In all things I can only speak from personal experience. Some of the things I experience may be universal, because it seems that the paths of many artists seem to intersect from time to time. To be a creative person is to understand a range of emotions and a depth of reality that a lot of people never get a chance to feel firsthand. Artists have this ability because we’ve been gifted with the opportunity to make the world more beautiful, to call out the world on its bullsh*t, to tell stories in dynamic and vibrant fashions, and to bring attention to the human condition in ways that are both remarkable and unforgettable.Read More
Shun Ng: Learning Differently, Creating Brilliantly
By Joey Phoenix
The ample crowd of pre-teens leaped to their feet, screaming their applause as 24 year old rising legend Shun Ng played the enervating final notes of his arrangement of Michael Jackson’s iconic Billie Jean. Shun had spent the last hour performing some of his original songs and stylized covers while also talking to the kids about his unique and challenging journey as a musician.
Shun Ng’s performance on March 24, 2016 at Collins Middle School, arranged by Creative Salem, Cinema Salem, and the Salem Education Foundation, was attended by students, teachers, and faculty from all over Salem. More than 300 people packed into the auditorium to listen to Shun’s story, and of course, to hear him play his guitar.
“Are all of you guys musicians, by show of hands?” He began, and nearly every person in the room lifted their arms enthusiastically. “Wow, so, everybody!” He exclaimed, amazed. He seemed to relax subtly as he recognized that the room was full of a younger kindred spirits.
Shun Ng is a talented Boston based guitarist who has garnered international acclaim for his unusual technique and electric style. He is a three-time Boston Music Award nominee and 2015 winner of “International Artist of the Year.” He has also been listed by the Improper Bostonian as “Top Ten Local Acts that Rock.” Yet, despite his many accomplishments and undeniable skill, Shun’s path to success has never been a simple one.
One of the most significant challenges of his young life was the struggle with the learning difference Dyslexia, which prevented him from not only being able to properly read and write for most of his academic years, but also kept him from having a shot at taking a traditional life path. Fortunately through his gift for music, he was able to take an alternative route.
Shun Ng was born in Chicago, but moved with his family to Singapore before his fifth birthday. He remembers hating the idea, tethered to the grandeur of the U.S. by an early and deep love of hamburgers. “A few nights before we were supposed to leave, my family got together for dinner at a Chinese restaurant” he recalls. “I was quiet the whole night, but there came a moment when I couldn’t take it anymore. I stood up on the table and screamed ‘I hate Chinese Food!’ My mom was so embarrassed.
“I loved America, it was all I knew.”
Struggling to assimilate into Singaporean culture and before music made an entrance into his life, Shun constantly looked for ways to use his creativity as a means of expression. “I always knew I was creative” he explains. “I was always making things, molding clay, or carving soap. Because I struggled so much with reading, I felt the need to express myself in other ways that weren’t the written word. I had this deep desire to communicate, to find a way to show myself that I wasn’t completely useless, that I could do something well if I put my heart to it.”
It was almost ten years after the big move that the something Shun had been searching for finally came along. One day while at gymnastics practice, an activity that he was also markedly gifted at (so much so that he was a member of the pre-national team which trained six to eight hours per day), one of his teammates brought in a guitar and taught him to play a few chords.
“The guitar came to me at such an important time,” Shun explained. “During your mid-teens, all you want to do is rebel and be disruptive when you feel hurt. Music gave me the chance to react differently, it allowed me to disappear. When I felt no one understood what I was going through, I would go home and play my guitar. It made everything ok. Unlike school, where I couldn’t seem to do anything right, guitar was so different – like my own little world of magic where there weren’t any rules and no one was telling me how to do it.
“Music saved my life by allowing me to be more myself, by giving me the chance to express the creativity that was always in me.”
Within months, Shun had quit gymnastics and had set up music as the focus of his life. He remembers spending countless hours listening to the music of Miles Davis, James Brown, Ray Charles, Robert Johnson, and countless others trying to figure out how it all worked. “I was obsessed with trying to learn things organically. With my dyslexia I couldn’t read music, so instead I would simply listen to the music and figure out from scratch what they were trying to do. It was all so interesting to me.”
Frustrated with traditional schooling and determined to have a career dedicated to music, Shun left standard high school at 16 and applied to the Music and Technology Program at Singapore Polytechnic. Unfortunately, he didn’t have the academic record sufficient to get into the program, nor was there a place for him at the school as all 42 positions were already filled. Yet, he persisted and knew that if they would only let him audition then he would have a shot.
He was right.
The school let him audition and were so impressed with his performance that, as a result, they opened up a 43rd place for him. Unfortunately, music school still had many of the trappings that traditional school had held, and his learning difference made that experience just as difficult for him.
