Though lately I am mostly attracted to shifting patterns, colors, tones, and shapes, from time to time, I am still inspired by pure scenery, particularly when I can discern such variations, and especially if the landscape evokes strong emotions such as moody melancholy. Such an image I had encountered in Manchurian China, barely a few months before the pandemic started to ravage the globe, intrigued and challenged me to create an oil painting when sheltered at home, Crisp, an understated work aptly captured a sense of community, isolation, and resilience.
Waifs depicted an almost surreal landscape, tranquil and dark, as if under the spell of a mysterious and shushing moonlight. Amongst tall trunks, a group of figures shrouded in white, ostensibly young women, trod, plodded, or frolicked on the richly vegetated ground, ever deeper into the woods.
Despite their being in a group, there was an overwhelming sense of isolation and loneliness, and their internalized presence was touching to behold. Their billowing dresses were as mysterious as these figures themselves – were these innocent young girls or runaway women? Were they spirits, witches, or visiting phantoms from beyond the reach, and acted in tandem?
My recent Itinerant is a deliberately ambiguous piece, which depicts three almost identical figures spacing out in an empty boulevard. In the background, there are vague outlines of standing or seated figures, and a couple of vehicles, shaded beneath a huge awning or a theater marquee, or in the cast shadow of an imposing steel-glass structure, whose richly patterned façade was somewhat menacing. The strong contrast between the dark and obscure background and the brightly-lit and clearly defined street generates a strong dissonance. The almost identical postures and shapes of these three figures are enigmatic and hard to fathom. They are like roaming ghosts and can either be the same person appearing in three locations in sequence, or a group of persons march in unison. To ground the tableau, a partial figure bent over to reach the ground appears at the lower right of the canvas, adding an extra visual focus.
Itinerant 22” x 28” Oil on Canvas Completed in 2020
Depicting human beings is both challenging and exciting, because of the complexity of the human emotions, and the viewers’ familiarity with expressions and postures associated with these emotions, which suffers no falsehood.
My recent Boyhood attempted to capture the instance when a confident and cocky urchin, insistently pressed himself upon the viewers, announcing his presence. Though a little naughty, he still possessed his innocence, and his wonderment at the broader world surrounding him was palpably touching, and hopefully would viewers of their tender ages.
The background was sparse, and open, allowing much space for the boy to occupy, except for a pair of moving legs towards the center space and seemingly poised to displace the boy. Perhaps, it was the man he was to become. The confluence of presence and future was both touching and a bit unnerving.
My Hordes is one of several paintings that examines herd behaviors of small objects. Resembling new sprouts on thin stalks, or small moths or butterflies, or microbes, here they sway about and dance rather coquettishly against an almost inviting orange-hued background. Though less menacing compared to those in Whirring, they still manage to stir some unease regarding things invisible, during our current protracted Coronavirus pandemic.
Starting this horizontal group portrait in a somewhat more upbeat time, employing a colorful palette, I aimed to create a group of people engaged in dialogues and interactions. However, during the painting process, those figures took more and more an air of despondency, and the vibrant colors started to become untruthful and had to fade. A couple of months later, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, when the piece was finally completed, it had morphed into a monochromatic nightmarish hallucination, featuring some sketchily painted heads, shrouded in white gauze, turning into different directions, strikingly silhouetted against pitch dark background, and emoting resignation, sadness, and anger. Though compressed in space, they seemed hardly related to one another, and remained in utter isolation; a party without conversation. To their left, a jumble of cantilevered structures protruded from the distance, adding an atmosphere of foreboding and disintegration. This painting ended with a sad wailing note, aptly echoing the signs reverberating in our daunting time.
Silent Party 18”x36” Oil on Canvas Completed in 2020
Missing making art in a community and the interaction with fellow artists, I decided to participate in a painting workshop, and one of the assignments was a small diptych, with one of them to have more and the other less paint. I did my best to capture the fear and resilience of people under threat from Coronavirus. This diptych is aptly titled “19”.
I hope that this small diptych, double portraits of a mask-wearing man and a woman, alert, vigilant, a tad fearful, yet resolute, titled 19, would give viewers a sense of fellowship, and fortify our resilience.
19 14”x11” & 14”x11” Oil on Canvas Completed in 2020
At first glance, Emergence is a calm sliver of routine life due to the simplicity of its composition and color scheme; upon closer inspection, what emerged from this picture was not so simple, rather it revealed something indecipherable and with a hint of sinisterness: against a sparse backdrop, a few curious looking, semi-translucent figures floated like ghosts from behind thin vertical bars, which made the whole landscape reminisce of a jail cell, despite the openness of those bars. What was emerging? Inner strength? Outside menace? Guilty conscience? Or stoical indifference to anyone’s fate?
Emergence 22” x 28” Oil on Canvas Completed in 2019
The difference between the sublime and the terrifying can be surprisingly inconsequential as demonstrated in my new oil painting Whirring, which depicts a kaleidoscope of butterflies, bursting from compact layers of black and brown loam. Individually, each of these quivering insects emits delicate beauty; yet, in league, they form a confusing mass, incomprehensible and overwhelming, and the lively pattern they weave becomes rather terrifying.
Whirring 20” x 30” Oil on Canvas Completed in 2019
Eerie stillness was a sense I tried to convey when I made the oil painting, Quarry, which was bleached of colors, as if they would have been intrusive in such a disused quarry, which seemed demanding viewers to hold breaths, and surrender to an overwhelming hush and foreboding, closed in by the knife-sharp white cliffs, and the deep pool of inky dead water captured in the middle. Nature, ravaged.