Way back in 2001, I painted 3 paintings of geishas that were inspired by Japanese woodblock prints from some old book I found at a thrift store. I had collected a bunch of Chinese restaurant placemats and Japanese newspapers and an assortment of decorative papers I purchased at an Asian Market. The decorative papers were decorated with geometric and floral patterns and woodblock style illustrations of dragons and roosters. I used all of my scavenged paper to create an abstract collage and then I crudely drew a geisha using a China Marker or a colored pencil. The paintings were really simple and crude and not very good. I lost interest in painting them very quickly. BUT people really really loved those terrible paintings and all 3 of them sold very quickly.
It was the first moment in my life as an artist where the artist and the businessman came into conflict. Do I keep painting more geisha paintings and potentially sale a bunch of paintings or do I walk away and explore ideas that are more creatively stimulating or fulfilling? The geisha paintings were extremely easy to paint and I could paint them very quickly and several people were showing interested in purchasing them and people were showing very little interest in purchasing anything else I was painting. But 3 paintings were enough to feed my own curiosity and I had zero desire to paint more of them. I abandoned a potentially profitable career being a white guy painting geishas. I chose the artist over the businessman and I have always chosen the artist over the businessman. I’m surprised how often people mention those 3 fucking paintings. I’ve been told numerous times that I should paint geishas again. 2 months ago Kelly Moody, the owner of the now defunct Firehouse Gallery, told me he regrets not buying one of those Geisha paintings when he had a chance. 13 years later and people still talk about those fucking paintings.
I painted those 3 paintings when I was a student. I made those paintings because I really loved Japanese and Chinese art. I was experimenting and exploring and stealing in order to find my own voice as an artist. I knew very quickly that painting geishas was not my bag. I didn’t care that people liked the paintings or wanted to buy the paintings because those paintings did not come from an honest place. I couldn’t articulate or understand why it felt wrong to paint them. It just felt wrong to paint them. Those paintings did not originate from the depths of my soul. I was a white guy appropriating Japanese art and culture and putting it through my own filter and trying to “own” something that wasn’t appropriate for me to own. It was ignorant of me to appropriate Japanese art and culture when I didn’t have a personal connection to that culture.
I’m not going to paint another geisha painting. I have zero desire to paint one and I don’t think it is appropriate for me to paint one.
So… I apologize to anyone who might have been offended by those paintings. And I apologize to anyone who wants me to paint more of them. And I apologize for ALL of the bad art I’ve made over the years. There is more bad than good. But art is meant to be a learning experience and I have learned some hard lessons.
Below is a photo of the third and final painting in the geisha series. This one was painted during the “Progression” art exhibition / performance art / artists residency / happening at the Lee Shiney Gallery in 2011. I couldn’t find any photographs of the other two but there are probably some old slides hiding somewhere. Remember slides?