cracked, mixed media on canvas, 21 x 60" imagebook 
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National Bank, mixed media on canvas, 20 x 64" image
horse race, mixed media on canvas, 20 x 64" image
I saw camels, mixed media on canvas, 20 x 64" image
mangrove, oil on canvas, 20 x 64" image
house of pi, mixed media on canvas, 20 x 64" image
going home, oil on canvas, 20 x 64" image
cracked, mixed media on canvas, 20 x 64" image
women, oil on canvas, 20 x 64" image
roses are red, mixed media on canvas, 20 x 64" image
bye bye, mixed media on canvas, 20 x 64" image
hold these truths, mixed media on canvas, 150 x 120 cm image
no fool here, oil on canvas, 40 x 50 cm image
the roof is on fire, oil on canvas, 50 x 40 cm image
high wire, oil on canvas, 4 x 3' image



It's an apparent paradox for some Americans that I expatriated to not one but two Muslim countries for the sake of creative freedom. I spent the last year in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, and the year before in Lahore, Pakistan.

Sometimes our own culture is like an eggshell. Early on the shell gives us all the shape that we have, and without it we'd be nothing but goo. Who can imagine anything different anyway? It's what we know.

But later on that same shell can become a real problem.

Expatriating is one way to create a lot of room for yourself, literally overnight. Then you are many, many miles away from the people who have been vexing you most of your life by thinking you should do things as they think they should be done, and hassling you about it. New people, different hassles, and none of it personal. This is heaven and hell.

I first tasted the freedom of being a complete outsider when I moved for two years to Berlin. I was painting and selling art while my partner did research. It was my first time out of the country, and I was really scared.

And then I was surprised. German culture felt strict and stern, but nothing chafed me. I wasn't subject to the same intense shaping pressures felt by Germans my own age. I was visibly not-German, actually nobody could figure out what I was, thus I could not be expected to measure up to anything. People mostly took me as they found me, and only yelled when they judged I really needed it. (I never saw this coming!)

I painted some extremely bold and frank works there, cocooned in the perfect German conviction that rationality in all matters was only to be expected; intimate or aggressive images in an appropriate setting could not reasonably give offense. I was only warned not to try to show anything romantic! Given my personality, that was unlikely anyway.

Moving back to the US, to the American Midwest, that boldness slipped away. I pushed back as hard as I could, but felt I was losing the struggle. That's when I began agitating with my partner to expatriate again. My work--painting-- is portable; his can be, with some decisive action and effort.

Speaking now as a painter, I have not somehow failed to notice while living in not one but two Islamic countries that images of the naked human body are religiously, culturally problematic in certain contexts, just as they are a problem for many communities in the United States. The United Arab Emirates, where I've lived and worked for the past year, is tentative re nudity in art.

But none of this complexity hurts my feelings or inhibits my ability to paint. I just don't exhibit works where they aren't wanted.

So: It's fine with me to show some work one place and some in another. Some works I'll probably save for Germany.

Lest anyone get an over-rosy picture of expatriate life... not everyone reacts the same way to having their eggshell cracked, and it is not always growth-producing. Culture shock is one of the most miserable experiences possible, even when you move someplace you have good reason to be with good support. It is an existential panic stemming from the persistent failure to detect familiar patterning in social life. The upshot is usually some degree of creeping paranoia that persists until old patterns are relinquished and new patterns become known and ordinary. Some people get stuck in between and only get worse. And even when you've been through it successfully, so many times you can plot your own symptoms v. time-in-place, culture shock still rattles your bones with dread.

I know in my own case that by week eight the honeymoon will be over, and I will begin a descent into suspicion and distrust of all two-legged beings. Around the twelve-week mark I'm not fit to leave the house as my brain is churning through various ugly, nasty stereotypes in a desperate attempt to construct that which is missing, i.e. a modus operandi. (That's when some expats start the serious drinking.) Culture shock hits just when you think it can't happen to you because you've been having such an amazing time, drunk on all the newness.

You can probably guess how I cope with culture shock. I paint it out, then keep on going. Culture shock is good stuff if you can stand to work with it, good raw material, very humbling. The works in this show are me making sense of the world for myself, which is the usual reason I paint.