments. The imagery blends the curving and asymmetrical edges of the organic with the structural lines of the man made. The skyscraping efforts of modern architecture are juxtaposed with ancient foods and medical practices, the tomb of an old scientist from the 1500s, and the old past time of playing games in public places.
Let’s Go to the Park 7.5 x 11 inches
This image is from Xu Guangqi park, my favorite park in Shanghai, just a few blocks from my apartment. The park is in memory and honor of Xu Guangqi, a famous agricultural scientist (and Catholic!) who the area is named for (Xujiahui). His 450th birthday just passed, and he will be beatified as a saint in early May of 2012. There are always people playing cards or chess by the mound of his tomb, pictured in yellow. At Qingming people brought flowers with streamers to display in front of it.
Discovering the Territory 8.5 x 9 inches
This piece is more abstract and represents the weather (rain and wind) and general feeling I had in my first weeks of wandering around Shanghai. Gradually the rain brought flowers, and if I wandered long enough I was able to find patches of greenery tucked within the buildings and busy roads. On the edges are metro ticket slips, receipts, and my cell phone activation, all early activities that helped me start to locate myself within Shanghai.
The Pharmacy 9 x 10.5 inches
This is a Chinese herbal pharmacy. I’ve seen a few while here. Usually in a grand setting, there are rows and rows of red drawers holding different natural elements–plants or animals dried and waiting for use in prescriptions. On the counter in front is a paper onto which the herbs are carefully measured using the hand scale. They are then wrapped into a bundle so the patient can take it home and make a tea. The way I have painted it, I also hinted at the prescription floating on water, as if is coming to you across the waters of time, which it is.
Greetings from Shanghai 6.5 x 10 inches
This was the first piece completed in the series, reflecting the layers and climbing towers seen of Pudong from the Bund side of the Huangpu River. Looking across you see the futuristic landscape, and if you turn to look behind you, you see the old European buildings leftover from colonial empires. One of the things that makes Shanghai so complicated and overwhelming is trying to identify what’s old and what’s new and make sense of it. It feels like jumping around on a timeline.
Harnessing Energy 8.5 x 9 inches
This piece is about the ways in which traditional medicine attempts to harness energy–guiding it, controlling it, building it, or keeping it in check. The method may be food or moxa or herbs or needles or acupressure or lifestyle. Again there is a lot of layering in this image. What is Chinese medicine? What is TCM? What are the “true” texts, methods, and teachings–these are the questions being asked of students of Chinese medicine in China today.
The Medicine Gourd 9 x 10 inches
The only one of these I have seen here so far was in the form of a ceramic vase in the window of a furniture store. I first learned of these vessels at an exhibit at the Walker Art Center, oddly enough. These gourds were hollowed out and used as receptacles for carrying herbal medicines, by doctors who travelled in rural areas. To me they are a powerful image of a fertile hope for healing and the power of the medicines, protected within a natural form.
Moxabustion 7.5 x 10.5 inches
This is another image about harnessing the power of nature–in the form of the herb artemesia, used in moxabustion. The diagrams are pulled from a moxa how-to book I found at a chain grocery store. The girl using the moxa on herself is taken out of the book and placed as if she is in nature, harnessing it’s power to create harmony in her own microcosm.
Deciphering Shanghai 8.5 x 9 inches
In this piece I again refer to the mysterious feeling of this city. The sleuth image is actually a movie poster–Shanghai has many modern amenities, like 3D movie theaters with VIP lounges. Also pictured is an economical food tray a local might enjoy, a zebra and many patterns and colors. I have not seen a live zebra here, not yet, but there are constantly larger-than-life, back-lit images of luxury brands and glamorous models in exotic locations, beaming into your eyes and hoping for your pocketbook, by day and by night. Strange city, nothing should surprise you, after awhile, but again and again it does.