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.
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.
My little idyllic painting, Brook, depicted a thin stream snaking through a quiet grove, seen through imposing placed black trunks in the foreground, and enclosed by delicate silhouettes in the background, behind shimmering bright light like a liquid curtain. The sedate creek, painted impasto, with paints dragged downward rough bottom edges, as if a living creature planting its roots or sinking its teeth into the meadow; meanwhile, its varying somber colors, and the impossible spatial relationship between the tree trunks and the seemingly floating creek forks, simultaneously ups and downs, and in front of and behind those tree trunks, created a sense of disorientation, uneasiness, and otherworldliness.
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
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 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.
Despite some success of my 2015 painting Waft, which was recently published by Pomona Valley Review (Volume 11, Summer 2017), I clearly saw rooms for improvement, and recently I made a new version of the painting, titled Wafting — much darker and more dramatic, with additional whimsicality and humor, lent by the black flakes, resembling playful butterflies, darting above the little girl, who was, as in the 2015 version, running away from the viewer, holding strings tied to floating human balloons, all in the shape of young women dressed in pure white, against much darker and more ominous background, as if in the process of awakening or drowning. I believe that the latter effort was psychologically more penetrating and indeed a big improvement.
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.