Several years ago, while traveling to Seattle, I encountered an unusual man-made lake, whose smooth surface was dotted with numerous bleached tree stumps, scattering across large swatches of the water surface. These turned out not to be tree stumps, rather relics or ruins of former workers’ dormitory sheds, which were abandoned and flooded with the change of the industries. The moving and melancholic image of the disappeared past haunted me ever since, and later the stumps-dotted lake and the ghost town underneath became the subject of my landscape oil painting Still Water, aiming to capture the poignancy of the sight.
Seclusion is a meditative painting of a young woman and her two phantom images superimposed above the centrally placed figure at the lower half of the canvas. This young woman, head bent, surrounded by dense woods, was in a state of meditation, and solitary despite the two companions, who could be herself in different time frames, evoked by this woman lost in her private thoughts. These three figures, real or imaginative, resembled the traditional grouping of the Three Graces in the western visual presentation canon, therefore, created another layer of mystery to this tableau inside the dark and misty woods.
Oil on Canvas
28” x 22”
Completed in 2021
College Town was a snapshot of the unpretentious college city I live in, during the summertime when droves of young temporary dwellers cleared out their flats and moved on to their next destination, or back to where they came from, and left their transitory possessions at the curbs for repurposing. This still image captured the melancholic and slightly forlorn atmosphere after the adrenaline rush from graduation celebrations, when the excitement had ended and only abandoned chairs and mattresses scattered about in this way station, which dutifully quietly welcomed and sent off the young people to make their great or tiny marks to the world, year after year.
My allegorical painting Surveying portrayed a nightmarish landscape consisting of fluid and unsettled patterns, suggesting disturbed soil or waves, like the aftermath of a fierce battle. A large figure dressed in a similarly patterned white garb, floated above this mystic landscape, surveying the ravage brought upon by whatever malicious agents. The figure’s outstretched arms, along with the melting drips from the white dress, suggested immense sorrow and compassion.
Drifting is a self-portrait that captures myself sitting on the bow of a small rowboat, which gently rocked in a bay, with a small vegetated island lurking in the back.
The tip of the bow, the outstretched or bent angular legs and arms, and above all, and the figure sitting on top of the boat, jointly or separately formed several intricately nested and well-balanced triangles. Yet, the usual stability associated with such triangular composition was negated somewhat by the tilting boat; one could feel the swaying of the small boat, and the longer one stares at this painting, the more likely one feels the onset of seasickness.
My younger self, eyes cast down, lost in thoughts, doubtful and a bit rueful, manifested the angst of youth, of an era, of a nation. The frostiness of this painting, awash with crisp light and dominated by a distancing pale blue shade, was punctuated only by the wine-red swimming trunk, which provided a small gesture of warmth in the otherwise thorough coolness.
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.
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?
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.
In recent decades, the economic inequality in the world, propelled by the ever-greedy corporations and individuals, and aided or even championed by purchased colluding governments of various dominance and ideologies, has widened drastically, and the divide between the haves and have-nots has become such an insurmountable gulf that the people behind are increasingly unable to sustain themselves, let alone catching up with those sitting on top of the socioeconomic pyramid. My The Desolates Souls of Main Street attempts to give a tiny protesting voice to the voiceless and faceless downtrodden, whose dire situation, in contrast to the mind-boggling glitzy world of the gilded, is as heart-wrecking as it is damning.