I am very proud of my 2007 oil painting "Mackerel", in which I managed to capture both beautiful and sinister elements of a daily object, fulfilling a most tantalizing pursuit of mine. With its intense colors and bold strokes, this painting economically presents a sleekly fish, intently staring upwards, as if ready to confront its captor; at the meanwhile, its eye also betrayed the fish's sad resignation to its imminent demise.
The background of the painting was plain drop cloth, hatched lightly, and dominated by sickly greenish-yellow from the left and graduated to an intense blue to the right. The intense vertical blue patch also represents the deep water being turned upright, in a disorientated world.
Mackerel Oil on Canvas 28" x 22" Completed in 2007
I don't consider myself as a colorist; yet, sometimes, I managed to utilize some vibrant colors to create paintings with vibrant colors, bold, striking, yet harmonious, such as my 2003 oil painting, Birds and Men.
Birds and Men / 鳥與人 / Vögel und Menschen Oil on Canvas 30" x 40" 2003
With that painting, and several others made in 2003, I started my Apocalypse Series, intended to document human sufferings inflicted by reckless or repressive political, religious or cultural forces. The direct impetus to create such series was the impending invasion of Iraq, led by George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Tony Blair, Condoleezza Rice, and Colin Powell, et. al.
As stated in my standard bio: "Life is a harsh experience, yet it is beautiful. Art ought to be from life, and above life. To merely document surfaces is not enough: I want to grasp what is behind, which to me is far more compelling and worthwhile.
As with many artists, my early work is grounded in realism, and evolved into a style that retains a representative cast but rejects slavish naturalism. I immerse myself in the patterns and rhythms of forms, particularly the contradiction between the surface beauty and harsh subjects, and from these foci has formed a distinctive style. The subject matter of my work ranges from portraiture and landscape/cityscape, to allegories and abstraction."
The vast compound of Palazzo Ducale, Venezia (Doge Palace, Venice) is a trove of architectural and art treasures scattered around within and without the highly decorated walls of the palace, therefore it took me some concentration to choose my two favorites.
My first choice was a painting by Titian, depicting the giant Saint Christopher carrying baby Jesus on his back, across a river before the child revealed himself as Christ. The composition was powerfully dynamic, with the Saint startlingly sinewy and serious, a personification of reliability and steadfastness. The Child, airy, playful and full of vitality, in the lighter moment of his eventful and tragic life. The coloration was neither flashy nor rich - time might have robbed some of its tonal splendor but the muted palette gave gravitas to the painting and a sense of timelessness.
San Christopher by Titian
My second favorite artwork in the palace was a relief on the outer wall, titled "The Drunkenness of Noah". This relief cleverly utilized the confined space about a portal, positioning Noah, barely covered of his nakedness with a cloth, on one side of the portal, turning corner from the main plane, upon which carved all his three sons, who were divided into two groups, separated by the pointed arch, with his "good sons" Shem and Japheth nearing Noah, holding the garment to cover him, while his bad son "Ham" stood far away from the rest, with a clear sense of the banishment of him, whose descendents were cursed by Noah for Ham's supposed insensitivity to his father's privacy.
A very strange story out of bible, rendered with great economy, clarify and pathos.
The Drunkenness of Noah on the 'Vine Angle' above the 1st Capital on Palazzo Ducale
The unique artist Andy Goldsworthy's installation Stone River (2001) on Stanford University campus was an amazing creation, which was, according to the University's website, "a wall-like serpentine sculpture set in about three acres of land to the northeast of the Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts. It is about 3 1/2 feet high and about 4 feet wide at its base. It is made of more than 6,500 stones, including about 700 triangular coping stones weighing between 20 and 50 pounds each that top the sculpture. Each coping stone was individually shaped at a different angle to fit the wall precisely. The total weight of the piece is about 128 tons."
I have several chances to admire this giant before, always in dry seasons, and that serpentine stone wall together with the the withered meadow it sat on, generated an overwhelmingly desolate and barren atmosphere, which was deeply moving and impressive.
