One of my paintings selected in a recent exhibition at Berkeley Central Arts Passage, Today’s Artists Interact with Major Art Movements from the Renaissance to the Present, is a painting of part cityscape and part animal figure study.
The left side of the painting, in shades of washed-out gray, depicts the Old St. John’s Hospital, an 11th-century hospital in Bruges, Belgium while the right side zooms in one of the omnipresent swans and the symbol of that ancient city, painted in intensely saturated rich hues. I conceived this painting while visiting Bruges, when I was quite intrigued and even moved by the stark contrast of immobile and somewhat faded history and threadbare nobility, and the living creatures full of grace, energy and slight menace.
Furthermore, I named this title to ensure that the German title In fernem Land is the first line of the most celebrated aria by the title character in Wagner’s opera Lohengrin, a mysterious knight arrived in a boat drawn by a swan, narrating his mythical original and his frustrated hope by lacking of faith he demanded from a woman he loved and rescued, whose child-ruler brother was turned into that swan and his disappearance had triggered a chain of events.
The medieval building and the medieval story interwoven, the purity and menace of this lofty bird, along with the historical baggage of Wagner, conspire to add extra meanings to this rather deceptively simply painting.