I taught art to Candy on Tuesday afternoons for several years, from when she was in middle school into high school, until I moved to California in 1997. From the beginning, I wondered who was teaching whom. Candy always had a very clear idea of what she wanted to create. No matter if it was a craft project like marblizing paper or a complex painting, she maintained a clear vision of the finished work. She was meticulous as well, carefully crafting a line in a still life or reproducing a wallpaper pattern in a painting. I was keenly aware of how she approached her work, since it was so different from the way I did. She followed her own visual script, carefully filling out each section of the painting or drawing, occasionally going back to work on an area that she felt did not work. When she worked on a painting over the course of several weeks, we would talk about how to get a certain effect or make an area stronger to convey the feeling or idea Candy wanted to express, not how to make that limb be more realistic, or fix the drawing. She knew how the image should be. There were times when I was frustrated by my lack of experience in painting – Candy should be painting in oils, she should have a world of technique at her fingertips to fully express her artistic vision.
Candy had vision. She would speak of frustrations at school, how the classes were not particularly challenging, how some teachers didn’t seem particularly intelligent and treated the students like idiots. How the behavior of other students baffled her, at their lack of awareness and their lack of creativity. Candy said she felt like she was in a different league, and an outsider. Luckily, she clearly felt the need to give voice to her vision of her world. The ‘zine she single-handedly put together seemed to address her response to her school environment and outside world. Her paintings, though, spoke to much more complex ideas about her identity, her feelings about her mother and her own autonomy. I once tried to talk to Candy about a piece she did of Jing. In the painting, Jing is bald and her mouth is open. There is something in her mouth, an egg, something convex. Jing seems to be surprised, frustrated, trying to expel this barrier. To me, the painting expressed anger , Candy’s desire to mute her mother’s voice. There was also an element of vulnerability, Jing unveiled or exposed. But Candy did not want to talk about the painting. She was unwilling or unable to articulate the complexity of emotion she expressed in the work. Yet she continued to produce paintings, drawings, poems that belied a deep emotion and sensitivity. She HAD to create. As long as I knew Candy, she was compelled to filter her feelings and her visions through Art.
I have thought of Candy frequently over these past several years. Here in San Francisco I catch a glimpse of a young Chinese American woman who glances down, tucks her hair behind her ear and I am surprised when it is not Candy. As I delve deeper into painting I think of Candy’s early work and her desire to express emotion grounded in “realistic” representation. I think of the dialogues we could have had, and I regret I did not have these conversations sooner. I am heartbroken to lose Candy. I am heartbroken that the world has lost Candy, too. I hope that in her next life she can fully realize her extraordinary creativity and sensitivity. The world would be a better place because of it. She certainly made my world a better place.