“Two years later I received an associate’s degree from that University,” he tells the students at Collins Middle School, “but I had the lowest GPA in the school’s history.”
At the end of his time at Singapore Polytechnic, Shun turned 18 and was conscripted into mandatory service in the Singapore Armed Forces where he would spend the next 2 years. Although this was an exceedingly trying time for the young musician, he was able to find time to practice his craft and hone his skills despite the challenging setting.
“As a musician and a pacifist, as well as a free-thinker, this was an extremely difficult period of time for me.” he recollects. “I was very grateful to have been involved in the [SAF’s] music and drama company, where I arranged for different groups of musicians as well as string ensembles. It’s the best thing I could’ve done in the army, but it was still the army.”
One of the many things about this experience that Shun struggled with was the rigid hierarchy of the system, and learning to adjust once his terms of service were over. “In the [Singaporean] army you don’t have freedom of speech. You listen to orders and follow orders and never get the opportunity to ask why” he recalled. “As a musician, this is the opposite of what you need to do, and it’s taken me a while to rebuild my confidence. Being unsure of yourself doesn’t make you a good artist.”
Because he had been born in the United States before moving to Singapore, Shun grew up with dual citizenship. However, unlike the U.S. where keeping both citizenships is allowed, once you turn 21 in Singapore, you have to choose. For Shun, the choice had been made years ago. It was a choice to leave family and friends and the comforts of home to pursue a career in music in the United States. Although the support of his family and authority figures in his life was never forthcoming.
“I had professors tell me ‘you’re the worst student you’ll never make it, don’t waste your time,’” he recounted to the students of Collins Middle School. “And I would say, ‘No but I’m a dreamer, I’m going to go to America to perform and I’m going to do well!’
“I spent most of my life feeling like I have something to prove,” he continued. “People were always telling me that you can’t do this, it’s impossible, you’re Chinese, don’t go to America, go to China, you’re not Jackie Chan.” he laughed.
Despite all of his naysayers and critics, Shun chose his American citizenship, happily leaving the SAF two months early, and traveling to America with a scholarship to Berklee School of Music in hand.
Unfortunately, the difficulties that had plagued him academically since childhood followed him to school in Boston as well, and he only stayed on for two semesters. However, by this point he had begun to garner the recognition of names like Quincy Jones, Brian May, and most importantly, Boston Manager Ralph Jaccodine.
Shun Ng signed with Ralph Jaccodine Management in 2012, and has spent the last few years playing shows in the Boston area. Through Jaccodine Management, Shun has shared stages with greats like Livingston Taylor, and most recently Magic Dick, the legendary harmonica player for the J. Geils Band.
Like most great artists, Shun’s unique challenges and experiences have shaped who he is as a person and a musician, and given him a particular appreciation for the art he practices. “Like art is mixing frequencies of colors, music is mixing frequencies of sound and air particles – to me it’s like painting on a canvas of silence. It’s like magic.”
Creativity doesn’t follow any particular route, and it manifests itself differently in every individual. Where one person will express themselves through the written word, others will do so through dance, some through painting and 2D renderings, and still others through music.
“The most important thing is that whatever that something is for you,” he points out, “you have to go for it, be obsessive about it, and love it more than you love yourself. If I hadn’t loved music more than I loved myself, I never would’ve left my friends and family in Singapore to come to a place completely unfamiliar to me. I would’ve chosen family and safety.
“It’s also important to recognize that although nothing is truly original,” he continues, “you yourself are truly original. Our own perspective on something is what makes us unique, and it’s this realization that has helped me the most in my music.
“You need to find that thing you love more than anything else and stick to it, and let yourself be yourself.”
Shun Ng and Magic Dick are performing TONIGHT, Thursday March 31, 2016 at CinemaSalem at 8:30. Get Tickets Here.
Photos by John Andrews/Social Palates for Creative Salem
First Annual Howl-o-ween Parade – Oct. 11 at 1 pm on Artists’ Row
Salem is going to the dogs, and we couldn’t be happier about it! Salem Main Streets is very pleased to work with Salem Pet Photo, theNew England Dog Biscuit Company, Creative Salem, It’s Reigning Cats-n-Dogs, and a number of other community partners to introduce the first annual Howl-o-ween Parade, to be held on Sunday, Oct. 11 at 1 pm on Artists’ Row.
“There have been many wonderful October pet events in the past,” says Kylie Sullivan, Executive Director of Salem Main Streets, “but I didn’t see anything planned for this year. I really wanted to do something special that would engage our residents, appeal to our visitors, and celebrate our local businesses. Salem is such a pet-friendly community; it seemed like a no-brainer that we needed a pet parade during Haunted Happenings.”
