Former US president George W. Bush (2001-2009) is immersing himself in the art world and has created some rather surprisingly interesting portraits of world leaders, most of them he encountered during his presidency, arguably the worst one ever in the US history.
Image source: George W. Bush Center
During his horrible and incompetent presidency, George W. Bush (GWB) was often criticized as an imbecile ninny occupying a high office due to his fabulous family connection - his father Georg Bush was the president of the US from 1989 to 1993. To me, that argument was incorrect and way too benevolent. GWB did many horrible things not due to his stupidity, but his fundamental believe in those horrible things.
To me, this painting of mine below, The Triumph of Saint George, created during the time he was drumming up the invasion of Iraq in 2003, reflects what he was; the painting also jump-started my ongoing Apocalypse Series., to commemorate the miseries of humankind.
Triumph of Saint George, Oil on Canvas, 48" x 30", 2003
GWB was surely not stupid, and to his credit that he started to learn to appreciate art in his retirement. Too bad, nobody had convinced him before his political ascendency that his spending more time in his own studio and many museums, rather than in Oval Office, would have benefit the humanity more, much, much more.
Amongst such clutters, several sculptures, paintings and prints stood out and my two favorites there were a bust of Hugo and a painting depicting the battle between classists and romanticists during the performance of his play, Hernani.
The Victor Hugo, buste héroïque was once again by the great French sculptor Auguste Rodin (1840-1917). This bronze sculpture presented the triangle-shaped bust of a lean and brawny Hugo, without clothes and stripped of his arms, precariously perched on a small marble stand. Head bent down, he was lost in his own thoughts, not dissimilar to Le Penseur, the most celebrated work by Rodin.
Victor Hugo, buste héroïque, Auguste Rodin (1840-1917), 83 x 56 x 65 cm, 1902 (2), 1908, Bronze (fonte Alexis Rudier)
The painting, Performance of 'Hernani' by Victor Hugo in 1830, aka, The Battle of Hernani, by Paul Albert Besnard was quite virtuosic in depicting an animated crowd scene; if its artistic value was not the most accomplished, it did command viewers' attention and was hard to forget, and that made it a wonderful work.
Hernani was Hugo's romantic play, during its premiere, in anticipating attacked from the classists, Hugo enlisted the support of fellow romanticists to combat the opposition and indeed the play had caused fights amongst the audience. It was one of the watershed moment of the course of artistic development. The painting captured the maniac atmosphere of that significant moment wonderfully.
Performance of 'Hernani' by Victor Hugo in 1830, Paul Albert Besnard
Honoré de Balzac was the first French author I encountered via his immortal Le Père Goriot, when I was still in elementary school, therefore I had a great affection for this great novelist and societal historian.
In 2008, when I returned to Paris, I made my way to his former residence, La maison de Balzac, in the western edge of the city, near Musée Marmottan Monet and Jardins du Ranelag in its vicinity. Balzac rented the top floor of that rather modest house, from 1840-1847 under his housekeeper's name (Mr. de Breugnol), evading his creditors from the city.
I loved Balzac's keen and cutting observation of the colorful characters populated the brutal society in Paris and provinces, and was delighted to see a roomful print blocks of main characters from his enormous, though unfortunately unfinished, La Comédie humaine. Amongst those characters, my favorite had always been Eugène de Rastignac, a charming and innocent lad from province to a roguish and cynic though not without redeeming qualities, featured in several of his novels in this series.
Print blocks of characters from La Comédie humaine by Honoré Balzac
In the block below, Rastignac, after having buried the self-sacrificing Père Goriot, swore to fight with the corrupted city and its high society, before he jumped into the battle headlong, by joining his mistress, the younger daughter of Père Goriot, Delphine, Baroness de Nucingen. It was the moment of truth and resolution, a moment of leaping from innocence to corruption. The image was an utterly bleak and most biting assessment of the glittering Paris and its dazzling society.
Eugène de Rastignac dans le cimetière du Père-Lachaise dans Le Père Goriot
My second favorite artwork there was a definitive study of a head sculpture of the novelist by Auguste Rodin, made around 1897 - Étude définitive pour la tête de Balzac. Behind exuberant air of the novelist, Rodin captured his sharp gaze and presented him as simultaneously sagely and clownish, embodying the broad spectrum of his oeuvre and his epoch.
