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 become rather terrifying.
My small gouache painting Weave served as a little window to a bigger universe, literally and figuratively, opening to a vast expanse of sky and ocean, which emerged from alternating tall windows and hedges in the foreground. The painting is quite still, as it was dominated by the forlorn and hushed landscape; yet it was also dynamic, with the sky streaked with dark clouds, and blue ocean interrupted by light and dark waves, and the hedges grew wild and almost hallucinative, twisting their relationship to the windows and the outside world into optical confusion. One small relief was the disc of the sun floating atop, providing a counterpoint to the dissonance below, even though its presence, obscured somewhat by wisps of clouds, was rather bleached.
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.
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.
This painting currently is being exhibited at Berkeley Central Arts Passage, as part of the Unity show (June 16th – October 13th, 2018)
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.
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.
Such painting is also my tribute to a leading artist of our time.
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.
My painting Colony depicted a roughly sketched tight grid, in which several skeletal ants nervously roam around these low barriers. The whole painting was awash in a cold and almost sinister bluish green, and the insects were barely discernible at the first glance, as they seemed to have merged with the thin grids underneath their wiry bodies. The painting was a bit starling as it presented the ants in close-up, and they looked rather monstrous in their enormities.
This painting is currently in a Group exhibition Color Speaks (Sep. 23, 2017 – Jan. 20, 2018), in the vibrant art district of Downtown Berkeley.
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.
My 2014 gouache painting, Wildflowers was inspired by a visit to a riverbank park in my home city, Shenyang. It was spring time and the abundant wildeflowers lent colors and joy to the large expanse of dark green meadow, just in front of some dignified woods. It was a joy to encounter this cheerful sight, yet with certain gravitas, in the usually gray and somber city. It was even more joyful to be able to capture such wonderful memory of my home city in a magical moment.
Human history is sadly saturated with sorrow and suffering, a theme resonates strongly with me. In 2003, I made a diptych of oil paintings, titled “Sorrow and Suffering”, to record the pain people suffered and will suffer at the hands of ruthless and/or reckless political leaders, when George W. Bush was brandishing his excuse to invade Iraq.
Since that fateful invasion, the unstable Mideast became ever more explosive and the human suffering ever escalated. Yesterday a series of concerted attacks on civilians in the great city Paris shocked and saddened the civilized world and this diptych expresses my feeling aptly.