Monthly Archives: September 2020

Things are coming along (the end of the world, that is).

As you can see, work on the ‘I Spy’ book is well on its way. This one is based on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. It also recounts the story of “The Twa Sisters,” an early murder ballad, a subgenre of music that fascinates me simply because it exists. Why do we have so many songs about dead women?!

There’s not much I could say that hasn’t already been said about Ruth Bader Ginsburg. God bless her soul. I’m Canadian, but I’m aware of how much of an impact she’s had on women’s rights in the United States. There’s also not much I can that’s hasn’t already been said about Republicans in the US Senate trying to quickly fill her seat in less than six weeks after they delayed for nine months and didn’t even bother having a hearing to consider President Barrack Obama’s nominee back in 2016. They’re going to try to put a lifetime appointed judge to heavily lean the courts into the conservatives’ favor for decades to come. They’ll do it before the election; and even if Trump loses, they can still do it during the lameduck session after the election. It’s hypocrisy of the highest order. But what I find more galling is the weakness that the Democrats are demonstrating at the moment.

There are several ways Democrats can delay the Republican-led US Senate from confirming whichever right wing zealot Trump nominates to replace the iconic titan that was Justice Ginsburg. It is amazing that Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, in an interview with ABC, already gave up on one of the most reasonable things the Democrats can do, withhold budget negotiations and shutdown the government. No one wants to shutdown the government. Millions of people could potentially be hurt by such action, but the last time I checked, the government was already shutdown twice during Trump’s term, once over immigration and another over border wall funding. Essentially stealing the Supreme Court for the Republicans is more than enough reason to shutdown the government. A right wing court could strip the rights of workers, voters, unions, and women. It would be a gift to corporate interests as well as religious zealots.

Democrats could also impeach Trump a second time, not that there’s a lack of reason to do so. There’s campaign finance violations, violating the Hatch Act, conspiracy to corrupt the upcoming 2020 elections, advocating political violence, abuse of power by pardoning his crony Roger Stone, attacking the free press, or deadly incompetence in the face of the coronavirus. Putting up articles of impeachment would force the Republican-led Senate to take it on before any other business.

Other than these, they can also eliminate the filibuster or expand the Supreme Court to include more judges. Heck, appoint Hilary Clinton as a Supreme Court judge. She’s an excellent lawyer outside of her political career. That would drive the conservatives nuts, especially the Q-Anon types who believe she’s part of a pedophile Satan-worshiping cabal.

But so far, the only strong voice I hear from the Democrats comes from AOC who says that the death of Ginsburg should be radicalizing people at the moment. The day Justice Ginsburg died, I read Sen. Chuck Schumer “calls on Sen. Mitch McConnell” to withhold appointing her replacement. “Calls on?” He should be demanding it! Then we have Nancy Pelosi not only giving up one of her cards on a televised interview, she almost skips the problem as well as her active role in the process and just goes to the viewers and urges them to vote. Yes, people will vote. In the meantime, the Democrats don’t do anything about the Republicans stealing another Supreme Court seat. It is absolute weakness. It’s great to see tributes online and on television about the impact Ruth Bader Ginsburg has had on the judiciary and the lives of ordinary women, but tributes are a dime a dozen. That’s Instagram nonsense that doesn’t cost any political capital. What we have right now is abject weakness after the loss of someone so strong and courageous. Shame on the Democrats.

Continuing with politics, this time in Canada, RIP former Prime Minister John Turner. He only served for 80 days but he was still our leader for a time. He served right after the first Trudeau and was followed by Mulroney who famously instituted Canada’s Goods and Services Tax in the 90s. I didn’t know this, but John Turner became Prime Minister despite being born outside of Canada. Yes, us Canadians don’t limit our highest leadership exclusively to native-born Canadians.

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Of Mice and Men and Dreams

I’ve been helping a friend’s daughter who is now taking classes in Canada via an online portal. She’s preparing to move there come January. I’ve been helping her with her English and Biology. Recently, I insisted that we start looking at classic books and analyzing them the way high school students do in North America. I didn’t want her to go to Canada and not know books like Animal Farm, Lord of the Flies, etc. I also wanted her to familiarize herself with the analytical tradition of studying as well. I notice that most Korean students are trained to memorize and regurgitate facts instead of analyzing them and generating new truths. It was a fortunate if not serendipitous move on my part then that we learned that she’ll be studying Of Mice and Men in a few weeks, a book that we already started discussing.