Last December, when I visited it again, immediately after many days' of heavy rains, and I was utterly delighted by the experience of another kind - the refreshingly green and lush meadow contrasted dramatically with the now moss-coated, though still yellow-hued stone wall, and the meandering installation left a strong impression of being a living and breathing creature, vital and larger than life. A marvel.
Though thee baroque monastery church, Barmherzigenkirche (Brotherhood of Compassion), in Graz, Austria, was founded by the Archduke Ferdinand and Max Ernst in 1615, the present construction was from later period - built in 1735-40, was by J. G. Stengg and it presented visitors stark contrasts between its austere though flowing architectural elements and the overstuffed, overwrought religious paintings, sculptures and altars.
For the latter, it was their almost naïve sincerity and the heart-felt solemnity rescued them from the disaster of complete kitsch and drew viewers' attention to elaborate splendor.
Amongst those unusual objects, I found a huge altar centering on an ebony Madonna very intriguing and most memorable. Underneath a seashell arch, enshrouded in beautifully decorated cloth of ceremony, which was covered with alternating dark and light patterns, this Madonna, shaped like a typical Christmas tree, embodied the universal elements, manifested by the bold motifs on the ceremonial cloth. A tiny arm of hers held high the small head of the Baby, which, like his celestial mother, wore weighty crowns gilded in rich though subdued red gold.
I really love the primitive feeling of this particular Virgin Mary.
The second memorable piece in Barmherzigenkirche depicted a typical sacrificial scene of a certain saint. It was a fresco on a side wall near an alter of the theme of the Lamentation. What struck me most of this side fresco was the beauty of the subtle coloration, and the elegance of the postures, therefore, the rather terrifying scene was beautifully presented and such dichotomy generated a high drama of its own. Furthermore, one could see that a sculptural lamenting cherub from the altar cast his sight on this painted scene, thus bound those two elements tightly together, forming a continuous narration from altar to the side wall and then back.
The hill in the city of Graz, Austria, Schloßberg, boasted many monuments, on the ground of the fortress destroyed by the conquering Napoleon's army, such as the Lion: Major-Hackher-Denkmal, Bastion of Schloßberg (above).
Amongst many memorable sculptures, my favorite one was a large relief, titled Untersteiermark unvergessene Heimat (Lower Styria UnforgottenHome) (Graz 1945), whose poignantly depiction of displayed people by the raging war. In regardless of political situation, the horrible effect of war on people were just deplorable.
My second favorite sculpture was titled Furchtlos und Treu - INF.RGT.27 - 1682-1918 (Fearless and faithful). This stone sculpture of a noble-looking man holding a heavy sword, looking straight forward in the most steadfast fashion. Its effect was enhanced by the fact that it was mounted on a red-brick wall of a fortress, dramatically draped with ivy leaves. The heroism of the sculpture though had a disturbing taste of the nationalist fervor, much appreciated in totalitarian states, such as Nazi Germany and the Soviet Unions. Austria was the right place to reflect on ambiguity and contradiction.
The Graz parish church, Stadtpfarrkirche zum Hl. Blut (Parish Church of Holy Blood), nestling quietly in the the busiest street of the city, Herrengasse, had a wonderful baroque façade containing my favorite sculpture of the church, a scholar or a clergyman in a distinctive long robe and cornered hat, holding a large folio and a paper roll. Face serene and intelligent, pose determined and a bit defiant, the figure was shrouded in a slight mystery. The outline and the coloration of the figure and the background were so cleanly delineated that the sculpture was worthy of a drawing by the incomparable John Flexman.
My second favorite art in the church was two large panels of stained glasses behind a large crucifixion. These two panels were noteworthy, mostly for depicting the heinous Hitler and Mussolini watching the Taunting of Christ (left panel, right column, fourth pane from bottom).
A rightful posture of apology from Austrian people.
