My 2005 oil painting Forest Within, currently showing at the McGuire Real Estate gallery in Berkeley as part of the “Crowded by Beauty” exhibit, is a play of optical illusion - the painting is a seemingly outdoor scene, yet the landscape is framed within a boxy confinement, and beams of light cast from behind and the shadows fall on the real or imaginary wall further enhances the blur of the boundary, where interior met exterior, reality met illusion.
Forest Within Oil on Canvas 24" x 30" Completed in 2005
Il palazzo dell'Archiginnasio (The Palace of Archeology) in Bologna is a fantastical enclosed palatial building, whose corridors are adorned with numerous decorative emblems, all of them can be viewed as relief sculptures.
My favorite was a monument of a tower wrapped by a snake and topped by a huge cross. I didn't like stare at that animal and couldn't decipher the exact meaning of the symbol, other than it resembled a reverse caduceus; but it stood out in the pack.
My second favorite was a dark stele flanked by two semi-nude females at the base, and furthered augmented by some colorful small coats of arms in formation, and as a whole, they resembled fancy peahens.
The Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna (National Gallery of Bologna) boasts a vast array of paintings dating from 13th through 18th century, such as this glorious "Jesus Christ and the Good Thief" by Titian and his assistants.
Gesù Cristo e il buon ladrone (Jesus Christ and the Good Thief), Tiziano Vecellio e aiuti (Titian and aid), c 1563
Yet, my favorite paintings in Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna are two panels from mid-15th century. The circa 1435 piece "Paradiso e Inferno", a portal-shaped pentagon, presented a clearly contrasted two realms: colorful and buoyant paradise and somber and grim inferno. In the middle of the pediment, haloed by red aureole, Virgin Mary, Jesus and the God formed an "eye", surrounded and supported further by numerous similarly radiant saints, in very decorative formations, which also attempted to observe rules of perspectives. The bottom third of the painting was more sparsely populated, dominated by an oversized demon, who was devouring condemned, directly below a serenading angel underneath the "eye", while other lost souls, scattered in earth trenches, being tortured and tormented by black-winged demons, systematically, methodically, and devoid of melodrama.
Paradiso e Inferno, Maestro dell'Avicenna, c 1435
My second favorite was also an allegorical piece, titled "Triumph of Fame, Triumph of Time", another 15th century piece with symmetrical composition. The most striking aspect of the painting was its vivid colors - brilliant red, sensuous pink, and heavenly azzurro, accented by bone white figures of the Triumph and the stallions drawing her Apollonian chariot.
On the left half of the painting, many crowned personalities converged towards her - personifications of the tributes from Fame; the mirroring right side was populated by similar grandees representing different sectors of society, all in their venerable ages - the tributes from Time.
This painting was very visually enchanting and its enigmatic nature added more to its allure.
Trionlo della Fama, Trionlo della Tempo (Triumph of Fame, Triumph of Time), Zanobi di Benedetto di Caroccio degli Strozzi, c 1440-45
Italian City Bologna itself is like an open museum, full of sculptures and monuments of distinction. I was quite impressed by several groups of sculptures around Legambiente Bologna & Emilia Romagna, an old city portal and the surrounding park.
The two mirroring bronze relief sculptures at the base of the gate impressed with their incredible beautiful lines and their economic way of presenting something deeply disturbing and touching.
Inside the park, there were some marble high reliefs and one of them was particularly striking due to its unbridled dynamism of the figures, in contrast to the classical composition and austere patterns of the sea shell backdrop.
The richness and depth of artworks in numerous Italian churches, large or small, are astounding. Basilica di San Giacomo Maggiore in Bologna was just one of those enchanted me in my 2012 trip to Italy.
Basilica di San Giacomo Maggiore, Bologna
I was very taken by one of its murals, depicting enthroned Virgin Mary, flanked by several martyr saints, underneath a pediment of resurrected Jesus. The Virgin and most of the saints were in vivid blue and red colors, contrasting strongly to the paleness of Saint Sebastien and Jesus.
Basilica di San Giacomo Maggiore
I also like very much a relief depicting a beheading scene - dramatic yet restrained, and much more moving because of that.
The gracefully proportioned Palazzo della Ragione in Padova (Padua), Italy, was a unique building, which was not only enormous in dimensions, but functions uniquely as a market place in its lower level, and a civic center on the top tier.
The most outlandish thing, and my favorite, was a huge wooden horse, basked in blue light (or was it painted blue?). According to Padovaincoming.it,
"the big wooden horse kept in Palazzo della Ragione was ordered by Annibale Capodilista in 1466: it was one of the big machines - and the only one that has survived - made for an extraordinary celebration that was organized in Padua, in the squares Piazza dei Signori and Piazza del Capitanio. The parade saw the participation of all the people in town, and of more people who had been attracted to town for this exceptional event." [Source: Padovaincoming.it]
Apparently, Padova artists and civic leaders were the vanguard of flashy blockbuster installations almost mandated in today's art markets. Cynicism aside, the horse was indeed eye-catching and exhilarating.