Étude définitive pour la tête de Balzac, vers 1897, Auguste Rondin
On my way to Musée Marmottan Monet in the 16th arrondissement of western Paris, I encountered a lovely park, Jardins du Ranelagh, nearby, which obviously provided much pleasure to the residents nearby, and also boasted many amazing sculptures.
Of those, I found these two below most interesting. The first one was a bronze, Hommage à Jean de La Fontaine (1983) by Charles Corréia (1945-1988). The sculpture featured one of the most famous fables by Jean de La Fontaine, Le Corbeau et le Renard (The Fox and the Crow), depicting the cunning fox cheating the cheese out of the crow's mouth by flattery, observed by the poet.
The second of my favorite sculpture there was a marble, Pêcheur ramenant la tête d’Orphée dans ses filets (Fisherman bringing the head of Orpheus in his nets), the sad ending of the immortal Orpheus myth. The sculpture was dynamic, lively, powerful, elegant and melancholic. Unforgettable.
Cemeteries in Paris are often amazing places to visit - not only it consists a pilgrimage to the resting spots of so many renown artists and thinkers, but a brief immersion of an sculptural Eden.
Cimetière de Montmartre, not far from the fabled club Moulin Rouge, though less renown and less frequently visited than Cimetière du Père-Lachaise, was just as astonishing in its cultural and artistic richness. There were so many beautiful spots there I saw in my visit there more than five years ago, and much more I didn't have time and energy to see them all. Amongst what enchanted me during that brief visit, I choose these two below as my favorite sculptures I encountered there:
One was a bronze sculpture at the tomb of Otto Klaus Preis (1936-2003) in Avenue de la Croix, one of the most beautiful ancient quarries of Montmartre, featuring a man who overcomes a tombstone, created by Paul Landowsky (1875-1961), author of the Sainte-Genevieve du Pont de la Tournelle in Paris, and Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro. The striding naked man was in full swing, aided by a sturdy stick, resolutely to overcome whatever was ahead of him. It was full of vitality, and upon close examination, delicate beauty. Quite a mixture yet harmoniously done. This spot gave visitors reassurance more than anything else.
My second favorite was the sculpture of Jean Bauchet (1906-1995), formerdirector and performer (acrobatandsinger)of Moulin Rouge, then ownerof the club, Director of Casino deParisandthe Théâtre duChatelet, creator of casinosin Lebanonand Morocco.Long beforehis death, he had this imposing Male NudeBronzebyBernardRichard installed on his his grave spot.
Though I didn't care for all those fancy hats he wore, the sculpture itself impressed me deeply. Everything about the sitter was monumental - huge bulk of body, huge head, strong limps, large hands and feet, in a pose reminiscent of Rodin's the Thinker, and that implied a huge personality and thinking mind. If Monsieur Bauchet didn't become a most exalted artist during his life time, in his afterlife, his lookalike became a piece of true art.
Château de Versailles, in the outskirt of Paris, was most renown for its sumptuousness of the palace and the grandeur of its formal garden. It was in the vast expanse of the garden, that I encountered quite a few very striking sculptures and amongst those, I cite two of my favorites.
The first one is the Apollo Fountain, Bassin de Apollo, in the middle of the lower garden, at one end of the Grand Canal de Versailles. Golden and splendid, Apollo, in his noble horses drawn chariot, emerged from a large glittering pond, energetic, dynamic and utterly godlike.
When I went down to the same level of the pond and viewed the fountain sculpture from the side, its perfect combination of stunning beauty, elegance and strength, against the backdrop of the rich woods, were simply breathtaking:
My other favorite sculpture was one of the reclining river gods in the Water Parterres. The resting god, in contrast to the joyous white gold of Apollo, was all dark somberness and was the personification of regality and power, yet not without paternal warmth, with his somewhat forbidding image softened by the naughty winged children playing at his feet.
The Apollo was the shining prince and this river god was the mighty sovereign.