The event will include a pet photo booth, some games, an area with information about local rescues and pet-focused downtown businesses, and most importantly, a parade and costume contest with prizes. Pets of all species are welcome, but should be well-behaved and comfortable at a busy event where there are likely to be many dogs.
“I think the City of Salem’s Artists’ Row is the perfect venue for Howl-o-ween, and not just because it’s a safe space for the attendees. From the pet-inspired works at Diane Hoffman DINO Textiles to the very dog-friendly Lobster Shanty, there are such great partners on the Row to play with for an event like this.”
This is a free event, though attendees wishing to participate in the parade will be asked to register at the event to make note of their pet’s name for judging and verify that they are up to date on all required vaccinations.
When Theresa Wall Duggan of Art and Discord Studios moved to Salem from Boston’s South Shore in the fall of last year, the North Shore community gained an incredible artist, photographer, designer, fashion expert, and creator of eccentric costumes and accessories simultaneously. When her work was brought to my attention, I found myself instantly enamored, and started to think of ways that would showcase it in style.
I came up with a plan and, much to my delight, Theresa was all for it. I would switch roles for the day, be in front of the camera for once, and she would turn me into a magical piece of artwork as part of her current project “Female Archetypes.”
The series, which she has been working on since 2013, transforms women into deities, bringing out the transcendent glory that Theresa claims is already inside of them.
“Every woman is a beautiful goddess of some kind.” She says, describing the inspiration behind the project.
The first image that started her along this path was a romantic portrait of her friend, Lauren Farrington, who is also a photographer. “When I photographed Lauren as Persephone, I didn’t have any plans at that time to begin working on a series,” she explains. “I had created other concept pieces in the past that were similar in theme to the image of Lauren, but it wasn’t until that shoot that I began to connect the dots. That particular image isn’t technically a part of the series, but it’s the one that started it all nonetheless.”
More than a decade ago, Theresa started Art and Discord as an online gallery, a space for alternative artists to show their work to an open minded community. “I was just getting started with photography and I wanted a place to share my own work, and my husband Jaesun’s work, in a way that wasn’t all about us. I was trying to build a community, and it worked really well.”
A lifetime artist originally working in more traditional mediums like painting and drawing, Theresa picked up her first camera after she graduated high school. “At first, photography was always my sister’s thing.” She remarks, laughing “I remember modeling for her during her early college projects, she worked primarily with film. It wasn’t until after she moved onto other things that I started to take any interest.
“My first camera was a small point and shoot, nothing special, and I didn’t think much would come of it. That is, until I was on a flight back from a Hot Topic Company meeting in Los Angeles and took some images of clouds through the airplane window. I loved those images.”
Like many photographers, Theresa experimented with the world of landscape photography, but ultimately found it unfulfilling. As a next step, she moved forward to taking self-portraits. “For me, landscapes were simply perfect nature. They don’t interact with you, and photographing them doesn't require as much skill. It always seemed to be more about being in the right place at the right time.”
It was about this time too that she realized that she felt a greater affinity with digital photography than she did with her sister’s choice of film. “When I started to create self-portraits, it wasn't just the instant gratification of digital photography that stood out to me, but also the ability to change things. As an artist who was used to creating images that didn’t exist in reality, being able to transfer that ability to photography was a big step forward.”
During this period of discovery, Theresa was also working on a BA in anthropology from Hampshire College, a field of study that would heavily impact her evolution as an artist, and helped her shape the notion of understanding both body and mind as an art form. It was also during this time that she would meet her husband Jaesun Duggan, a classically trained oil painter, from Boston’s the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, and tattoo artist for Salem’s Witch City Ink.
Theresa’s early self-portrait work consisted of dark aesthetics and heavily modified images. “I chose concepts inspired by Tank Girl, Resident Evil, Underworld, you get the idea. I even used gas masks.” She admits.
After three years of honing her skills with herself as her only subject, she finally felt comfortable enough to branch out and work with other people. She was able to connect with her first models through the popular site Model Mayhem, and had a great deal of success from the outset.
When an trip to Amsterdam gave her enough reason, in her mind, to buy a more professional camera body, a Nikon D300, she started taking portrait work even more seriously. Around 2010, using what she had gleaned from several years of trial and error, she broke into the world of fashion photography when she was hired by a handful of models attempting to get into agencies. “Unlike other types of portraits, working in fashion requires much greater attention to light, framing, and focus, and that degree of planning really worked for me.”
From then on her planning became even more in-depth. “I’ll admit, when I first started putting [fashion] editorials together, I didn’t really know what I was doing.” Yet, it didn’t take her long to catch her stride. Within a year her editorials being published in magazines, and in 2014 editorial “Blood Sisters,” was accepted for Halloween Edition of Giuseppina Magazine.