There are many interesting churches in Graz and one of them I visited in 2012, Mariahilferkirche and cloister, impressed me very much with its startling altar pieces.
The most striking one was an altar of Pietà, whose particularity was that there was a sword piercing into Maria's breast. It was a very disturbing and moving image and hard to forget.
I happened to have seen quite a few similar images during that trip; in the very same church, on the side wall, I also saw this standing alone Maria pierced by a sword. In other church, I even saw a Maria pierced by seven swords!
The second favorite altar in Mariahilferkirche featured a dead scene of a saint, perhaps, Maria.
The strong contrast between the splendidly colorful angel and the bleached dying Maria were very striking, and their postures echoed each other, and formed a broad and comforting embrace. Very moving.
As I reported shortly after my trip to Graz in 2012, I was delighted by my visit to Institut für Klassische Archäologie at Karl-Franzens-Universität Graz, for its collections of many classical Roman and Greek marble sculptures and reliefs. According to the university, "the Institute is home to significant archaeological collections of ancient vases of Greece, objects from local sites as well as casts of ancient sculptures."
There were many beautiful sculptures to admire, many of the had incredible ethereal beauty in their wonderfully proportioned forms and polished details, such as these works below:
Yet, pressed, I had to name the Niobe below as my favorite - it was not the most polished piece to behold and the deliberately clumsy posture of the grief-stricken queen was rather ungainly, yet more moving for that. What moved me most were her stunned facial expression and the terrified face of her little daughter clinging to her, trying desperately to avoid the fury of the gods, who had just killed all her eleven siblings, provoked by the boasting, now belatedly repenting Niobe, a moving subject also propelled me to make an abstract installation last year.
My second favorite was a huge head of a noble horse, with its lean bones, fiery eyes and flaring nostrils, looked supremely eloquent and elegant:
The other important museum I visited in Graz, besides Kunsthaus, was Neue Galerie, which housed many important Austrian art.
My favorite painting there was, again, by Egon Schiele (1890, Tulln an der Donau, Austria - 1918, Vienna), titled Stadtende (Häuserbogen III) (City End, Houses Arc III). It depicted a jumble of houses in various shades and shapes and the whole composition was quite dynamic, full of contrast and movements. Despite the many colors employed by the artist, the painting was also very harmonious, predominately in various shades of gray, accented by stripes and patches of brilliant blue, red, and green colors. It was a lovely painting, beautiful, a bit unsettling and menacing, mainly due to some very angular and irregular outlines of those houses.
Stadtende (Häuserbogen III), um 1917, Egon Schiele
My second favorite piece was by a Graz artist, Axl Leskoschek (1889, Graz -1976, Wien), Der Doppelgänger (The Double). It was a somewhat spooky painting, monochromatic and enigmatic. It featured actually not two, but three figures - the doubles and an image reflection in a mirror, looking out of the frame, as if mocking at the live two, in their fancifully dinner jackets, with intriguing postures and facial express warranted endless interpretations. It was an unforgettable piece.
Der Doppelgänger, 1945, Axl Leskoschek (1889, Graz -1976, Wien)
The ultra-modern museum, Kunsthaus, in Graz, Austria, was a distinctive architecture and its attraction is itself.
That said, I did see some very interesting works in this museum during my 2012 visit to Graz. My favorite item was an installation - a wooden forest flourishing under several intense circular florescent lights, suggesting a giant incubator, or an solemn, almost spiritual outer space, where several stars or planets converging upon alien soil. Very intriguing.
My second favorite was a 30 minutes video, titled True False Else, white outlines of ever-morphing objects continuously expanded and contracted against a dark background, reminiscent of the famous William Kentridge's drawing animation. Mesmerizing.
Schloss Eggenberg in Graz, Austria is a magnificent Baroque palace and in 2010 was included in the listing of UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Sites. In 2012, when I made a brief stop at Graz, though I was not able to visit the museum housed inside the Schoss, Universalmuseum Joanneum, I was able to tour the building and its lovely garden ground.
