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.
Identifying myself primarily a representational artist, does not exclude me from time to time being drawn to purely abstract visions, which excite with contrasting or even clashing colors, interplay of of shades, lines, and intricacies of patterns and forms. One of my successful results is a recent gouache painting, Time Frame, which intrigues viewers with ever expanding viewfinders, appealingly complementing secondary colors, and an array of ever shifting lines of different lengths, angles, and hues.
This painting will be exhibited at Berkeley Expression Gallery, September – December 2018, as part of the “Autumn Colors” group exhibition.
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
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)
One of my attempts to capture fleeting impressions of well-known Greek mythologies resulted in an abstract painting Paris and Three Goddesses, whose pink and golden color blocks in the background signified the dangerous intermingle of the mortal and immortal worlds. Three powerful goddesses, Hera, Athena and Aphrodite, were represented by three richly colored powerful beams, which penetrated the human world below, while circling like sharks of their prey a small globe — the golden apple, to be awarded to the most beautiful one, planted by the spurned goddess of discord.
Poor Paris, represented by the golden color associated with another golden male beauty Apollo, was pinned down by those powerful beams above, and responded with blue sparks, echoing the beam of Aphrodite alone, risking the wrath of Hera and Athena, for the sake of the most beautiful woman on earth, the Queen of Spartan Helen, the promised bribery from goddess of love, and eventually launched thousand ships and unleashed the ten-year Greco-Trojan war, and caused unspeakable misery for many, many more.
Little ones are perennial pitiful playthings of the powerful ones.
Paris and Three Goddesses
Oil on Canvas
14″ x 11″
Completed in 2012
This painting is currently in a Group exhibition Color Speaks (Sep. 23, 2017 – Jan. 20, 2018), in Downtown Berkeley’s vibrant art district.
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 monochromatic painting Procession is a visually engaging and topically challenging work, which depicts a group of fantastic birds, treading despondently in a nondescript and barren landscape, carrying a dead companion in the middle of their solemn funeral procession. The overwhelming sadness was manifested in the starkly contrasted white and black color scheme, and the bend and stretched postures of those dejected birds, from gigantic to tiny. The loose brushstrokes and the lack of the last measure of definition, also contributed to the unreal and dreamy atmosphere.
The inspiration of my 2017 oil painting, Autumns Impression was a photo I chance encountered – a room of eerie green light, resembling electric currents, against a background of a irregular pattern of wavering pink tiles. Besides the striking color palette, I was also intrigued by the shifting spatial relationship between the light and the background, thus moved to commit my appreciation to canvas.
Naturally, I would not ape the photograph; rather, the photo served as a springboard for me to “record” my vision. The painting soon departed from the electric glow, and morphed into an impressionistic abstract landscape, and reached a state that I could stop and consider the project complete, though the painting was not truly satisfying.
With layers of additional paints applied to the canvas, it moved further away from the inspiration and my initial attempt. Now, the colors of painting somewhat recalled what I saw in Yosemite National Park I visited last fall, therefore, a new resolution presented itself and I happily complied.
I managed to find the good balance of recalling the spirit of a slightly unhinged forest or meadow, softened by some darting patches of rather joyous colors, without being slavishly realistic. It’s a recollection of memories and emotions. The spatial relationship of many elements and colors of the painting, though not the same as the photograph, was also similarly intriguing.
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.
My first oil painting completed in 2017, The Wash, continued to explore and express spatial relationship and (ir)regular patterns. This landscape was inspired by some haunting though dimming images crossed path with me a long while ago, of some laundered white sheets, blown wildly by strong wind, struggling to remain on the laundry lines. The rhythmic movements of those flapping sheets generated an atmosphere of both orderly and unruly, and such sense of drama was heightened by the stark contrasts between the blindingly bright sheets and the dark soil and sky, which foretold a menacing storm, poising to ruin the pristine cleanness of those vulnerable sheets.