One of Steinbeck’s themes in the book is the death of a dream and how one becomes part of meaningless cycle of toil and hopelessness. The book was written in 1937, at the height of the Great Depression. In the beginning of the book, it describes itinerant workers toiling during the week and spending all of their money on liquor and women at the local brothels, the cycle continuously repeating, and the men being trapped in the hopeless lifestyle. In contrast, the protagonist of the book, George and Lenny, dream of someday saving up enough money to buy their own farm and raising animals, and most especially, rabbits. By the end of the book, the dream is dashed, and George, not having a dream, presumably becomes just like the other men in the farm, trapped in a cycle of endless labor.

I see where Steinbeck is coming from, but I believe despite his very dour description of life in the 1930s, what he paints is a very idealistic, almost Norman Rockwellian view of how life in America should be, a view that basically hasn’t changed throughout all time. In order to have a successful life, you have to own a home, an idealized home, whatever that means. In George and Lenny’s case, it’s one with animals.

The thing about homes and the dream of homes is that it gives a sense of permanence, literally a shelter that will be there for you and one that will presumably be able to be passed to your children and grandchildren, a legacy that will outlast your very short existence. But how is that dream, or any dream for that matter, any different from the existence of the men in the farm? You work for most of your life, you pay off your mortgage, you spend a few years enjoying retirement, you die. The house and all of your legacy will eventually be whittled away by your descendants until you are but a faded memory. And these descendants will continue on with their own dreams. Maybe all of the work you did made their life a bit better; at least, the house you bought gave them shelter, but you still ended up working everyday and spending most of your life doing something you would rather not do.

Maybe the dream is working in a farm all of your life? Maybe the dream is going to brothels every weekend? That’s not what we have been trained to want all of our lives, but I suspect the dream that Steinbeck envisioned in the book is simply the traditional long-term delayed gratification we’ve all been educated and conditioned to want, as opposed to the short term gratification cycle that the men in the farm enjoy. It’s quite religious almost. Endure the toils and suffering on earth for now; later, you will be rewarded in heaven. Looking back, and since I myself an a recipient of a lifetime of programming and biases, I don’t think I’m qualified to tell which one is better.

….

I’ve touched up on the topic of death many times before. I remember one time talking about the all too common and simple way of dying by colliding with a planet (basically jumping to your death) and another time talking about how easy it is to harvest cherry seed pits. Recently, I’ve been thinking that all death comes down to three categories: death by evolution, death by biology, and death by physics. Death by evolution is basically all death that involves being eaten by another animal, basically taking part in the food pyramid. It’s probably the most exotic of all deaths since not many people die from getting eaten by animals compared to other forms of death. Where am I supposed to get eaten by wolves in Seoul?

Death by biology is death caused by the failings of our own physical bodies, be it aging, cancer, or any sort of disease. Looking at statistics, it’s what most deaths are: cancer, heart disease, and in 2020, coronavirus. Death by biology is the slowest of deaths and probably the most natural, but it is far from being kind. The atheist argument to the non-existence of a benevolent God is the fact that he allows the existence of childhood cancer and all sorts of natural and unavoidable maladies to fall onto children.

The last category is death by physics. This is death caused by our bodies’ inability to survive the powers of physics, be it the kinetic force of a bullet, or the marriage of mass and gravity when we fall to our doom. I suppose most homicides, at least violent ones, are death by physics. Most people dream of a slow death by biology. Death by physics are often the most jarring of deaths.

Lenny from Of Mice and Men died from physics. George will probably suffer a long death by biology.

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A New Project

Someone floated to me the idea of making an ‘I Spy’ book. This sounds quite daunting, but having a project that would last me a good while actually sounds very appealing to me. Like my previous piece, it would mean drawing much larger images in order to be much better for print. I wouldn’t rely too much on text because viewers could easily see them and psychoanalyze me to death. And come approximately five to six months time, I would have enough images for a small collection for print. The only downside is planning and coming up with images, but that’s already something I struggle with on a daily basis.