Though I couldn't go inside many marvelous rooms, I was able to see this wonderful triptych below through the window and though it was medieval in style, the coloration and rendering of its figures were reminiscent those of the great Jan van Eyck.
My second favorite in the Schloss was a bearded figure with a heavy crown, a Kaiser, I assume, holding a model of a town with some effort, looking imploringly heavenwards. A pious figure, seemingly suffered under the weight of his charges, almost pathetically tragic. Hard to forget.
Graz is an ancient Austrian city, whose Renaissance cityscape is dominated by the complex of Mausoleum of Emperor Ferdinand II and the Dom and the Katharinenkirche (right, left and middle).
In 2010, I visited Graz and saw this impressive tomb, a minor St. Peter's, designed by Ferdinand's court artist Giovanni Pietro de Pomis. The interior was both grand and intimate, magnificent and humble. I found the center shrine (above) very impressive, dark and somber, topped with the Emperor's proud eagle standard, beneath a brilliantly colored scene of coronation in the heaven.
The crypt itself was a small round space, and atop of the tomb, there were two effigies of the royal couple, carved in earthy red stone, almost crudely simple, like medieval chess pieces, tiny and humble, and very pious indeed, despite all the pomp above their resting cellar.
Jüdisches Museum Wien (Jewish Museum) in Vienna has many artifacts highlighting the past and present of Jewish culture in Austria. When I visited the museum in 2012, I was astounded by the huge quantities of items they put on display, some beautiful, some ethereal, some kitschy, and some poignant.
I was particularly taken by artifacts emphasizing the folksy Jewish tradition and heritage, such as the two figurines in the picture below. These two figures, in traditional eastern European Jewish attires, with their endearingly exaggerated open-arm gestures - a sort of Jewish self-parody, I hope - invited viewers to enter their now long-gone time and location specific sphere.
I was also very taken by the almost medieval-looking metal spice boxes, see picture below. I was particularly taken in by the far left one, which reminded me of a moving tent, or with a little more imagination, a knight errant in full armor, who ironically roamed the lands of Europe and the Middle East where many Jewish people, Muslims and Pagans constantly being threatened by sword and fire, and worse. It was hard not to see violence and suffering even in these seemingly most innocuous objects.
The Augustinerkirche (Augustinian Church) was built in the 14th century as the parish church of the imperial court of with the Gothic interior added in the 18th century.
The most impressive artwork was a tome sculpture designed by the renown Italian sculptor Antonio Canova, for Archduchess Maria Christina of Austria - in his typical neoclassical style - pyramidal shaped, with clear and clean delineation, and delicately modeled figures. The atmosphere it created was somber, sorrowful and soaringly lyrical.
Archduchess Maria Christina Tome by Antonio Canova, Augustinerkirche, Wien
My second favorite work there was a strangely painted skeleton, surrounded by beautiful decorative borders. This frank depiction of death and decay gave viewers no catholic comfort, yet it was not devoid of any tranquility, a kind of knowing acceptance, which was the grace we all hope to have when it's our time to take our leave.
This Neo-Gothic church of twin spires, dating back to late 19th century, boasted a famous Antwerp Passion Altar (Wood Curve) (dating back to around 1460). This altar was the best example of the achievement of medieval wood curving religion art in the low countries.
Antwerp Passion Altar
This Altar has grandeur, dignity and its moving pathos lies in the folksy naïveté and the lightened wrenching dramatic tableau it represents. I found it hugely effective and moving.
Another amazing work was even grander assembly - Hochaltar (Main Altar), which consists of tier-ed multiple parts. Due to restoration work, I was only able to see the upper part from side and behind in the Museum Gallery; however, the trusses of the scaffolding added quite appropriate setting to Christ and angels when view from behind. The lower part of the Hochaltar was glistering and awe inspiring.
Below is a short video with quick glances of the Antwerp Passion Altar, and the Hoch Altar viewed from Museum Gallery: