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?
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.
Collezione Peggy Guggenheim (Peggy Guggenheim Collection), located in an unfinished 18th-century palace, Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, boasts many modern masterpieces ranging in style from Cubism and Surrealism to Abstract Expressionism.
One of my favorite work there was a sculpture in the garden: The Cloven Viscount (Il visconte dimezzato) by Mimmo Paladino, which was simultaneously formal and fluid, familiar and strange, comforting and unsettling. The figure, installed inside a small square brick confinement, in a small pile of gravels, was unassuming and even humble, but his intentionally stiff posture, resembling age-dried twigs, bore the traces of the ravage of time and wearying journey.
The Cloven Viscount (Il visconte dimezzato), Mimmo Paladino, 1998
My second favorite work was a painting by Giogiro de Chirico, titled The Red Tower, in the typical style of the highly individual artist - subtly yet strikingly contrasting colors, enigmatic landscape and cityscape, opaque symbols and overwhelming sense of desolation and loneliness. The focal point of the work, the Red Tower, was really a foreboding fortress squatting somewhat in the background, and held secrets the artists refused to divulge.
The Red Tower (La Tour rouge), Giorgio de Chirico, 1913
Venice has almost as many museums as its numerous Palazzi; one of these stately buildings stands along the Grand Canal is Ca' Rezzonico, whose art collections are fully in line with the peculiar tastes of the 18th century Venetians, decorative, precious, and a bit silly, but redeemed somewhat by whimsical playfulness and perhaps self-mockery.
The favorite piece I saw there was a fresco titled "Mondo Novo" by Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo, featuring vivid and even theatrical figures populating the streets in Venice, very much like those portrayed by the great Venetian Commedia dell'arte playwright Carlo Goldoni.
My second favorite was a bas-relief, Priamo chiede ad Achille (Priam Implores Achilles), a poignant and messy scene presented in restraint, manifested in those cleanly rendered classical lines:
Il Ghetto and Museo Ebraico (The Ghetto and Jewish Museum) in Venice were poignant places to visit and unsurprisingly, one of my favorite artifacts there was a series of reliefs mounted on the wall of the huge courtyard, depicting momentous experiences of the Jewish people:
Another favorite of mine was an ancient map/landscape of a walled city (Jerusalem?) housed inside the museum. I was struck by the harmoniously interwoven pleasing blue and green tones throughout the lovely piece, and the stylized presentation of a city and its surrounding countryside.
A grand building in Venice, Scuola Grande di San Rocco, houses a huge cycle of paintings by Tintoretto, commissioned in 1564. For next twenty-seven years, he and his assistants, including his son Domenico, created this opus magnum. From this cycle, I cite these two below as my favorites.
The first one is "The Annunciation" which depicted this familiar subject in a startlingly dramatic way and the dynamic momentum and the stark tonal contrast were overwhelming.
The Annunciation from the Tintoretto cycle, Image courtesy of Wikicommons by Web Gallery of Art
The second one is "Miracle of the Bronze Serpent", which composition is even more dramatic. It told the story of the resentful Israelites wanted to go back to Egypt and God sent snakes to torment the hungry and thirsty people. Eventually they were compelled to go to Moses and asked him to pray to God for forgiveness. God dictated him to make a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: "and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live."
The small yet centrally positioned Moses and the miracle serpent occupied a small swatch of the canvas, filled with light, a small hope, perhaps; while the rest managed to emerge from dark shadows - limbs and bodies intertwined in the formation reminiscent of that of the serpent. Unforgettable.
Miracle of the Bronze Serpent from the Tintoretto cycle, Image courtesy of Wikicommons by Web Gallery of Art
Il Chiesa del Santissimo Redentore (Church of the Most Holy Redeemer) is located on a small island facing Venice across a lagoon, and a short trip by boat brought me to see some of its eclectic artworks.
