Waves of Time

Capturing fleeting moments during lockdown

March 2020. I found myself walking the long Oak Island beaches. The vast Atlantic, the expansive sky and the miles of sand beneath my feet - all meant safety to me. The endless rhythm of the waves spoke peace.

With my gallery suddenly closed and classes abruptly cancelled, I had time on my hands and a place to go. We had an overdue house renovation on the island to attend to, so coming to the coast was the perfect option as a pandemic locked much of our nation down. For me, an artist, though, this provided a much needed time to dig deep, look within and reconnect with nature and myself. And being near the ocean in many ways reconnected me to my youth.


I was born inland, in Jiangsu Province, China. But somehow, inexplicably, I was drawn to the sea. In fact, I almost went to the foreign trade academy with the dream of becoming a seaman. It was the summer of 1977 and as I was preparing to start high school, I was considering my future prospects. At that time in China, because of the Cultural Revolution, colleges and universities were all still shut down (since 1966) and there were few options for young people to consider. My older brothers had gone off to the army, my older sisters to the countryside to work with farmers, but somehow I couldn’t see myself following those paths or going to work in a factory.


But being a sailor! This seemed a viable option. Always the dreamer, I envisioned myself spending endless nights lying on a ship’s deck, staring at the starlit sky and pondering my other love, poetry. What a ripe imagination!


I actually passed the academy exam and was accepted in. Fortuitously though, that year I had an insightful and forward-thinking homeroom teacher. She told me she believed doors to higher education would be opening again soon, and she encouraged me to stay in high school and complete my education. Indeed, she was right, and a few years later, off to college I went. I have felt forever indebted to that teacher for recognizing my potential and counseling me as she did. Life is so unpredictable -- every little twist or turn and every person we meet can possibly impact our lives and change our course forever. (And if I had gone to the maritime academy, I certainly wouldn’t be here writing this blog right now!)



Interestingly enough, I never saw the ocean until I was 24 years old. As a young university student in architecture in 1986, I traveled south to Fujian Province where I was scoping out the area of my first job. My train passed through the port city of Xiamen where I would need to spend one night, so I decided to head to the beach and finally see it for myself. I remember the day clearly -- an overcast day in late October. All tourists had gone and the beach was empty, except for me.

The waters were gray and choppy. It was late afternoon and time was short. As I stood looking out at the Pacific, an impulse came over me to go for a swim. I walked into the chilly waters and swam, capturing a moment I have with me to this day. Though I boarded the bus and returned to the hotel in my dripping clothes, I remember these details fondly. The passion of youth got the best of me!


Some 30 years later, I stood on the empty beach again, but this time during a pandemic shutdown. And this time, I had plenty of time on my hands; so, I resolved to observe this ocean, study it, and know it to my heart’s content. I had time and space. Five months of walking miles of the beach day after day. The waves and light and shadows, the pelicans and gulls, the sand and seafoam. The result -- a series of waves paintings was born.


How fleeting, accidental or unpredictable life is, but the rhythm of the waves, the ebb of the tide, the rising of the sun -- all of nature, is consistent. It is up to the individual, like myself, to see, observe and get inspiration -- to fully soak in and master the moments we find ourselves in. Sometimes, we need a lockdown to do so.


This series of paintings all sold -- to others with sweet memories or deep longings for the ocean.


Life is so unpredictable -- every little twist or turn and every person we meet can possibly impact our lives and change our course forever.

Even the beach was eventually off limits during the lockdown, except for a few lucky police officers who patrolled it. Their tire tracks show up in this painting. But for the friend who purchased it, the tracks brought back her childhood memories of living on the Outerbanks and driving right onto the beach with her family.


NC artist JJ Jiang's watercolor painting of beach with seagulls.
I wonder if the seabirds missed the crowds.

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