“As my work became more elaborate and involved, I started experimenting with creating my own costumes and props and building my own sets. For the editorial in Freque Magazine I built the entire set in my living room. I found that doing everything myself gave me more freedom to come up with the image that I wanted to create, without the added cost of bringing in other designers.” She explains. “I love building everything for every image.”
This new addition to her repertoire led to the creation of Discord Industries, the home of an assortment of apparel, accessories and art prints inspired by the wonderful world of steampunk and some of Theresa’s favorite post-apocalyptic nightmares.
Constructing the Shoot
When Theresa and I first discussed the concept for the shoot, she asked me if I felt an affinity for a particular female goddess. I chose the Celtic goddess, Rhiannon, the goddess of inspiration and the moon, which she agreed to and the process began moving forward.
Working with Erica Templeman, a designer and seamstress from Boston, the two of them set about designing a silvery, flowy costume for me. I sent in my measurements, we decided on a date a month or so away, and I made it a point to start adding more vegetables to my diet. Apparently a steady diet of french fries and burritos does not a model make.
I woke up the morning of the shoot to take a long walk. As someone who doesn’t spend much time in front of the camera, I was incredibly nervous. Although, by the time the walk was over I had reminded myself that this experiment was not only going to quite enjoyable, but was also for something bigger than me...
It was for journalism.
I poured myself a half tankard of coffee, screwed my courage to the sticking place, and headed to Art and Discord’s Salem studio.
Theresa and Erica, the seamstress who would also be the makeup artist and stylist for the day, met me at the door and the three of us went inside. Piles of fabric and tulle were strewn about the space, the walls were covered with historic weaponry and imaginative artwork, and glass cases were filled with antiquated curiosities from all over the world. It was one of the most creative spaces I have ever seen.
Before we began, she took me into her “Wardrobe and Prop Creation Room” to show me the headdress I would be wearing from the shoot. One wall of the space was covered with a rack of elegant costumes, ranging from dark and debonair to flowy and elegant to vintage and slinky. The other wall contained a high work shelf lined with three incredibly ornate head pieces, one with an array of fiery scarlet feathers, another with three tiers of Eastern European ornamentation, and a third painted silver with high branches emerging from the base. All of these she had painstakingly made by hand.
I was to wear the silvery one, as I suspected. The base was adorned with small, delicate flowers and the fitted branches were made of willow. It was breathtaking.
Returning to the preparation room, we found Erica sorting through makeup. She told me to sit on the stool and asked if I was allergic to anything. I’m not, so without any further ado she commenced transforming my normal face into something markedly more ornate.
There’s something to be said about sitting in a chair and letting someone do your makeup for you. It’s incredibly relaxing to be thus pampered. It also just makes you feel pretty, which is a luxury that few hardworking women generally allow themselves.
The process complete, Erica and Theresa moved on to dressing me. Instead of going with a traditional “dress option,” they instead draped me in the silkiest, verging on most decadent, piece of cloth I have ever worn. Expertly Erica wrapped the fabric around me, pinning it in places and taping it in others (so no part of me wasn’t unnecessarily exposed), until it seemed as if I was wearing a gown comprised solely of moonlight.
The draped “gown” was folded tightly around my ankles, so movement was limited. Fortunately, I only had to find my way into the next room, which after some initially hesitant movements I was able to. Transformed into this new being, all the anxiety about the day drained from me. I felt oddly light.
As a finishing touch, Erica provided me with a pair of gorgeous earrings from Boston’s Dune Jewelry. She told me that everything the designer creates is filled with sand chosen from one of over 2000+ locations internationally. The pair was black with flecks of silver, with sand deriving from Wingaersheek Beach in Gloucester, MA.
Theresa had dressed the set as a throne room in the clouds. I sat in the center, and after a few test shots for light and framing, she retrieved the headdress from the wardrobe room and placed it on my head. This even further restricted my movement, as the willow branches were quite high, but the poses she requested were simple to follow and before long we got into a sort of groove.
Working with Theresa was a dream. She is clear with direction and makes you feel that everything you do is perfect – a real asset to a photographer, as it gives them the ability to work with subjects of all experience levels. I think whether you had spent years in front of the camera, or never before had your portrait taken, you would leave her studio feeling not only rejuvenated, but also like you had just taken part in the creation of something beautiful.
Because that’s how I felt.
Theresa Wall Duggan of Art and Discord Studios specializes in fashion, editorial, portrait, and commissioned art photography. To find out more about her work, check out artanddiscordstudios.com/
Photos by Social Palates
Video by Joey Phoenix