My favorite painting in the church was Baptism of Christ by Veronese. This painting did not present a panoramic scene of the event; rather, it brought viewers to the close proximity of the main characters in the drama -- Jesus and John the Baptist, presented as virile young men, vigorous and poised, dynamic even in a arrested still moment. Froze in the middle of an action, their seeming pause gave the painting an ethereal atmosphere and a sense of timelessness. The strong modulation of their bodies and the bold outlines gave added to their confidence. They were visited by holy ghost, hovering over Baptist's blessing hand; and observed by two female biblical figures to their left; two donors, dictated tradition occupied the lower right, who in turn, were balanced by cherubim on the upper right corner of the painting.
Baptism of Christ, Paolo Caliari known as il Veronese
My second favorite painting was Transport ofChrist to theSepulchre, by JacopoNegretticalled Palmail Giovane.
This was a beautiful painting, with typical coloration of Italy idyllic paintings, almost too much so for such a sad subject. The curiously tranquil scene was accented by two grieve stricken female figures on the upper left and lower right of the painting. The composition was dynamic yet understated, despite of those two female figures, whose postures were a bit overtly dramatic.
The painting was installed between two columns and underneath a weighty pediment, which echoed the semi-circular top part of the painting. The small "dome" and the understated trimming at the inner edge of the painting let the entire ensemble an more decorative air. However, the pureness and openness of the setting were slightly disturbed by a massive golden crown above a crucifix nearby. Impressive surely but a bit too oppressively rich and earthly to be next to this ethereal painting.
Transport ofChrist to theSepulchre, by JacopoNegretticalled Palmail Giovane
Without that amazing and controversial work, which would be my most favorite, I move on to cite other two sculptures as my favorites. The first one was a 2010 metaphoric one titled Vater Staat (Father State) by Thomas Schütte. It presented a wizened and stiffly upright man in a humble monkish habit and a boxy brimless hat, a figure was simultaneously self-effacing, dignified, and somewhat pompous and ridiculous, ever so slightly. It was a perfect personification of such strange concept.
Vater Staat by Thomas Schütte, 2010, in front of Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute
The second favorite of mine was a group sculpture of Atlas, symbolizing the might of the fabled Republic of Venice. The golden ball was held up by two giants, or two slaves as some claimed, and upon which stood a 17th-century Fortune, which turned in the sea wind - a perfect documentary of the fantastical seafaring power.
Two giants supporting Atlans, upon with stands Fortune
Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute in Venezia, though so-called a minor cathedral, due to its strategic location near the tip of Punta della Dogana, visible when entering the Piazza San Marco from the Grand Canal, was a natural stop for many visitors to the city. Its interior was relatively sparse, understated and unassuming, but that it didn't prevent Salute from accumulating some muted splendors.
Amongst several interesting and moving works, I cite these two as my favorites (below).
The one left me the strongest impression was an altar to Virgin Mary - centering on a brilliantly-painted ikon, a Byzantine Madonna and Child of the 12th or 13th century, known as Panagia Mesopantitissa in Greek ("Madonna the mediator" or "Madonna the negotiator"), framed by flowing baroque sculpture of the Queen of Heaven Expelling the Plague (1670), which was a theatrical Baroque masterpiece created by the Flemish sculptor Josse de Corte. The colored painting and the bleached sculpture, the stiffness of the icon and the soft sensual line of the stone figures contrasted strongly and a sense of unexpected and fascinating surprise.
My second favorite was a painting by Titian, titled The Descent of the Holy Ghost. For modern eyes, his tableau might not be so ground-breaking; but at the time of its creation and aided with more vivid colors, the large altar piece must be breathtakingly impressive - the classical triangle composition, the seamless transition from the built columns to the painted arch, and finally the blindingly dizzying holy spirit crashing down from heaven, must be truly awe inspiring.
Piazza di San Marco in Venice is a marvelous museum itself, featuring valuable historical artifacts and artistic treasures, too numerous to list.
One of my two favorites is the iconic sculpture of "I Tetrarchi (The Tetrarchs)" at the foot of Basilica di San Marco, depicting four ebony colored Tetrarchs huddling together, either in fear, or treacherous congregation. Very intriguing and engaging:
The second favorite sculpture of mine is actually a capital, which has some very peculiar looking heads sticking out of the column, some with the spirits of figureheads on a prow, others look more despondent or stunned. Those exotic looking heads are full of personalities and though hard to notice in the vast Piazza, are hard to forgot once seen.
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