It was worthy of the trip just to see the amazing garden and the sculptures in Versaille.
Cathédrale royale de Saint-Denis, or simply Basilique Saint-Denis, is a very old and important cathedral in the outskirt of Paris, with its choir completed in 1144, considered to be the first medieval Gothic architecture ever built. Its rose window at the west portal was probably the first example of a rose window within a square frame, which was to become a dominant feature of the Gothic facades of northern France. Historically, the church was the burial place of the French Kings, with nearly every king from the 10th to the 18th centuries being buried there, plus many from previous centuries, including the beheaded Louis XVI and his queen, and the crystal urn containing their son, the young Dauphin's mummified heart. In addition, this abbey served as the locale for the coronation of many French queens.
In 2008, I visited this ancient place and was deeply impressed by the stern-looking cathedral and the historical and cultural sediments accumulated there. The medieval building itself was the most impressive sight and particularly those relief adorned many portals. One of the my favorites was the relief above the right portal, depicting Christ administers the Eucharist to Saint Denis and his companions on the eve of the Martyrdom, in the middle of the tympanum while the executioners closing in from both sides.
The line drawings like clean contours of the mythical figures, archaic looking, ancient, emaciated and strange, formed a scene of acceptance and dignity, rather than terrifying or terrified. The martyrdom was never more serene and becalming.
Christ administers the Eucharist to Saint Denis and his companions on the eve of the Martyrdom, Basilique de Saint-Denis (Portail droit)
There were many sculptures, mostly burial monuments, inside the vast basilica, from humble to massive. I found the effigies of Henry II of France (31 March 1519 – 10 July 1559) and his queen Catherine de' Medici (13 April 1519 – 5 January 1589) the most memorable - they were lying in full regalia, self-important and forbidding, yet held their hands in devote supplication, at once vulnerable and noble. Such dichotomy always made the work much more interesting and even these two somewhat off putting nobles appealing.
Tombs of Henry II of France and Catherine de' Medici
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”.
Grandma Oil on Canvas 40″ x 30″ Completed in 2003
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.
After having created two well-received gouache paintings, Yellow Rose and Sunflower, I continued my exploration with this versatile media.
It seemed natural that I would want to try out as many hues as possible as a beginner, and below one can see a newly finished gouache painting, Wildflowers, based on a colorful photo, taken in my home city, Shenyang:
This is my last post reporting my trip to Shenyang, China, in September 2013.
Whenever I visited home, I would raid some art supply stores near the renown Lu Xun Academy of Fine Arts, and carry some loots home. Last year, I purchased some lovely colored graphite and charcoal sticks and I tried out with some still life and portrait drawings when I was still in China:
As usual, I also brought some of my completed works home as gifts, if they are small enough to fit into my luggage. Last year, I brought two colored ink drawings home and my family immediately had them framed.
Apropos framing, I believe that appropriate frames should accent, decorate and complement, instead of stealing attentions from the works and had the potential to enhance the appeals of artworks tremendously. I would say that the framing shop in Shenyang did excellent jobs with these drawings:
I have been exploring several media suitable for drawings and paintings on paper and my latest territory is gouache, a kind of opaque water color and if not diluted much, could have results like oil painting; with enough water, can imitate water color. Below are very first two gouache paintings I made, Yellow Rose and Sunflower.
And here are those gouache paintings in the frames I chose for their presentations:
With my fascination with drawings continues to grow, I started to work with gouache, a sort of opaque watercolor, which combined the qualities of easy handling of the watercolor and the richness of oil paints.
My first two gouache drawings, completed within days in last week, were both still life drawings - a Yellow Rose and a Sunflower.
It was quite fun to work on these and I hope you enjoy them too.
In 2013, I continued to explore the intricacy of patterns, and stylized presentations which were neither naturalism nor pure abstraction, as means to express distilled concepts and emotion; at the mean time, I did make a couple paintings which were purely abstract work and figurative painting. I also continued to develop works on the theme of a reoccurring motif - white dresses, which to me, were both highly individual and impersonal, simultaneously free and constrained. Finally, a variation of the white dresses - a painting of a black dress, was added to the growing series at the end of the year.
