When I started art my Junior year, I thought there was a certain way good art should look. I used to fix pieces over and over again, trying to get every single aspect correct. In my first pieces that year, I kept contemplating: What makes good art? Will this next stroke be a good stroke or a bad stroke? I spent hours planning for the pieces, fixing the details, making exact sketches. And all those art pieces turned out, well…terrible. I spent so much time worrying about what other people would think about my art that I lost why I love art in the first place. I made choices according to what I, myself, thought other people would want, and I choked out the voice inside me that guided my greatest pieces. I used to be a perfectionist and it would take me months to produce a single piece, hours spent on an area three inches by three inches. But last year, I grew a little.
When I paint, I paint for him, trying to remember everything he was, even as my memories fade. He loved me more than I knew how to love back at the time and now, I will never get a chance to. Everything went by so fast that I never got a chance to say thank you. So, I pour all the love that he gave me into my art, into each drop of color splashed onto canvas.
My grandpa was an artist, but growing up in China, he was pressured into becoming a doctor. However, I realized through these pieces that being an artist isn’t something that someone can take away from you. It is rooted deep within who you are. The innate desire to combine colors and create compositions will never go away. When my grandfather was living with me, he decided that he wanted to draw one art piece every day before he left and now, I have books filled with his work. They are simple, constructed out of materials like my Crayola crayons and Magic markers, but colorful and serenely beautiful. I didn’t understand at the time why he spent so much energy in these pieces. He drew even when cancer weakened his fingers, and he dedicated every single piece to me.
I used to try and copy his works, but my pieces often came out wonky and not even close to the skillfulness of his. I would usually get frustrated and go play outside instead. He saved each and every one of my drawings and taped them next to his. Now his artwork combined with mine, though mine are uneven and not well done, are some of my most prized works.
I realized that good art to me is not always beautiful, it is something that has meaning to me personally. This is the reason I painted with the dirt from the garden my grandfather planted, built 3D flowers out of spirit paper and incense, and used collage soaked in his favorite Oolong tea for my concentration pieces.
Last year, I realized what art means to me.
When my grandpa lived here, he raised a garden in our back yard. For eleven years he tended to this garden. And when his body was too tired from fighting cancer, my grandma tended to the garden. After they returned to his homeland for him to pass away, my mom now tends to this garden. I try to work on it some, but I always seem too preoccupied with schoolwork and other things to do much. But I still remember in early spring as the birds woke up, he would take out a makeshift plow and start tilling the ground until the sun went down. Then when the flowers bloomed, he would scatter the seeds about the ground. And finally, my favorite time of the year, when orange and yellow leaves rained from trees, I would skip down to the garden and pick the biggest, roundest, reddest, juiciest tomatoes and, squeezing them in my fat baby hands, run back to my grandfather. I would hold each one up between my fingers and say, “Look grandpa! Look what I have grown, aren’t you proud?” He would laugh and say yes even though he was the one who worked year-round for them. My grandpa gave everything to me. I often think that I am a different garden that he grew. That he invested eleven years in. That he poured his heart as soil into and watered with his knowledge and his kindness. Washed with his warm kind hands and kissed with wrinkled lips. I hope that one day, I will be able to run to him once more, carrying nothing except myself and say, “Look grandpa! Look at what you have grown.
Are you proud?”
My Concentration Pieces
Copying His Work
Below are some examples of my grandpa’s and my copy of his work side by side.
May 3rd, 2010
May 6th, 2010
May 10th, 2010
May 14th, 2010
June 18th, 2010
September 1st, 2010
Due to the Cultural Revolution and instances in my grandfather’s life, he wasn’t able to pursue a career in the arts. He never received any art training nor had time to pick up a paintbrush until his later life. He was diagnosed with cancer in 2004 and one day he said that he was going to draw one picture every day for the rest of his life. He died in 2014. Below is his first gallery featuring pieces of an untaught yet beautiful artist.