1000 Cups of Tea

1000 Cups Of Tea And A Teacher Named Tang 

Am I an artist or a glutton for punishment? I went to school in China to study Chinese lacquer. How did I know that it would take me on a 20 year journey? A journey that has been fantastical and depressing. The first 7 years consisted of going back and forth to China explaining to Teacher Tang that I was serious in learning this very difficult time consuming and very traditional art medium. I was his first and only American student and probably his last. Little did I know what was ahead of me or even imagined. 

Raw Lacquered Door
This man was on an ego trip from the start. He made life difficult for me and seemed to relish in this. He didn't tell me that Lacquer is a serious skin irritant. I was working with raw Urishol tree sap! I was covered head to toe with a horrible skin rash that makes poison ivy seem fun. He would later tell me not to scratch and by doing so I was acting like a monkey. Was he trying to act like the Master artist of ancient times? This was very irresponsible and a cruel trick on his part. Everyone here knows that lacquer causes a skin rash!   Someone else would have said, "Screw this! I'm outta here". But I maintained my cool.  I would do whatever it took.  

So what is lacquer? It is Urishol from the lacquer tree indigenous to Asia.  A lacquer painting is a very long process of painting drying

painting, different inlays, and polishing.  Polishing is the most important aspect of the art because polishing makes the painting.  A painting can take up to a year to finish.  I have been working on a series of sculptural Salmon for almost 3 years. They should be completed by the end of 2013. 

Back to the story;  I lived in the mountains in Southern China cut off from the outside world.  Everyday Tang would try another one of his mind games on me.  My life in that mountain was so
unbelievable that he often told his students,  "Don't believe anything that my American student says." Mmmm,  do you think he is afraid of being exposed? After all there were his female students. He made me sleep in the basement like Cinderella while they romped above me and in the morning,  pretending everything was prim and proper.  This prim and proper bull, this stoic acting.  So amusing when I look back. 
In reality everyone knew what was going on.  Look, I am not saying everything was his fault but, I basically had no Chinese language skills, so there were many misunderstanding and this went on for years. What was I thinking, coming all the way to China year after year,  no funding but my own money trying to desperately to learn! Was I wrong in my quest?  Was I insane? I made a commitment to myself that I would master this. I had to make art in my own way with no influences but my own usage of the material. 

Studio Today
I have come a long way.  I've been on my own for 7 years with many teachers along the way. I still continue to work in China and I am happy with the results of my work and I still see Tang. By now you may wonder where does the 1000 cups of tea come in. Teacher Tang loves good tea and rightly so.  Good tea tastes amazing, roasted, mild flavors, nutty flavors,  just a treat for the pallet. Drinking it out of some ancient tea pot and tea cups with a touch of ceremony. Yes, I would serve Tang 1000 cups of tea because the times we drank tea he would let his guard down and that's when I got to to see the real man. 

Nov 15, 2012 

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