Sunday, June 17, 2012

We Eat, They Eat

We Eat, They Eat
Gouache, acrylic and plastic bottle cap shavings on paper mounted on birch panels
12" h x 24" W

The 4th from the series Red Bean Paste & Apple Pie.

The title is a play on words and a play on content. Who are 'they' and who are 'we'? The whole series is about the dietary changes I had to make as an immigrant to the US from tropical East Asia. So in that sense, 'they' could refer to the people of tropical East Asia and 'we' the people of the United States. But I also want the title to evoke the idea that 'we eat what they eat,' and in that sense 'we' refers to the people who eat the fish, the 'they' of the title.

And what are the fish eating? In the middle of the Pacific Ocean, there exists the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It's approximately twice the size of the state of Texas. Fish mistakenly ingest the plastic, get trapped in the plastic, or  ingest the plastic as it break down, however slowly. Then we eat the fish.

Through the different elements in the composition (the cutlassfish, the salmon, and representation of the Garbage Patch), I want this piece to be both about my personal dietary changes and the inadvertent global dietary changes. So here's how this piece started — salmon 'in the north' and cutlassfish 'in the south.' Earth in the middle, with the Pacific Ocean rimmed by Taiwan on the left, Oregon on the right, and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in between.

The cutlassfish, a fish of the warmer waters of the Pacific ocean, was one of my favorites growing up in Taiwan. It was usually cut into 2" segments and pan fried. It was easy & fun to eat, just one set of bones down the middle — you put one side in your mouth and the meat slid off the bones, and you do the other side. Here in the US, many people don't like to eat fish that are long and skinny, which is always perplexing to me. But in either case, the cutlassfish is not available here, and I missed it a great deal for a long time. I still miss it; it has become very expensive in Asia, and I haven't had it in years. The salmon is, of course, practically a religion in the Pacific Northwest. It is a fish that I like, although probably not as much as I like the cutlassfish.

I decided the starfish were too bold, so I made them smaller. In the smaller size, they also remind me of the 'stars & stripes' of the US flag. The "stripes" will come later.

I love the turquoise over yellow ochre combination (that's what's making that green of the Pacific Ocean).

I mixed a blue-black (ultramarine + lamp black) and applied it over the turquoise over yellow ochre in thin layers. That's what creates the variations. The salmon & cutlassfish are finished, and I have to figure out how to get the plastic into the Garbage Patch.

I wanted to use some real plastic garbage. Various artist friends suggested different ways of getting plastic shavings off bottle caps, and in the end, I decided to start with the cheapest method first — a 10 cent cheese grater I got at the thrift shop. It worked great, although it was quite the aerobic exercise. I grated enough to make a batch of 'paint' by mixing it into some acrylic paint and GAC500. I mixed a red-black paint because I wanted it to look like a wound.

I first experimented with painting it directly onto some paper. The plastic bits wiggled around and it was difficult to control the shape. And since that would be irreversible, I decided I didn't want to paint it directly on the painting.

Next, I painted it on a sheet of plexi placed over the painting (so I could see what I was doing). I figured that I could peel this off and apply it to the painting. Here's a shot of that.

It worked great. Except when I went to peel it off, it all came off in bits & pieces. I then tried to encase the plastic bits between 2 sheets of gampi. And that made a mess. See exhibit B:

In the end, I used my original test patch that I had painted on paper, just cut into the shape that I wanted. The finished piece is the top image. The shiny spot in the middle of the ocean is paint mixed with shavings off a plastic bottle cap. And as it turns out, the lumpy-bumpy, rubbery end result also looks like a scab. That was a happy accident.