Following my own tradition, I compiled my paintings and major installations completed in 2013 into a video presentation:
The medium or media we choose to convey our deepest feelings and expressions, etc., however competent, can never fully convey the whole complicated concepts our brain formed mysteriously, thus the endless striving to meet the challenge, to do a better job still in the next given opportunity, thus the hunger to develop and grow as an artist, be it visual, musical compositional or a writing kind.
It also occurs often enough that one form of artistic creation, spurs on the re-interpretation with another media of either the whole story or a fleeting moment, not necessarily to prove a better job can be done; rather, to add another dimension to the engaging concept while hoping to complement the original.
I have been stimulated, on multiple occasions, by novels I read, sometimes the whole atmosphere of the book, such as Blindness by José Saramago, or sometimes, just a specific passage which may not even be pivotal in the whole scheme, such as my newly completed oil painting, Arabesque, inspired by a passage from The Known World by Edward P. Jones: "... looked over at the open chiffarobe [sic], whose door was broken and so would never close properly, looked at the black dress hanging there. It seemed to have its own life, so much life that it could have come down and walked over and placed itself over her body. Fastened itself."
Arabesque, Oil on Canvas, 28"x22", 2013
I actually was quite stirred by the passage and the image just flooded into my mind. Incidentally, this painting also fell into a painting scheme of mine - I have been working on a series of "White Dresses", which I saw as both liberated and restricted, at once individual and impersonal, simultaneously beautiful and sinister. Now it started the companion series "Black Dress".
Looking back to my paintings inspired by literature, my Grandma remains my best creation, which was inspired by few scattered descriptions of the protagonist's peasant grandmother at various phases of her long life by Günter Grass in his fantastic novel The Tin Drum (Die Blechtrommel) - her many layers of skirts, her peeling potatoes, the heated bricks she used to keep warm, again, underneath her layers of skirts.
Grandma, Oil on Canvas, 40"x30", 2003
Grass's The Tin Drum also moved me to create another painting with his depiction of nightmarish book burning by the Nazis' - The Devil's Dance. The archaic scroll with the proclamation of "Faith, Hope, and Love", I hope, echoed the perverse scene in the book.
The Devils' Dance, Oil on Canvas, 30"x48", 2004
My painting Blindness, based on José Saramago's eponymous masterpiece, (originally in Portuguese: Ensaio sobre a cegueira, meaning Essay on Blindness), didn't depict any particular passage of the book; rather, I tried to capture a sense of displacement and bewilderment.
Blindness, Oil on Canvas, 36"x48", 2006
Similarly, the atmospheric novel, The Bells of Bruges (Le Carillonneur) by George Rodenbach, which led me through the unforgettable medieval city Bruges, Belgium, aided with my wonderful memory of meandering through the cobble-stoned narrow streets, propelled me to try to capture the stillness of the city frozen in the past, and underneath its calmness, as in any living place, the unquenchable quest for life's essence. Nothing was more relevant than history.
Bruges, Impression, Oil on Canvas, 24"x30", 2009
Now, back to the specific. I responded strongly to a passage in Europe Central by William T. Vollmann: "Have you ever seen an injured bird at the seashore? Here come crabs from nowhere - they wait under the sand - and ring it round, cautiously at first, before you know it, the first crab has leapt onto the broken wing and pinched off a morsel. The bird struggles, but here come other crabs in a rush."
This passage, to me, summarized the helplessness of the Europe during World War II, which, viewed through historical magnifier, the distilled essence of human suffering.
Siege, Oil on Canvas, 18"x24", 2010
Below is a video compilation of these paintings and their respective inspirations:
Liaoning Museum in Shenyang, my home city in Manchuria, the capital city of Qing Dynasty before the Manchu people conquered the Han China inside the Great Wall and made Beijing new capital, had many art and craft treasures, mostly as the legacy of the former imperial glory. Due to the fragility of those Chinese paintings and calligraphy on silk or paper, and my dwelling in the U.S. for more than half of my life now, I hadn't the chance to view most, if any, of those the most valuable works collected in that museum, till last September, when they assembled some of their most notable works on display, including one of the most famous paintings from ancient China - 簪花仕女图 Court Ladies Adorning Their Hair with Flowers by 周昉 Fang ZHOU, Tang Dynasty, (active 766～779 - 785～804). The sublime and exquisite painting captured the luxury and easy of the court life during the most self-confident period of Chinese history - Tang Dynasty (618-906 A.D.).