On the four walls of this gigantic hall, surrounding and contrasting the blue horse, were a series of marvelous allegorical frescoes, all in wonderfully aged colors, subtle and harmonious. Collectively, they were my second favorite there.
Cappella degli Scrovegni in Padova (Padua), Italy, boasts a thrilling fresco cycle by Giotto, whose works were so delicate, that the viewers were limited to 10- to 20-minutes guided tours, and could only enter the chapel after a 15-minutes temperature and moisture modulation sessions.
That cycle was simply breathtaking - enormous scope, brilliant colors, remarkable compositions, "modern" technique of rendering volumes and understanding of human anatomy and perspectives, and above all, exotic and even bizarre visual symbols, not all of them could be understood readily by modern casual viewers, though that fault could hardly dampen visitors' collective awe.
One of my favorite was the Final Judgement Scene - restrained and classical, without baroque sentimental exaggeration of the later period. Giotto captured the essence of human conditions which were almost primordial and touching in its piety and simplicity.
My second favorite depicted the scene of the Kiss of Judas — menacing yet becalming, with its ritualistic violence cloaked/contained in stylized manners, simultaneously timelessly still and dynamic. Unique and unforgettable.
The motive behind my oil painting Trot was my wish to explore tonal contrasts and arrive at a certain balance of playfulness and menace. The subject of this study is a cat, or two. Before I started my oil, I made several preliminary sketches and once I committed my ideas to the canvas, I proceeded with a cat with upright head. Somehow, after the composition had more or less taken shape, I noticed a more dynamic and emotional sketch with a cat whose head was bending down, thus I incorporated that cat into the canvas. Trot / 小跑 / Trab Oil on Canvas 22" x 22" Completed in 2016 The finished painting more or less achieved my goals, though the subject can be seen as two cats running side by side, or just a cat captured at different time.
My favorite of such was the great altar, which dazzled with brilliant blue, yellow, white, red, and gold hues. A bit kitschy from distance, perhaps; but on the spot, I was quite easily transported by the mysterious shimmering light.
My second favorite was a fragmented mural, with cleanly delineated figures, animals and walled city, evoking the ideal of early Renaissance epoch - urbane, sophisticated, refined and pure.
I was most taken by small a bronze sculpture of a winged foot for its elegant shape in an assertive yet delicate style and the absence of the rest of the body made this piece more intriguing and unforgettable.
My second favorite was a stone sculpture of a squatting bird-woman. Comparing the he sleek foot above, this one looked quite primitive, with its rough finish and the ungainly posture of the person/beast. If that foot belonged to a polished Roman god, this humble yet assured stone figure was the primordial earthy Sphinx. In reality, this figure might be a torso of an ordinary man but I would like to think it as the mythical Sphinx.
My first successful pastel painting, Typhoon, is an abstract piece inspired by devastating typhoons unfortunately have been creating ever-heavier havoc recently, due to the undeniable climate change. Exploring spatial relationships, subtle variations of tones and shifting of patterns, I tried to capture the something unpredictable and the menacing.
Typhoon / 颱風 / Taifun Pastel on Paper 8.5” x 11” Completed in 2015
This painting is currently being exhibited at Expressions Gallery in Berkeley, in a show aptly titled "Into the Future".
Last week, UC Berkeley's Berkeley Art Museum / Pacific Film Archive opened its new building to guest. Thursday was the gala opening day for donors; Friday, opening day for students; Saturday for members of the Museum/Archive; and Sunday, a community open house.
I visited the Museum on 30 January, Saturday and it was nice to see so many members and their families and friends exploring the space and artworks on display. The place was full of excitement and high energy but the visitors didn't overwhelm the quite airy space. Comparing to the old site, this one was slicker and had more conventional gallery layout, thus easier to mount exhibitions. Because the Museum did not exhibit their usual collections at the opening exhibition, it was hard to gauge how much the exhibition space had changed. Once the the permanent collections are back, visitors might be able to understand it better.
The initial exhibition had many exciting works and here are a handful of the highlights:
Macadamia wood bowl
Solitary, semi-social mapping of ESO-510 613 connected with intergalactic dust by one Nephila clavipes - one week - and three Cyrtophora citricola - three weeks, spider silk, glue, paper, ink, Tomas Saraceno
Spider silk installation
4 Brushstrokes over Figure & 21 Brushstokes, Hyun-Sook Song
4 Brushstrokes over Figure, Hyun-Sook Song
21 Brushstrokes, Hyun-Sook Song
2 Brushstrokes, Hyun-Sook Song
In case one forgot, this picture below reminded people that we were in the quirky Berkeley:
There were two movie theater to showcase amazing collections of Pacific Film Archive (PFA) - one medium sized and a smaller one perhaps built for art house movies, in which I saw a wonderful short, featuring a woman in Baroque dress and modern sunglasses, running around in and around fountain and gardens, underneath an extravagant hat of a fountain:
A very promising beginning.
