Written By: John McEnhill, Primary Coordinator
Welcome to YCIS, Gabe and Haruka! I hope you have enjoyed your first few weeks here. Can you tell us a little about your background, and how you have come to be at YCIS Shanghai?
GABE: Our family feels very blessed to be here in Shanghai, and these past few weeks have already been chock full of all kinds of adventures!
Haruka and I met in Savannah, Georgia at Savannah College of Art & Design. Shortly after graduation Haruka asked me to drive her to the airport as she wanted to try singing in a Japanese Opera Company in New York City. This was a big surprise as I had only known her as a painter and didn’t even know about her passion for performance. I drove her to the airport thinking she’ll audition and then hopefully live with me back where I’m from in Minnesota. Haruka is always full of surprises, and within a couple of days she called to say that she passed the audition and that she found an apartment in Brooklyn. Of course, I had to follow her, and after doing a variety of jobs in New York I landed a job at a children’s book illustration agency in Manhattan. It was great experience, as I got to work with a variety of illustrators and publishers including Scholastic, Disney, and Cartoon Network. My passion is comic books though, and though I was able to get some work done for a comics newspaper as well as an original poster published and sold internationally, I still didn’t feel I had enough time to work on my own original works.
That’s when I got an email from my college saying Dr. Chan was looking for Artists-in-Residence for her schools in China and Hong Kong. I was extremely lucky to get chosen, and soon found myself in Hong Kong for the first time wondering what on earth I would be doing. Haruka at this point was singing in Lincoln Center and starting classes at the prestigious Stella Adler school for acting. She told me to enjoy the adventure and would join me in Hong Kong after her classes ended in one year. And she did just that.
I’ll never forget during my first week, Reverend Choy telling me that the job of an Artist-in-Residence was twofold. To develop myself as an artist and to do as much as I could to work with and inspire the students and staff at Yew Chung. With this mission statement in mind, I was able to do all kinds of work over the years. My work expanded from drawing and illustration to sculpture, recycled art, murals, mosaics, and even film making and animation.
Haruka: Yes, at that point, I was jealous of Gabe’s job and his community in YCIS. I was working for an Interior Design company in HK for my first year there and then I introduced myself to YCIS. I also had a blast making murals, theatre sets, short films, mosaics, installations, art performances etc… The job expanded to allow us all kinds of amazing opportunities to travel to other campuses in China and make artwork with students in Qingdao and Shanghai as well. We enjoyed the collaborations with students of all age levels alongside amazing enthusiastic teachers over the years. Recently I’ve enjoyed working on interior design projects for several different YCIS ECE campuses, and the exciting Discovery Space in Hong Kong.
Gabe: During this time, I was also lucky enough to have my comics published by DC Comics and to travel to San Diego Comic Con and show my work there. I also completed several graphic novels with different artists and writers, and adapted an award-winning play with writer Declan Greene for the Cincinnati Review. I was able to share this work with the students and staff at Yew Chung through several workshops and exhibitions.Somewhere in there Haruka and I managed to get married and have our first son, Ren, too!
Wanting to reconnect with the growing family in the USA, we decided to move to Portland Oregon in 2015 and had a great time getting to know all the new cousins, have another son, Noah, and working as freelance artists.
Haruka’s work really expanded and developed into something special. I also made more comics and won a Literature Grant from Portland Regional Arts and Culture Committee to work on a graphic novel with Haruka entitled “Bokura.” Plus, just for fun, I started a podcast about movies with a local musician there called “Neighbourhood Watch.”
Of course, we never lost our connection with the Yew Chung family, and continued to do some collaborations with different campuses during this time. We were asked, “When are you coming back for longer?” And the chance to work in Shanghai came up, and we just couldn’t refuse.
It’s been a fantastic opportunity and we are really enjoying our time here.
What exactly is the role of an artist in residence, and why it is important?
HARUKA: We also ask ourselves a lot about this question. For the past 4 years, I worked on several murals in residential buildings in Portland. My commissioned artwork now hangs in public clinics and buildings. And right before our departure to Shanghai, I worked on creating a 90 foot long mural for The Family and Justice Centre in Seattle. Collaborating with several youths of difficult backgrounds and situations really opened up my sense of what it means to be an artist. Why do we need art? Why do we do what we do? Art has the power to lift up people’s spirit. Art can be a tool to unite people. Art can make people smile and feel proud. There are so many forms of art. Though often the world seems to cut down the value of art, in reality, I believe we need more of it. And the value of it needs to be shared and experienced when people are still young and fresh. We would like to be the bridge between our professional world as artists, and the Yew Chung community at large. What does it mean to think like an artist? We believe Art is a means for
1. Problem Solving (Finding a way to express one’s idea)
2. Dialogue between people (Asking ourselves some questions and provoking conversations)
3. Bringing out love and caring to the world.
Any of these qualities that we strive to seek can cross over to any subject students are learning in school. We would like to be an extra collaborator on anything that students are curious about, and that teachers are seeking to achieve. We are also excited to initiate different ways to interact with students and parents. If your child is interested in art, what does it mean for his/her career? What types of artistic jobs are there? If your children started to be interested in drawing it doesn’t mean they will be starving on the streets in the future. If their passion was guided well, and nurtured correctly, that person can make a change in the world. We are thrilled to be a guide to loving art and bringing out the best of one’s creative mind. It is because we love and value what we do.
Your two sons, Noah and Ren, are at Regency Park Campus. Tell us a little bit about how they are settling in to life in Shanghai and at YCIS?
BOTH: Ren is completely blossoming at Regency Park. He is making so many friends and enjoying all of the new challenges and excitement here in a new country. We’re especially thankful for this as we were very worried he would miss his old school. Happily, he doesn’t talk about his old school at all, and even told us he loves learning Chinese!
Noah has had a harder time adjusting. His teachers and classmates have been great, but it is his first time going to any school, and he’s a bit overwhelmed.
HARUKA: I totally understand where Noah is at too. I grew up in four different continents due to my father’s job. So not speaking the same language can make you feel lonely. That being said, just like I did too, once there, he has quite a bit of fun with all of the activities and healthy snacks. So, we’re sure he’s on his way to loving it just as much as his older brother.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
GABE: My spare time is all about movies, books, music, and food. Is there anything else? I guess I’m trying to exercise more. I just ordered a treadmill and hope to get some advice from YCIS Physical Education Teachers.
HARUKA: I can join that too! At this moment, I am busy going through my chemotherapy for the breast cancer that I just found out recently upon our arrival to Shanghai. Well, that’s another long story! Life is full of adventure. I’m already learning a lot along this path. Hope I get to share that in the best possible way in the future.
Learn more about Gabe and Haruka at the following websites: