In the last couple of years, like many people, I was largely home-bound, and some reliable distractions and relief came through the courtesy of some windows facing the outside world, where some birds and squirrels rambled undisturbed by the upheavals in the human sphere.
When those carefree creatures failed to meet their appointments, I would ramble to a hallway window with a view to the house next door, whose bold and rich coat of deep blue, orange, and marron would jolt me into sharp alert. It was endlessly fascinating to notice how the colors shifted with the weather and to observe how those rich hues seeped into the hallway and tinted the plain off-white walls and ceiling colorful and alluring. Gradually, these shades moved and shimmered, like quivering butterfly wings, tantalizing and comforting yet somewhat overwhelming and alarming.
This sight formed the foundation of my metaphorical painting, Narrow Confinement, which recorded the narrow sliver of the comfort allowed me during the trying time and was much appreciated.
Narrow Confinement 28” x 22”, Oil on Canvas Completed in 2021
An open, terraced, and desiccated field, dominated by a truss tower of industrial scale, dwarfed by the vault of leaden clouds, served as the backdrop of a small-scaled human drama, which centered on a lone figure looking toward the city silhouette in the distance, as if contemplating his or her future, in the region unknown. All these formed the subject of my landscape painting, Prospect, which suggested some inner turmoil without resorting to gestural embellishments – understated but impactful. I am pleased with the contrast between the vast landscape and the insignificant figure who got lost amid the cold and uninviting surroundings.
Several years ago, while traveling to Seattle, I encountered an unusual man-made lake, whose smooth surface was dotted with numerous bleached tree stumps, scattering across large swatches of the water surface. These turned out not to be tree stumps, rather relics or ruins of former workers’ dormitory sheds, which were abandoned and flooded with the change of the industries. The moving and melancholic image of the disappeared past haunted me ever since, and later the stumps-dotted lake and the ghost town underneath became the subject of my landscape oil painting Still Water, aiming to capture the poignancy of the sight.
Still Water Oil on Canvas 30” x 40” Completed in 2020
Seclusion is a meditative painting of a young woman and her two phantom images superimposed above the centrally placed figure at the lower half of the canvas. This young woman, head bent, surrounded by dense woods, was in a state of meditation, and solitary despite the two companions, who could be herself in different time frames, evoked by this woman lost in her private thoughts. These three figures, real or imaginative, resembled the traditional grouping of the Three Graces in the western visual presentation canon, therefore, created another layer of mystery to this tableau inside the dark and misty woods.
Seclusion Oil on Canvas 28” x 22” Completed in 2021
College Town was a snapshot of the unpretentious college city I live in, during the summertime when droves of young temporary dwellers cleared out their flats and moved on to their next destination, or back to where they came from, and left their transitory possessions at the curbs for repurposing. This still image captured the melancholic and slightly forlorn atmosphere after the adrenaline rush from graduation celebrations, when the excitement had ended and only abandoned chairs and mattresses scattered about in this way station, which dutifully quietly welcomed and sent off the young people to make their great or tiny marks to the world, year after year.
College Town Oil on Canvas 30” x 24” Completed in 2021
My allegorical painting Surveying portrayed a nightmarish landscape consisting of fluid and unsettled patterns, suggesting disturbed soil or waves, like the aftermath of a fierce battle. A large figure dressed in a similarly patterned white garb, floated above this mystic landscape, surveying the ravage brought upon by whatever malicious agents. The figure’s outstretched arms, along with the melting drips from the white dress, suggested immense sorrow and compassion.
Surveying Oil on Canvas 28” x 22” Completed in 2013
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
2020 was such a distressing year that we all hoped to close the page in earnest. Yet, when almost halfway into 2021, we are still fighting to escape from the dark shadow 2020 cast, constantly adjusting or expanding our traumatic memories, by generating sobering Postscript, which was the title of my new self-portrait, recording such an emotional journey of mine in that eventual year and beyond.
Postscript 28” x 22” Oil on Canvas Completed in 2021
Postscript was published by Artistonish, Issue 8, March 2021
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.
Waifs depicted an almost surreal landscape, tranquil and dark, as if under the spell of a mysterious and shushing moonlight. Amongst tall trunks, a group of figures shrouded in white, ostensibly young women, trod, plodded, or frolicked on the richly vegetated ground, ever deeper into the woods.
Despite their being in a group, there was an overwhelming sense of isolation and loneliness, and their internalized presence was touching to behold. Their billowing dresses were as mysterious as these figures themselves – were these innocent young girls or runaway women? Were they spirits, witches, or visiting phantoms from beyond the reach, and acted in tandem?