“Memories of Childhood” is a backward glance towards the distant past, at which time how one experienced and felt might not reflect truthfully in the recollection in adulthood. The distant memory can be fuzzy and mercurial, as illustrated in this black and white snapshot of a little boy stranded amongst several screens of fragmented episodic sceneries, staring at the viewers, defiantly or expectantly, with discernment and awe.
Childhood can be as rich and varied as the life of an adult, and the emotional impacts a child experiences can be just as acute and palpable, even if the stakes might be lower, mainly due to a child’s smaller spheres. Akin to any age group, childhood is the age of exploration and discovery, of closed-mindedness and misplaced confidence, of timidity and bravery, of tenderness and innocence, and of mischievousness and cruelty.
Childhood’s memories – colorful or monochromatic – will haunt forever.
Memories of Childhood 22” x 28” Oil on Canvas Completed in 2022
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.
Drifting 30” x 40” Oil on Canvas Completed in 2001
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
Through a blurry, fluid, and background randomly dissected by some diagonal strokes, several uncertain, twisted, and sad faces emerged, telegraphing the terrified and oppressed people in our uncertain and increasingly inhospitable time and climate, and they were my observation and report in my recent painting Piñatas. The fear, the apprehension in their averting eyes, and the tears streaming down their downcast faces, pulled in and turned away the viewers by our collective shame over our helpless fates and our inability to avoid disasters. We were all beaten piñatas.
Away is a fantastical portrait of a young man, whose striking features outlined in broad and loose strokes, staring at viewers unflinchingly. Lifting the portrait beyond realism realm were two white patches hovering just below the sitter’s eyes, as if two small wings had grew out of his deep thoughts and were ready to bear him away, from the confinement of the tight space allotted to him, from the heavy vertical bars on both sides, and from the ruined bridge and houses on the corners of top right and lower left, respectively, testaments of some traumatic past.
Immediately after the devastating 2016 US presidential election, I was in the grip of a stark vision, in which innocent and powerless people were rounded up by an oppressive strongman regime. That was the inception of my new project, “Our Winter of Discontent”, to evoke an assembly of miserable, discontent, and angry people, behind a sprawling web of barbed wire and menaced by dark clouds from above. This vision was not paranoid fiction; it was based on observation of Donald Trump’s increasingly divisive and hateful rhetoric, which led to his capture of the presidency, and reaffirmed the ugly political and cultural reality of an almost apocalyptic US.
The world at large had been threatened in recent years by rising totalitarian and nationalistic trends, and the diminishing of liberal democracy. The situation worsened every day as I painted, under the weight of Trump’s daily assault on democracy, free press, the rule of law, etc. My warning vision became a sad prophecy, as many asylum seekers and their young children were brutally separated, and summarily detained. It seemed — and seems now — that things could only get worse, that those behind the barbed wire fences could well include U.S. citizens and legal immigrants, not only those deemed “illegal.”
A good vision doesn’t necessarily lead to good painting. After many months’ struggle, I put aside my first attempt, which had become 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.
Having learned my lessons from those two attempts, I started a third version, and it achieved what I set out to document, with an unsettling and fluid visual style that matches our disturbing and depressing zeitgeist.
Here, the final product, “Our Winter of Discontent”.
The painting was completed before the world was assaulted by the novel Coronavirus, and most brutally affected in countries whose leaders are waging wars against science, and suppressing free press and truth. The painting was created before the tsunami of “Black Lives Matter” protests took hold in the US. But it evokes, or perhaps portends, the suffering and struggle that rolls on ceaselessly through human history.
These are the emotions and historical trends, my painting “Our Winter of Discontent” is trying to capture and reflect.
Our Winter of Discontent Oil on Canvas 22” x 28” Completed in 2018
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 20″ x 16″ Oil on Canvas Completed in 2018
Painting human faces and figures, not as means to document, rather, as means to probe and investigate, is hugely challenging and exciting, and thankfully, such is also a the validity of portraiture painting in selfie age.
One of my successful attempts was a portrait of a young man, whom I saw near Musée d’Orsay in Paris, and I was intrigued by his serious and even severe countenance, and his chiseled features, intelligent, graceful, vulnerable yet vigorous, an enthralling concoction led to my 2001 painting, A Young Frenchman, which managed to capture many of these engaging characteristics.
A Young Frenchman Oil on Canvas 24″ x 20″ Completed in 2001
Someone once wondered about the “Frenchman” in the title; I was fairly confident that the young man was a french national, because not only I saw him in France, also to me, he was the epitome of Gaullic attributes and attraction.
My 2009 oil painting Progression, conceived and executed after our nation and the world had suffered the dark era of George W. Bush, and entered an epoch ought have ushered in some changes in the U.S. following the ascendency of President Obama. Alas. It was not to be. Many people’s feverish hope proved constructed from thin air, and the changes were ever elusive, and the human rights abuses we collectively permitted largely remain in place. The long list of human sufferings continue.
My painting attempted to catalog such sufferings in a collage of iconography images, from Jesus carrying the cross to Calvary, Michelangelo’s slave sculpture, David’s Liberty Leads People, and the hooded abused prisoner in Abu Ghraib. The focal point of the painting is the sad face of an earnest man, personification of the sorrows and compassion of humankind.
Progression Oil on Canvas 30″ x 24″ Completed in 2009
Here is a video presentation of this painting:
This painting has been choose to be part of a group exhibition, Today’s Artists Interact with Major Art Movements from the Renaissance to the Present, at Arts Passages in Berkeley (22 August – 11 November 2015), curated by Expressions Gallery in Berkeley.