A welcome interruption: a letter for busy people

Ink drawings of Trees by Jenie Gao

We are a culture in transit, both for the joy and the agony of it. Our long work commutes depress us, while ideas of travel and escape excite us. In one of the great contradictions of the human condition, we talk about the journey being more important than the destination, despite what we might think of that inspirational cliché when we’re stuck in traffic.

But maybe it’s not an either-or question; we can’t have a destination without a way to get there, or vice-versa. And maybe what matters isn’t the destination but that we will encounter other places, people, and experiences along the way. We will choose to stop not only for food and fuel, but also for rest, play, and affection. We will stop at the quiet places that ask nothing of us and sell nothing to us. We will stop for someone who interrupts us, to share the moment together. We will stop for a pair of pigeons who, like us, are homeward bound, and who are also willing to pause the journey to enjoy each other’s company.

A Welcome Interruption - two pigeons - ink drawing
A Welcome Interruption, 5 x 7 inch ink drawing by Jenie Gao

We are a culture in transaction. It is well to remember the things we readily stopped for, while we were searching for something else. It is well to notice that life happens in the small moments, and not to miss them while we use our busyness to earn the chance of someday going slow.

This is a letter for friends, family, loved ones, and anyone looking for a reason to pause, reflect, and find center again.

My past week in artwork:

Ink drawings of trees, a study for Jenie Gao's Illuminate Madison project
Ink drawings of trees, studies for Jenie Gao’s Illuminate Madison public project.
Ink drawings of Trees by Jenie Gao
More ink drawings of trees, part of a series for Jenie Gao’s Illuminate Madison public project. Exploring themes of power/disempowerment, future states, and education.
A Welcome Interruption - Pigeons Kissing
A Welcome Interruption, 5 x 7 inch ink drawing by Jenie Gao
Giclee print on canvas of "Redamancy," by Jenie Gao
Picked up a giclee print of my woodcut, Redamancy, from a local printer in Madison. As someone who’s worked in commercial printing, I’m in love with their quality. And man…this itty-bitty canvas is almost too cute for me…
But this guy never gets too cute for me.

My past week in writing:

Art and Leadership: The Power and Purpose of Creativity, re-published on The Abundant Artist

Who Controls the Content? Our Role in Creating What We Want to Consume, published on Madison365

Photos from the show at Proyecto’Ace and some thoughts from Chiloé

It’s hard to believe I arrived in South America almost two months ago. I feel like I’ve lived a lifetime compressed into three weeks here in Patagonia.

After being on the road and multiple long bus rides, I have now what feels like a gargantuan amount of time–ten whole days–in a remote, tranquil studio with no Wi-Fi, reachable from the city center most easily via taxi for between the equivalent of 80 cents to $1.30 (depending on your driver and whether you’re obstinate about not getting ripped off as a foreigner/disinclined to fight with someone who is desperate enough to lie for an extra 50 cents), or if one is so inclined, an hour’s walk straight up a hill.

I’ll have more to share soon about this island of Chiloé and my second residency here. For now, I’m ready to share some pictures from my first residency, in Buenos Aires.


The story follows the life of a homing pigeon, who unlike other pigeons, leaves his home and what he knows, to work in a world delivering packages of no value to people with no heads. He is rewarded for his ambition with a life in a golden cage, delivering messages for heads that are not connected to the bodies they try to lead. He has a choice at this point, to be comfortable with his “reward” in life, or to pursue a different way of being.

I have carried a draft copy with me on this trip, sharing it with a few other travelers who have been curious about my business here.

One of the many beauties of travel is how it gathers transient people to bond through the universal art of storytelling.

I have two choices when I buy a bus or plane ticket. Ida, or Ida y Vuelta? Going, or Going and Returning? For three weeks, I’ve only been going, but in this next short week, going will become returning, as I wrap my journey northward again.

Always, we are going and returning, and there is nothing quite like leaving what we know to find whom we always have been.




Proyecto’Ace, Week 2: Drawing and Carving the Images

If I’m to say any truth about the way our brains work, or at least my own, it’s that there’s often a delay between our experience of a thing and our understanding of it. (Or I’m just a little slow.)

This is my second post about my time at Proyecto’Ace. Read the first post here.


The story is something of an allegory. Once I knew that I would be creating a fictitious tale, the storyboarding happened quite quickly. I love the momentum I had right from the start of this project. I finalized 12 images to illustrate this story, printed in two colors, for a total of 21 woodblocks to carve, print, and edition in under two weeks (my hand still aches thinking about it).

It’s funny to me that I had to fly to the other side of the equator to resolve thoughts that I have been brooding on for a long time in the States about our work culture.


The story I’ve created follows the journey of a little homing pigeon, who, unlike other homing pigeons, decides to fly away from home.

He finds work as a carrier pigeon, delivering packages of no value to human beings who have no heads. He doesn’t understand these headless people, but continues to work hard in hopes of gaining something bigger.

Because of his ambition, he moves up in the world, to become a messenger for heads that have no bodies. This is the ambitious pigeon’s reward, to live a life in a golden cage through which he gets to see the world, and be a part of delivering messages that have no value and continue to drive the disconnect between people and their perspectives.

Stay tuned for posts three and four, where I’ll share the prints and resolution for this story.


Proyecto’Ace, Week 1: Storyboarding new concepts

I arrived in the studio of Fundación ‘Ace on Monday, January 26th. The space is gorgeous and full of buenas ondas (good vibes). This was to be my creative home for the next three weeks.




I knew that I wanted to produce an artist’s book during my time here, but did not yet know the story I wanted to tell. Whereas my work in the past has focused on the more personal narratives that connect people to their histories, I’ve found my interests moving towards a more social dialogue.

What I knew prior to this project: I am interested in passionate people, and for that matter, in indifference. I’m interested in what drives us–and thwarts us–in our pursuits. I believe it is important to understand the value of and motives behind what we do, and that a lack of understanding drives disconnect, dissatisfaction, and apathy. I believe that most people are capable of change, of either going after the things they want or reinventing their surroundings, and that the lack of movement in our lives stems not from a fear of change but a fear of loss.

More specifically, through my various work experiences in art, education, manufacturing, business, I’ve learned this: same shit, different place.

People are ambitious, industrious, passionate, opinionated…judgmental, apathetic, insecure, limited. Often loud spoken, but poor at articulation. Rarely do we express what we truly intend.

Printmaking as a medium was made for sharing messages with the masses. I like to think it was the world’s first social media. It’s an art form that educates and incites. Historically, politically, conceptually, it’s a powerful medium, capable of moving people first to understanding, then to action.

Among artists, I find myself in the company of those such as Goya, the Chapman Brothers in their defilement/decoration of Goya’s prints, Posadas, Otto Dix, the many creators of Brazil’s literatura de cordel

Otto Dix shone a light on human destruction.


Goya stripped away the romanticism and idealism surrounding war.


All of these artists have created poignant and relevant work, both in response to the social agonies of their time and the universal sufferings of humankind. Many have been great exposers, cynics, and satirists.

But for the work I was to spend my three weeks at ‘Ace on, I knew that I had no wish to be satirical or harsh. I wanted this work to deeply sincere without being naïve, to create simple images that explore a complex, human trouble.

I asked myself, “Is it possible to create images that can be honest about corruption without cynicism, that make healing seem possible in the midst of disrepair?”

I spent my first few days storyboarding. As much as I would have loved to jump straight to just making something, there was something coming clear to me that I could not see when I was living my “normal life” back home. And I needed to have the patience and focus to do justice for this newly forming story I wanted to tell.







This will be the first in four installments that share the process of my project in Buenos Aires.