Featured Painting – Our Winter of Discontent

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 / 我們不滿的冬天 / Unser Winter der Unzufriedenheit

Our Winter of Discontent
Oil on Canvas
22” x 28”
Completed in 2018

“Progression” – A History

My 2009 oil painting Progression, conceived and executed after our nation and the world had suffered the dark era of George W. Bush, and entered an epoch ought have ushered in some changes in the U.S. following the ascendency of President Obama. Alas. It was not to be. Many people’s feverish hope proved constructed from thin air, and the changes were ever elusive, and the human rights abuses we collectively permitted largely remain in place. The long list of human sufferings continue.

My painting attempted to catalog such sufferings in a collage of iconography images, from Jesus carrying the cross to Calvary, Michelangelo’s slave sculpture, David’s Liberty Leads People, and the hooded abused prisoner in Abu Ghraib. The focal point of the painting is the sad face of an earnest man, personification of the sorrows and compassion of humankind.

Progression / 進展 / Entwicklung, Oil on Canvas, 30"x24", Completed in 2009
Progression
Oil on Canvas
30″ x 24″
Completed in 2009

Here is a video presentation of this painting:

This painting has been choose to be part of a group exhibition, Today’s Artists Interact with Major Art Movements from the Renaissance to the Present, at Arts Passages in Berkeley (22 August – 11 November 2015), curated by Expressions Gallery in Berkeley.

Oil Painting “Liberation Road”

My most accomplished painting to date is a portrait of an old woman, Grandma (2003), while its companion painting, Liberation Road (2010), is my most personal one.

Liberation Road / 解放路 / Befreiungstraße, Oil on Canvas, 18" x 24", Completed in 2010

17 Paintings Completed in 2010 (part 2 of 2)

This painting was based on a photo of my paternal great great grandmother, or maybe great grandmother, I do not really know for sure.  She was a very elegant woman with a knowing look and her photo had often haunted me and caused me to wonder what had happened to her, to her family, to her descendants in the ensuring years – all those endless upheavals, wars, famine – human suffering of all kinds, from the end of the imperial time, the republican era and culminated in the so-called revolution in the mid-twentieth century. Furthermore, this painting also touched on the traumatic experiences my parents and my sibling and myself suffered in the iron grip of the Chinese Communist Party, or any totalitarian regime, even to this very day.

The left side of the painting showed ruined houses and railroads, balancing the right side of the portrait of my dignified grandmother.  The horizontal road sign bisecting the painting read “Liberation Road”, yet at the end of the arrow, we saw a sorrow-stricken person, helplessly rested his/her head on the knees, anything but liberated.  There was a similar figure, at the lower right of the painting, echoing this figure, in the same posture, though in profile.

I made this painting to pay tribute to my elegant ancestors who had striven to achieve personal enlightenment and successes and later suffered precisely for their achievements in the hands of the anti-intellectual and self-righteous puritanical Communist Party.  By surrounding my great grandmother with ruins and other suffering people, I tried to demonstrate the scope of the destruction in the wake of the Communist Party.

I also made a short video (1:56) to present this rather haunting painting.

In order to show both the complete picture and its details as the “camera” panning across the canvas, I incorporated two video clips into one single final video and they can be played simultaneously.  I deliberately kept my left clip static, so as to show the complete painting, while the right clip demonstrate the details, exactly as the video above.