Another finest example was an ancient copy by an unknown Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127) artist of a legendary painter 顾恺之 Kaizhi GU (c. 344-405), on the theme of an ode to the beautiful Goddess of River Luo, who had a romantic encounter with the poet, 曹植 Zhi CAO (192-232), in his romantic poem of the same title.
摹顾恺之洛神赋图 Copy of Ode to Goddess of River Luo by Kaizhi GU, 佚名 Anonymous, Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127), 26.3x641.6cm
Other works on display included some imaginary and realistic landscapes, such as 茂林远岫图 Landscape of Luxuriant Forest and Distant Cave by 李成 Cheng LI, Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127) and 荷乡清夏图 Clear Summer Lotus Country by 马麟 Lin MA, Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279) and 竹西草堂图 Bamboo West Cottage, by 赵雍 & 张渥, Yong ZHAO & Wo ZHANG, Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368):
茂林远岫图 Landscape of Luxuriant Forest and Distant Cave, 李成 Cheng LI, 北宋 Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127), 45.5x143.2cm, Liaoning Museum, Shenyang, China
茂林远岫图 Landscape of Luxuriant Forest and Distant Cave, 李成 Cheng LI, 北宋 Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127), 45.5x143.2cm, Liaoning Museum, Shenyang, China
荷乡清夏图 Clear Summer Lotus Country, 马麟 Lin MA, Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279), 41.7x323cm
荷乡清夏图 Clear Summer Lotus Country, 马麟 Lin MA, Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279), 41.7x323cm
竹西草堂图 Bamboo West Cottage (detail), 赵雍 & 张渥, Yong ZHAO & Wo ZHANG, Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), 27.5x125.3cm & 27.4x81.2cm
竹西草堂图 Bamboo West Cottage, 赵雍& 张渥, Yong ZHAO & Wo ZHANG, Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), 27.5x125.3cm & 27.4x81.2cm
There was a rare portrait by another famous painter of Yuan Dynasty, 赵孟頫 Mengfu ZHAO (1304), 红衣西域僧图 Red Robed Western Monk, depicting a high Buddhistmonk with from the Central Asia (west to China), meditating under a Bodhi tree. The features of the monk were vividly depicted and the colors of the green rock and his red robe, formed great contrast yet without clash, due to the less than fully saturated nature of the colors employed. An unforgettable piece.
红衣西域僧图 Red Robed Western Monk, 赵孟頫 Mengfu ZHAO, 1304, 26x52cm
There were more notable paintings, such as these two below, whose attributes I failed to record, though:
Calligraphy was a highly regarded art in China, though I am not trained in that field and could only respond to them due to their visceral impacts. Below are several pieces I found amazing, many for their sheer scales, and beauty of course:
草书古诗四帖 Cursive Calligraphy Four Poems, 张旭 Xu ZHANG,Tang Dynasty, 29.5x195.2cm
There were many other treasures, particularly archeological artifacts, in Liaoning Museum, as I reported before. Due to time constraint, I skipped those sections, and visited briefly another special photography exhibit - Indigenous Americans:Maya, Aztec andNative Americans-by Jeffrey Jay Foxx, together with some fabric objects.
Visiting my home city art museum turned out to be quite a wonderful experience.
Recently, I gradually wrapping up several projects in the pipe, one of them is an installation or mixed media work, which is also part of my ongoing "White Dress" series, titled Cage.
Cage Paper, Ink and Oil on Paper, Pin, Wooden Frames, 16.5" x 16.5", Completed in 2013
These white dresses, in the ongoing series, represent elements of community or society simultaneously homogenous and individual, both fluid and rigid, at once becalming and menacing, as manifested in the intertwined red threads here, which formed both the supporting network and the constraining cage these flying white dove like dresses were to be confined into.