This wouldn’t be my first foray into making a book. I once published a collection of my thesis works. It was a way for me to exhibit small works and have people examine them at home at their leisure as opposed to being in a gallery. I didn’t really have any expectations when I made the book. I just wanted to have all of the works in a collection, and then I could move on. What I didn’t realize is that once I had it registered with an ISBN number, the Canadian book archives would also want a copy for their collection. It’s been years now, and many of the images in that collection is not as strong as I would like and not really representative of what I do these days. Looking at the image above, this isn’t really what I do now. I would like to think I am better than this. It would be a shame if I die and the only thing that survives of my work are those images in the Canadian library archives somewhere in Ottawa.

I think making an ‘I Spy’ book would be very much the same process as my previous book, but simpler due to the planned number of images. My previous book had roughly 60 images in it, while an ‘I Spy’ book would be more like ten images. It would barely be a comic book and more like a pamphlet. Due to the small number of pages, I’m hoping I could design the book and have it print to order, as in print them whenever someone buys them online, instead of having a minimum of 250 copies printed in the initial batch which would leave me with so many books I have no idea how to sell. I remember having my first book and looking at stacks of them and wondering, “Now what?” Do I call Barnes and Noble?

This “Now what?” situation is notorious especially living in Seoul and having no storage for anything. This is why I avoid doing sculptures these days. On my previous projects, I had all of these works and not know what to do with them. As pleased as I am with materializing what I imagined in my head into actual physical objects, they end up becoming more burdensome than anything. This is why I stick with small drawings.

In my previous work, the hunt for words and images is just a collateral activity. The main goal was to collect my works and present them to the public. Looking back now, it was obnoxiously arrogant of me. Who would want a collection of my works? I’m an unknown artist. Anyway, the purpose of an ‘I Spy’ book is the hunt for images, the artist and viewing his work (and knowing him) are the collateral. Older and more experienced, I know that no one gives a damn about me. Just make interesting images.

The biggest fear for me here is that it would mean stepping away from my usual style of work for a while, a style that I’ve been comfortable with for so many years now. But I guess we all have to change things up a bit sometimes.

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Filling the Page

FullPage

Someone asked me to fill an A4 page with images that I normally draw in my artwork. I understand they’re for tattoos, but the problem is, my images are a tad too small for tattoos. I decided to enlarge my usual imagery and use them to fill a page. I skipped using text; instead, I filled the negative space in order to obscure most of my images. The images are much, much bigger, but viewers still need to squint and look closer in order to wade through the chaos and see all of them.

The result is more frenetic than I initially expected. It’s very pulpy, much like Robert Crumb. But I still think it’s still quite similar to my usual style of work. For those looking, here are the things I managed to squeeze into the image:

The final moments of Elisa Lam

The Queen of England

Vivian Ward getting picked up by Edward Lewis (Snakes and Ladders)

The secret life of Vivian Ward (Snakes and Ladders)

Rising politician (Snakes and Ladders)

Gimp (Snakes and Ladders)

The noble raccoon

Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window

Bob Ross

Pikachu

Peak at you

The death of Osamu Dazai

The death of Tantalus

Bored nun (The problem with Mariaaaaaaaa!)

Hockey

Put the lotion in the basket

The birth of Venus

Confused Moses

Ultraman vanquishing evil

Dancing pallbearers

The Man from Another Place

Gord Downie dancing by the photocopier

The logdriver dancing so lightly

The Vetruvian Man

The fear of umbrellas poking my eyes out

Sumo wrestler

The Flying Nun

B-17 Flying Fortress

Surfing man

Skating man

Dragon reaching for the prize

The assassination of JFK

Cerberus

Hidden panties

The Apollo-11 launch

Shooting needle

St. Michael fighting a serpent

Cat person

Mahjong time

Prison tattoo machine

Gobbling meds

Octopus because there must always be tentacles

A creature from Bosch’s hell

The Devil

Dr. Strangelove

The Three Principles of Alchemy

Cool-Aid Man

Rats

Booby mermaid

The human digestive system

Voltes V

The noble deer

Smoking man watching everything

A family of giraffe

Waldo

Bigfoot

Cherubs

A centipede

Typhon the Titan

A murder

A birdcage

Dr. Pepper

An alligator

The piece was fun but I’ll probably go back to drawing small in my next piece. Ideas and commissions are always welcome since they tend to present me with problems which turn to opportunities for exploration into unfamiliar styles. Also, they tend to free me from the burden of artist’s block. The only problem is, the works sometimes tend to stray away into something a little too alien from my usual style.

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