In 1985, I went to China to set up a telephone factory. Of course, you don't just wander into China and ask in your best English who wants to produce telephones, so I went with Joseph Yau.
We set up our factory in Guangzhou, a city which twice a year is host to a massive trade fair where wholesalers from all over the world come to shop for everything China wants to sell. Hotels are booked years in advance, people sleep 20 to a room and spill out into the hallways and the atmosphere is capitalistic and crazed.
Late one afternoon, having reached my fill level for truly gigantic machinery, assorted handguns, hand-crafted miniature boxes and incredibly intricate needlepoint, I left the exhibition halls and walked across the street to the China Hotel. They had turned their lower-level hallway into a long, narrow art gallery with Chinese scroll paintings hanging everywhere. Walking by all these serious pieces of artwork, I spotted the monk --- the only Chinese painting that's ever made me laugh.
I bargained for a while but left after failing to get the price I wanted and caught the next hydrofoil to Hong Kong. Naturally, as soon I was on board, I knew I had to have that painting and the three-hour trip just increased the desire. As soon as we docked in Hong Kong I purchased a return ticket and took the next jet boat back.
Reaching the Guangzhou pier, I grabbed a taxi, suffered the slow crawl through city traffic and finally got to the China Hotel where I ran downstairs to find the exhibit.
So the monk became a story that I related to friends when advising them "If you like it, buy it, because you'll never see it again."
Joseph and I skipped the next show and a year later returned to the trade fair. As we crossed the street to the China Hotel, I was relating my sad tale of lost love (he'd only heard it once; I thought it would do him good to hear it again). Walking down to the lower level, I was wrapping up this lament with a few well-flung arm gestures towards the paintings when I spotted something red and rude. The monk was back.
I asked the dealer if the artist were churning out a monk a week and he smiled, handed me the authentication paper and told me that it simply hadn't sold. Ater a bit of bargaining, I agreed to 30% more than the original price.
That was 17 years ago and it's not often that I've lived in a place with a wall big enough to do him justice. I always thought he needed a larger gallery and a larger audience --- which is why he's here. The fact that we bear some family resemblance may also play a part.
Face the Wall is the translation of the three large Chinese characters. DE are my initials. Together, we're defacing our little section of the World Wide Wall.