“Memories of Childhood” is a backward glance towards the distant past, at which time how one experienced and felt might not reflect truthfully in the recollection in adulthood. The distant memory can be fuzzy and mercurial, as illustrated in this black and white snapshot of a little boy stranded amongst several screens of fragmented episodic sceneries, staring at the viewers, defiantly or expectantly, with discernment and awe.
Childhood can be as rich and varied as the life of an adult, and the emotional impacts a child experiences can be just as acute and palpable, even if the stakes might be lower, mainly due to a child’s smaller spheres. Akin to any age group, childhood is the age of exploration and discovery, of closed-mindedness and misplaced confidence, of timidity and bravery, of tenderness and innocence, and of mischievousness and cruelty.
Childhood’s memories – colorful or monochromatic – will haunt forever.
Memories of Childhood 22” x 28” Oil on Canvas Completed in 2022
When I made figurative paintings, I was often drawn to unusual and striking settings, manifested in my 2020 oil painting Subterrane. This urban painting featured a young man in red and blue, standing in the foreground of a dark underpass, whose massiveness dwarfed and weighted down the slight person who peered at the viewers quizzically and uncertainly. Through the far end of the structure, bright light penetrated into the gloomy underpass and shone the ceiling, the floor, and the tilting walls in bold gestures. In complementary colors, some trees and block buildings they protected could be gleaned at the opening of the structure, counterbalancing and stabilizing the hesitant figure, whose hunched posture suggested something unsettling within.
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
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
Depicting human beings is both challenging and exciting, because of the complexity of the human emotions, and the viewers’ familiarity with expressions and postures associated with these emotions, which suffers no falsehood.
My recent Boyhood attempted to capture the instance when a confident and cocky urchin, insistently pressed himself upon the viewers, announcing his presence. Though a little naughty, he still possessed his innocence, and his wonderment at the broader world surrounding him was palpably touching, and hopefully would viewers of their tender ages.
The background was sparse, and open, allowing much space for the boy to occupy, except for a pair of moving legs towards the center space and seemingly poised to displace the boy. Perhaps, it was the man he was to become. The confluence of presence and future was both touching and a bit unnerving.
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.
Silent Party 18”x36” Oil on Canvas Completed in 2020
Through a blurry, fluid, and background randomly dissected by some diagonal strokes, several uncertain, twisted, and sad faces emerged, telegraphing the terrified and oppressed people in our uncertain and increasingly inhospitable time and climate, and they were my observation and report in my recent painting Piñatas. The fear, the apprehension in their averting eyes, and the tears streaming down their downcast faces, pulled in and turned away the viewers by our collective shame over our helpless fates and our inability to avoid disasters. We were all beaten piñatas.
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.
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