Father and Son / 父與子 / Vater und Sohn Oil on Canvas 20″ x 16″ Completed in 2013
Often, when I started to drift into sleep at night, my restless mind would conjure up some images more imaginative than I could think of when I was wide awake. Sometimes, during those dreamy moments, my mind kept its presence and I was able to rouse my in order to make a quick sketch or to, attempting to capture those fleeting impressions.
A recent such instance presented me an entangled group of tight embracing muscular bodies, in agony or ecstasy. In the end, my decipher of the image drew the conclusion that it presented the embrace and reconciliation of estranged persons who ought to be close to each other, father and son.
Base on that quick sketch, I made a monochromatic and muted yet quite evocative and powerful painting, on the theme of Prodigal Son.
The strength of this piece lies in its universal touching theme, the heartbreaking posture of those once broken men, the strong outlines of the figures and the high relief of the bodies.
The painting is small in format but big in the feelings it emotes.
Painting portraits can be very challenging and rewarding – how to capture the spirits of the sitters, how to render the physiognomies and the postures faithfully yet with artists’s personal touches, how to connect the sitters to the viewers, and most importantly, to ensure the relevancy of painted portraits in the era of digital cameras and smartphones.
One of my best portraits was a group of young men, me in the middle and two college friends at the two sides of the canvas. We sat on stone benches, looking serious and somewhat despondent, and aimed our eyes away from another, into different directions. It was a moment of uncertainty, a private consultation in a group setting, a dialogue with oneself, and a congregation without exchanges. I titled it “Interaction”. My relatively broad brushstrokes rendered the bushes in the background a hallucinatory backdrop, and the deliberately bland facial features were economically outlined – a kind of abstraction.
Interaction / 交流 / Interaktion Oil on Canvas 30″ x 48″ Completed in 2002
I am quite proud of this work, as it captured the spirit of then Chinese collage students, who were facing very uncertain futures, in the age of political corruption and crackdown around the time of 1989 Tian’anmen (Tiananmen) Massacre and a very harsh economic future. I just posted a blog on my trip to Beijing during the time the martial law was about to be declared in Beijing and the ordeals my fellow students and I endured during the sit-in on Tian’anmen Square, which will explain more of the background story to this painting, a souvenir of my youth: 25 Years Later, Smell of Exhausted Tian’anmen “Warriors” Lingered.
This painting was selected for 23rd Annual National Juried Exhibition, Berkeley Art Center, July 23 – August 26, 2006.
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.
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.
If I have to summarize my career as an artist, I would say that the biggest achievement I’ve attained was the creation of my portrait painting “Grandma”.
This painting, created during the time when George W. Bush was drumming up to invade Iraq, despite the series opposition from the people within and without the US.
At the time, I was reading Günter Grass’s fantastic novel The Tin Drum (Die Blechtrommel), and was struck by a passage depicting the a protagonist’s old peasant grandma, whose presence in the novel, though not frequent, but impressive, due to the wonderful depiction of the author of her at various phases of her long life – many layers of her skirts, her peeling potatoes, the heated bricks
she used to stay warm, again, underneath her layers of skirts.
I have painted several portraits of old women. To me, they often can be categorized as sibyl, a word comes (via Latin) from the Greek word σίβυλλα sibylla, meaning prophetess. Old women are the personifications of mysterious wisdom and deep compassion, and the grandma in The Tin Drum was the personification of just that.
To generate a working-class and wise woman, I gave her a pair of large knotting hands and wrinkled face, and emphasized her stiff posture, against the equally thinly painted menacing sky, and somewhat comforting trees, whose monumentality again gave the grandma an air of a Greek goddess, all seeing, compassionate, and formidable.
This painting is part of my ongoing Apocalypse Series and was chosen by ArtSlant as a Showcase Winner.