When I answered a call for submissions with an offer to do live painting as a performance during this year’s edition of Chinatown Remixed
, I wasn’t convinced I knew what I was talking about. I was over the moon when I found out I was accepted, but then the reality set in. I was meant to be entertaining passersby by plying my craft, something I usually do hunched over a canvas in a room by myself.
And what if it rained?
The doubts set in, so I asked the organizers what the expectations were. If I were meant to do tricks by producing rabbits from my nest of messy hair or doves out of my ears, it was time to ‘fess up and bow out gracefully. I was much relieved by the answer: “Remix is a great way to liven up our community, meet and engage with people, most important is to have fun.” I was encouraged to bring more art, and even music.
The first step was to get my DJ working on an appropriate playlist. I put in an ask for lots of c-, j- and k-pop. The next step was to haunt the neighbourhood to check out my spot in front of Kowloon Supermarket and take strength from the Chinatown Gate. Painting outside IN FRONT OF PEOPLE was a concept I needed to build up to. In the meantime, I had to make sure the series of work I was going to display was ready and that I was set to start the next painting in the collection.
is an on-going series of small canvases depicting the urban citycape as it flows into the countryside. Most of the paintings include a small wooden hut in the woods that, to me, is the refuge or safest place. Residing within this hut is Baby Doll, a kewpie doll that has grown in importance within this series. He has gone from a more innocent forest dweller to a larger than life presence that looms over both city and country to keep watch. Some would, and do, say this is creepy. I find it comforting. But I love that Baby Doll makes people react.
I checked the weather report approximately 37 times a day, every day for two weeks. It changed every single time, but there was usually at least some rain predicted. I made use of #prayforsun. I borrowed a canopy, practiced putting it up and smashed my fingers in it.
It was all very exciting.
Until I found myself struggling with the canopy and my partner on a busy Saturday afternoon on a Chinatown sidewalk where shoppers navigated around us as they tried to do their chores. Outside my comfort zone? Only by a million miles. But this location is reportedly good for you, so I told myself that all those dirty looks were a good thing. And no one ran over us.
It was all very exciting again.
Seated behind my table, tunes plugged in, paints set out, it was time to get to work. Once I got going, it almost felt normal. Even when one lady stopped by and pointed out that there had been two murders in the basement beneath me seven years ago and that I “probably wouldn’t do very well in that spot because Chinese people are superstitious”. At a loss for the perfect response, I just asked her name. We introduced ourselves, she wished me luck and went on.
But what if it rained?
Just as I was right into my painting and feeling ready for a photo opp, the ominous winds picked up. It rained. I tucked everything in closer to me under the canopy and carried on. My partner did some fancy umbrella work, as dictated by the gusts from various directions. It never simply rains straight down, does it? But it was fine. It was just fine. I actually felt cosy. I was just where I was supposed to be, painting away on a sidewalk in Chinatown while it rained.
Then it stopped! What didn’t stop was the steady stream of lovely people passing under our canopy on their way to their Saturday afternoon destinations: errands, birthday parties, picking up race kits and, of course, Chinatown Remixed. Some slowed to look at my paintings, others stopped to chat. All were happy to nod or smile back at me, at the very least. No one made me feel unwelcome or out of place. They loved it when I slowly pulled the real Baby Doll out of my bag to let them sneak a peek.
Community. The streetscape. User-friendly living. Our neighbourhoods are what we make of them and an art festival such as Chinatown Remixed is a grassroots way to connect to each other. One lady said they saw me when they drove by and decided to park and come see what was going on. That’s what it’s all about. Encouraging people to explore, to simply want to know more.
Because I was seated behind a table, the children were eye-level. They could lean and chat and stare. They asked their questions unabashedly and made their observations unhindered. I didn’t always have answers, but that’s nothing new. One girl looked at all the paintings on display and said, “These tell a story!”
The words every artist wants to hear. I was so happy.
I spoke to people about how much Ottawa has changed and how much choice we have now. How much there is to do and see, if only we let ourselves. The afternoon was an affirmation. To community, to saying hi to your neighbour, to sharing our stories.
By the end of the day, I better understood what my Straddlescapes are. They had started out as an ode to the woods and the countryside, but because I have always been a huge fan of city living, I couldn’t help but betray my leanings towards both. No greys and browns for my skyscrapers; I prefer them in candy tones. Baby Doll tries to keep things in balance while watching over us with his big blue eyes. A lady asked if the cityscapes were meant to represent actual cities and, truthfully, they are not. But I’ve come to realize that to me, this is Ottawa, a city I do love, and the hills and woods just beyond, which I love even more. It’s okay to love both. And here in Ottawa, we don’t have to choose.
A huge thank you goes out to Chinatown Remixed for giving me the opportunity to participate in a truly enriching event. To experience firsthand how public art can lead to conversation was a gift. It doesn’t have to be complicated; it just has to start with me.