Featured Painting – Our Winter of Discontent

Immediately after the devastating 2016 US presidential election, I was in the grip of a stark vision, when innocent and powerless people were rounded up by oppressive strongman regime, and that was the inception of my new project, “Our Winter of Discontent”, to capture the image of miserable, unhappy, discontent, and angry people, whose almost anonymous heads, shut behind a sprawling web of barbed wire, and oppressed by menacing dark clouds from above. This vision was not paranoid fiction; it was based on observation of Donald Trump’s increasingly divisive and hateful rhetorics leading to his ascension, which reaffirmed the ugly political and cultural reality of the almost apocalyptic US.

The world at large had been threatened by the rising totalitarian and nationalistic trends, and the diminishing of liberal democracy, and the situation only got worse by the day, under the weight of Donald Trump’s daily assault on democracy, free press, and rule of law, etc. My warning vision had become a sad prophecy, when many asylum seekers and their underage children were brutally separately, and summarily detailed. And thing could only get worse, and those behind the barbed wires could well extend beyond those “illegal migrants”.

A good vision doesn’t necessarily lead to good painting. After many months’ struggle, I put aside my first attempt, which became somewhat too belabored, and a bit unyielding, and started over with version two. Yet, though satisfying to a certain degree, it became a bit regimented, less spontaneous, and also a bit removed from my vision of a manic world of disorder.

Learned my lessons from those two attempts, I started a third version, and it largely achieved what I set out to document, with proper unsettling and fluid visual style matching our disturbing and depressing zeitgeist.

Here, the final product, “Our Winter of Discontent”.

Our Winter of Discontent / 我們不滿的冬天 / Unser Winter der Unzufriedenheit
Our Winter of Discontent
Oil on Canvas
22” x 28”
Completed in 2018

Featured Painting – Congregation

A giant verdant tree, erect on its strong and knobbly roots, full of colorful chairs hanging from its riotously wide-spreading branches, is quite a heartwarming congregation. Warm and deep colors intertwined with shades cool and pale, helps to create modulating and shifting moods.

Despite joyous colors of those chairs, their positions are somewhat precarious, manifested in a lone chair underneath the seemingly carefree gathering, clinging to the roots of the tree — knocked down, a fallen one, or a cast out one? It would be up to viewers to interpret.

Apropos viewer’s perception, I was also somewhat surprised to hear from a friend on how disturbing the painting was. Those swinging chairs, somewhat called more disturbing images to his mind — hanging bodies swinging in high branches, echoing those from war times documented by Goya, or from not so distant periods of concentrated lynching, whose records were fading fast from our collective memory. This linkage to the darkness was so serendipitous, that even I needed such illumination. Apparently, my intention, combining with viewers’ interpretation, could have generated much more interesting dialogue, thus create another form of congregation.

Congregation / 聚會 / Gemeinde

This painting currently is being exhibited at Berkeley Central Arts Passage, as part of the Unity show (June 16th – October 13th, 2018)

Featured Painting – Anselm Kiefer’s Bathtubs

When artists strive to make things new, we can not and should not completely remove ourselves from the past or tradition. Often, the sediments of the past lend more meanings and poignancy to our new endeavors, or our new interpretations.

One of the greatest living artists Anselm Kiefer, is such an example who is steeped in tradition, and I was often moved by the historical resonances he brought forth to his monumental paintings, often through motifs connecting the past to the present, or the future. One of his striking paintings can be seen in SFMOMA, Unternehmen Seelöwe (Operation Sea Lion), placed a tin bathtub in a desolate field, containing several battleships. According to a curator, the manufacturer of those domestic bathtubs, was also manufacturer of weapons used in WWII by the Nazi armies. Such deft reference was a master stroke of Kiefer’s.

DSCN2046 - Unternehmen Seelöwe (Operation Sea Lion), Anselm Kiefer, SFMOMA Re-opening Preview 7May2016 DSCN2095 - Unternehmen Seelöwe (Operation Sea Lion) (detail), Anselm Kiefer, SFMOMA Re-opening Preview 7May2016

That painting, particularly its intriguing bathtub, left a strong impression on me, and it compelled me to record my understanding and imagination grew out of Kiefer’s motif, and led to a painting which I simply named as Anselm Kiefer’s Bathtubs, which was populated with several of such bathtubs in various planes and angles, as if floating on an open sea or in the space. Inside the central tub, a lonely-looking naked man hunched over and hugged his knees. The occupied bathtub, though surrounded by its “peers”, who were obviously in disagreement with one another, and rendered its lone occupier quite isolated and vulnerable.

Anselm Kiefer's Bathtubs / 安塞尔姆 · 基弗的浴缸 / Anselm Kiefer's Badewannen
Anselm Kiefer’s Bathtubs
22” x 28”
Oil on Canvas
Completed in 2018

Such painting is also my tribute to a leading artist of our time.

