Sunday, March 28, 2010

Lunch with James Yang


I'm picturing a tall, skinny high school student visiting his dad at the Conoco Chemicals plant in his hometown of Ponca City, Oklahoma and falling in love with a series of watercolor paintings by Jean-Michel Folon hanging on the wall in the conference room. The impact of those watercolors, and the fact that he was told that the artist was paid $5,000 per painting more than encouraged this young kid to pursue illustration as a career. That young kid was James Yang, the Folon paintings he saw were conceived by yours truly for a corporate ad campaign for Conoco. Small world isn't it. But unless the paintings were on tour, he actually saw facsimile prints we did here in New York that were framed and sent out to Conoco's customers, the actual paintings hung in the headquarters in Houston. And Folon not only got $5000 for each of the four paintings to use in the campaign, he got an additional $3000 per for the actual paintings. Folon passed away in 2005.

It is hard to picture anyone from small town America, especially in the midst of conservative Oklahoma being able to even see a Folon print much less a painting. It's even harder to imagine that someone from a small town could rise to such prominence in the illustration field as James has done. I've been to Ponca City a number of times working on projects, and I'm sure I even met his dad--who had over 200 patents to his name-- in the R&D lab but we wouldn't want to miss that last plane home as there definitely wasn't much to do there. But thanks to it being a company town they did recruit some of the better teachers including one art teacher, abstract painter-type who had a great influence on James and his art, including guiding him towards attending VCU with its excellent illustration program.

Following graduation James headed to DC, deep in the Watergate and post-Watergate era, his journalistic bent was well satiated by the journey as well as reaping his rewards as an illustrator working for The Washington Post. Talking to James you're constantly intrigued by the serendipity of his life, the story of how he met his wife in a bagel shop had me in stitches and the fact of being in the right place at the right time echoes throughout his life's story. And it seems only good things have happened.

You quickly learn that James isn't chained to his desk or computer, he's an avid golfer, takes yoga, plays soccer and of course, there's that weekly poker game. Asked if he's always been funny like the class clown, he demurs that he could make people laugh but it wasn't on purpose. I personally think he could take his act on the road and make it as a stand up comedian--he's just naturally funny.

For this Oklahoma-bred guy, we laid out our best homemade Tex-Mex spread naturally starting with made-from-scratch fresh lime margaritas, followed by shredded chicken and three-cheese enchiladas with salsa verde, fresh guacamole and red beans seasoned with pico de gallo; dessert was bread pudding Mexican-style. The one thing that was missing was the typical coffee con leche after the meal, and it was sorely missed later in the day when everything seemed to go into slow-motion. James lives around the park from the studio, it was an uphill climb but he assured us in his email that "the uphill walk home gave him buns of steel."

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