It's Throwback Thursday and Day 4 of 'A Painting a Day'... and we're going back to the 90s. 

High school was a really hard period in my life, like it is for so many. I struggled with being an Asian-American in a predominantly white community when I was still learning how to reconcile two very different cultural identities, and trying to navigate my own path while respecting tradition and the wishes of my parents. Add to that teenage angst, precociousness, and tremendous feelings of isolation -- I felt as though I was swimming through murky waters with nary a shore in sight.

The predominant manner in which I coped with all of these emotions was immersion in art. I wrote prolifically -- I kept a journal for personal thoughts, more often than not which was expressed in poetry. I played piano for hours, losing myself in the haunting harmonies of Beethoven, Schumann, Chopin. I sketched and painted, and this is the period when I first fell in love with van Gogh, de Kooning, and Pollock. Abstract art was a way for me to place my rawness front and center, without words, without fear of retribution. I didn't need to explain anything; the canvas did it for me. I didn't have to use reason or rational thought, because in creating I found a solution to my doubts.

Here is something I did circa 1999, when I was still battling significant depression but felt some slight twinges of hope that I might escape my confinement during college. I aptly titled it 'Despair'. (I should mention that this is one of the only surviving pieces that I created during this era. Sadly, I destroyed or lost a lot of my old work, including my sketch pad. This piece is in reasonably good shape, despite multiple cross-country moves and less than desirable storage. It's a bit yellowed with time, so the colours aren't as true as they once were.)

Despair. 04/1999. 12" x 14". Acrylic on canvas. 

Looking at this painting, I feel this sense of sadness for my younger self -- I wish I had been able to break free from that cloud of despair earlier. But my adult, adjusted self knows that I am the person I have become due to the adversity and challenges I surmounted. So much of my empathy & compassion stem from those terrible feelings of confinement and misunderstanding. There is a bit of light in this piece, and I'd like to believe that even in my darkest moments, I still held on to hope. For sure there were bright spots, like the indelible friendships I made -- wonderful people like Celeste and her brother Eric, the girls who took me under their wings, who remain examples of beautiful strong women to this day: Cathy, Jenny & Amy; dear Susan, sweet Brian. Through darkness comes light; I create because I must, but also because I can. And I can due to not just the negative, but positive moments in my life.

So I could focus on the bad parts, and only see the anguish in this artwork. But I choose, instead, to see all the light that shines through, for it was there within me all along. It just took me a while to realize it.