On Sunday, it was reported that some UC Berkeley students protested at the museum, "protesting the campus’s decision to designate funds to the creation of an art museum rather than to increase benefits for campus workers."
I do support some of their arguments; yet, I cannot agree with their Leninist and Maoist approach. Universities have societal obligations to stimulate minds and art museum is one of the very useful tools for such an endeavor.
My landscape/allegorical oil painting, Shadow, depicts a fantastic world - a vast furrowed dark brown field, whose parallel ridges converge towards the distant horizon, which was dotted with a cluster of very insignificant white buildings, centering on a little church spire, which was barely visible. The contrast between the enormous dark fields and the tiny white village is highly dramatic, yet that is topped by several huge leaden and apparently weighty clouds, which curiously cast no shadows; instead, adds mysterious and menacing atmosphere, gliding over the entire field, s a huge shadow of an invisible bird, very much the personification of foreboding.
Shadow / 影子 / Schatten Oil on Canvas 30″ x 40" Completed in 2008
Interestingly, this painting just joined a group show, titled "In to the Future". Perhaps, this ominous world is the vision of the future?
Ca' Pesaro in Venice is known for its modern collections, including paintings by Gustav Klimt, Pierre Bonnard and Marc Chagall. When I visited the museum, Klimt was not on display so I chose these two pieces as my favorites.
The sculpture "Cardinal" by Giacomo Manzù was a very striking piece. From the front, it looked like a well formed symmetrical shrub, or an over-sized checkers piece, which definitely was nothing but simple and had multiple layers of meanings. The side view of the cardinal was an even more fascinating figure, which sat on an invisible seat, therefore gave the viewers a view of that support-less cardinal sloping down to the ground. A political metaphor?
Cardinal by Giacomo Manzù
My other favorite was a still life painting, done with rich but not obsessive impasto, therefore a contrast and drama. The humble subjects and narrow breadth of somber hues lent an overall feeling of austerity, deceptively so, because the painting was really rich of subtlety and interplay, such as the shape of a vase rack and its shadow on the wall in the center of the canvas. The gradation of the shades was broad but subtle, and such tonal contrast generated another tense drama. The light and shadow almost added tangible movements to the absolute stillness of the piece. One could pulse the ticking clock underneath those layers of silent paints.
In Distant Country / 在遙遠的国度 / In fernem Land Oil on Canvas 22″ x 28" Completed in 2011
The left side of the painting, in shades of washed-out gray, depicts the Old St. John's Hospital, an 11th-century hospital in Bruges, Belgium while the right side zooms in one of the omnipresent swans and the symbol of that ancient city, painted in intensely saturated rich hues. I conceived this painting while visiting Bruges, when I was quite intrigued and even moved by the stark contrast of immobile and somewhat faded history and threadbare nobility, and the living creatures full of grace, energy and slight menace.
Furthermore, I named this title to ensure that the German title In fernem Land is the first line of the most celebrated aria by the title character in Wagner's opera Lohengrin, a mysterious knight arrived in a boat drawn by a swan, narrating his mythical original and his frustrated hope by lacking of faith he demanded from a woman he loved and rescued, whose child-ruler brother was turned into that swan and his disappearance had triggered a chain of events.
The medieval building and the medieval story interwoven, the purity and menace of this lofty bird, along with the historical baggage of Wagner, conspire to add extra meanings to this rather deceptively simply painting.
Almost every major old mansion, or Ca', as called by the locals, in Venice, are an impressive museum. Ca' d'Oro, is the most iconic of them all, famed for its Gothic columns, arched windows and fascinating asymmetrical façade, and it not only boast artifacts demonstrating the life in the begone era, it also houses some impressive artworks as well.
My favorite work my saw during my 2012 trip was a painting from the workshop of one of my favorite Renaissance artists, Andrea del Sarto, titled Madonna and Child with St. John, which had all the hallmarks of the said great master, particularly the pale green, blue and pink tones of draperies, and those rosy cheeked, plump figures announcing the advent of mannerism, which outgrew the naturalism of Renaissance.
Madonna and Child with St. John, Andrea del Sarto's Workshop, Ca' d'Oro
My second favorite was a sculpture of a nude male torso, which situated in the middle of a courtyard whose walls and floor were covered with very intricate and elaborate mosaic, and contrasting wonderfully against those complicated background with its restrained classical simplicity.