Featured Painting – Modern Man

My recent painting Modern Man is a portrait of a faceless man (or a woman) — dark, brooding, and quite uncertain — who symbolizes the anxiety-ridden man or woman of our uneasy and quite dangerous time, who’s willingly or unwillingly blind, and can only stumble along in the deep fog from which he or she could never escape. The world is a trap.

Modern Man / 現代人 / Moderner Mann
Modern Man
20″ x 16″
Oil on Canvas
Completed in 2018

Featured Painting – New Century’s Shangri-La

My recently painting New Century’s Shangri-La is rather visually intriguing — a colorful and orderly semi-abstract landscape/cityscape, serene and paradisal, being menaced by heavy dark storms swirling above, which threaten to crush down at any moment and bring havoc to the orderly world below. The ironic title unfortunately aptly described the state of our world, if not yet today, soon tomorrow.

New Century's Shangri-La / 新世紀香格里拉 / Neues Jahrhunderts Shangri-La
New Century’s Shangri-La
Oil on Canvas
30″ x 24″
Completed in 2017

Featured Painting – Procession

My monochromatic painting Procession is a visually engaging and topically challenging work, which depicts a group of fantastic birds, treading despondently in a nondescript and barren landscape, carrying a dead companion in the middle of their solemn funeral procession. The overwhelming sadness was manifested in the starkly contrasted white and black color scheme, and the bend and stretched postures of those dejected birds, from gigantic to tiny. The loose brushstrokes and the lack of the last measure of definition, also contributed to the unreal and dreamy atmosphere.

Procession / 行列 / Prozession
Procession
Oil on Canvas
22″ x 28″
Completed in 2017

Featured Painting – Waft

My 2015 painting Waft features, against an empty and nondescript landscape, a very small girl in the lower right corner of the vertical canvas, running away from the viewers, while holding strings tied to floating human balloons, all in the shape of young women dressed in pure white, in postures of awakening or drowning. Was it a hopeful dream, or a potentially nightmare? It is up to the viewers to decide. Perhaps, what I captured was the the hope and trepidation of a very young person at that cusp of growing into herself, while facing a future unknown.

Waft / 漂移 / Wabern
Waft
Oil on Canvas
30″ x 24″
Completed in 2015

This painting was chosen as cover art and as a featured piece on page 19 by Pomona Valley Review (Volume 11), published by California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, in July 2017.

"Waft" published by Pomona Valley Review, Issue 11 "Waft" published by Pomona Valley Review, Issue 11

Featured Painting – The Wash

My first oil painting completed in 2017, The Wash, continued to explore and express spatial relationship and (ir)regular patterns. This landscape was inspired by some haunting though dimming images crossed path with me a long while ago, of some laundered white sheets, blown wildly by strong wind, struggling to remain on the laundry lines. The rhythmic movements of those flapping sheets generated an atmosphere of both orderly and unruly, and such sense of drama was heightened by the stark contrasts between the blindingly bright sheets and the dark soil and sky, which foretold a menacing storm, poising to ruin the pristine cleanness of those vulnerable sheets.

The Wash / 晒衣物 / Die Wasch
The Wash
Oil on Canvas
22”x28”
Completed in 2017

Featured Painting “Apprehend”

As if I had anticipated a gloomy election season to conclude this year, back in late January, I worked on and finished a painting titled Apprehend, featuring a lonely bird, enclosed in a disorienting and confused space, sketchily defined by indistinct horizontal and vertical stripes of various thickness and shades of blue, black and yellow.

Apprehend, Oil on Canvas, 20x24, 2016
Apprehend
Oil on Canvas
20”x24”
Completed in 2016

The bird, in cautions pose, peers into the uncertain distance, seemingly full of expectation and comprehension, an apt metaphor of people in this traumatic post-election time.

Featured Painting “Minotaur”

I often found the Minotaur legend disturbing and strangely moving.  Minotaur, the bull-headed monster, resided in the labyrinth built on the command of King Minos of Crete, subsisted on tributes of young boys and girls, and was finally slain by the Athenian hero Theseus, who invaded his lair as one of the new sacrifices.

The strangest aspect of the legend was that Minotaur had a head of a bull, which was not a natural carnivore, therefore it would not be far-fetched to imagine how sickened he was by his own savagery, thus I treated this subject in my oil painting, Minotaur.

My Minotaur was not a personification of usual monstrosity; rather, a sensitive being, trapped by his monstrous nature beyond his own control, he eagerly awaited his slayer/liberator, so as to rid himself of the misery.

Minotaur / 牛頭怪 / Minotaur
Minotaur / 牛頭怪 / Minotaur
Oil on Canvas
24″ x 30″
Completed in 2005

There, a hoof under his chin, my Minotaur pensively watched from a precipice the approaches of the Athenian boat, while holding the ball of threads, to be given to Theseus later by the willing princess Ariadne as means to aid his existing from the foul maze after the deed.

A large tear oozed out of his eye but it was not a bitter tear, rather a willing resignation and submission.