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?
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.
Dream Forest continued my exploration of monochromatic paintings consisting of interlocking patterns and shades, some simple, some more intricate. This small gouache painting depicted an imaginary forest at night time, when moon light shimmered over truncated trunks and branches, contrasting starkly with dark surrounding. Also, the image somehow resembled a microscopic view of organism, a tiny sliver of macrocosm.
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.
A landscape as an enigma is the impression of my monochromatic oil painting, Interlocked, which depicts a semi-abstract, difficult to decipher landscape, under the threat of heavy and broadly zigzagged clouds in the upper region, while underneath, an orderly and calm swatch of staggered and slightly angled roofs, indicates order, and furthermore, social hierarchy and constraints. The dripping liquids permeating the landscape lends the notion of connectedness and the interlocking nature of the environment, natural or man-made.
The monotonous grayness of the cold climate landscape, though off-putting to some, holds special attraction for me, perhaps, nostalgia is the root of such attachment. I love the blanketing quietness stealthily imposed upon the environment, and appreciate the occasional higher values (not necessarily more vibrant colors) which enliven the space rhythmically and musically. My charcoal drawing Formation is such a presentation of the cool, unyielding, yet not totally unfriendly northern place which tenderly and harshly nurtured my growth. Almost puritanical, yet beautiful in its heart-rending austere bleakness.
11.5” x 18”
Charcoal on Paper
Completed in 2018
A vision serendipitously visited me, and my subsequent partially-successful effort to capture it, resulted in a sparse and drawing like oil painting, Birches. The vision I pursued was a field of blurry birch woods, with the outlines of those slender white trunks emerging and disappearing constantly into darker background, as if the constant ripples of a vast waterbody. My final painting looked almost like the negative of that vision – bright serene background, on which floated silhouettes of several birch trunks, branches, and leaves, isolated or in clusters, in panoramic view, or zoomed-in detail.
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.