Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Progress of a New Painting

Finally, the "new work" I previously described is finished. Below is the progression:

March 21, 2009:

June 7, 2009:

June 12, 2009:

July 26, 2009:

Swing / 鞦韆 / Schaukel

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Majestic "Phèdre" from National Theatre of London

Two days after viewing the telecast of Phèdre from National Theatre of London, I am still in a dazed state by the incredible play and its pitch-perfect performance, except for a less than noble and tragic Theseus, and the occasionally too nimble camera works. Many details replayed in my mind vividly – a meaningful gesture, a well-executed body movement, a most poetic line and its precise and spontaneous delivery, a delightful lighting and new angle of scenery. It was the theater art in the highest order. This play, seen in cinema, was the best movie theater experience of mine in many years. The performance and production was also one of my best theater going experiences, along with an exulted list including King Lear, Savage Land, Desire Under the Elm in Shenyang, China, Hecuba in London, Oresteia (last 10-15 minutes excluded), The Miser, Figaro, Finn in the Underworld, The Secret In The Wings, Argonautika (Berkeley Repertory Theater), Saint Joan (Aurora Theater), Medea, The Tea House, and The Servant to Two Masters (Cal Performances) in Berkeley, California.

The play was not over produced therefore the audience could savor the poetry of Racine, instead of being distracted by extraneous efforts, which often than were unnecessary. As Phèdre, Helen Mirren was simply majestic, in this guilt-ridden, death-seeking pitiable woman/monster. When Phèdre perished, a new goddess was born. I cannot express my gratitude enough to National Theatre for bringing this performance to me, since traveling to London for a seat might not be available is just too cost prohibitive. Many thanks to Peter Gelb, the general manager of Metropolitan Opera, who ushered in these theater-cinema alliances all over the world. Bravo!

There are three more plays from National Theatre for simulcasting in cinemas in this pioneer season. The $25.50 per seat was really paltry offering we can provide to the highest pursuit of human kind – art.

For a cost of $0, there will be a free simulcast performance in the upcoming season – San Francisco Opera is bringing Giuseppe Verdi’s Il Trovatore, in a much-praised new production, to AT&T Park, Saturday, September 19, 2009. The cast includes a quartet of most sought-after singers and will be led by SF Opera’s new music director Nicola Luisotti. If you want to sample a new art form, Il Trovatore is a very good introduction. Do give yourself a treat and sign-up for a seat early.

Hope for the Fisher Museum

I was cheered up a bit when I read an article on today’s San Francisco Chronicle about potential locations for the hopefully still possible Fisher Museum for contemporary art. The primary recommendation is Sue Bierman Park near the Ferry Building. What a convenient location it would be.

I hope the city officials will line up, humbly, begging the Fisher family to consider and work out a deal for the mouth-watering collections to be viewed by general public.

Perpetual pessimist as I am, I still have hope.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Two New Works Started

Even before I called Daphne finished, I started two new paintings yesterday.

The Sky piece was inspired by the view I had on an airplane earlier this year and the Yellow and Blue piece by a vision in my dream, which though became very vague and I have to make it up on the go, and bring in more intellectual vigor into it, rather a foreign process for me.

Sky (Working Title)

Yellow and Blue (Working Title)

"Daphne" - Finally Finished

After more than a year's struggle (or was it two years?), I finally finished the painting Daphne. What a struggle! And for what? I don't even know why the classical theme matters any more in our time. If you are curious, you can see this work in one of the unfinished stages, posted on April 9, 2009 (Myths in My paintings), which was very near completion.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Where Was the Great Depression?

I saw movie Public Enemies last week and was impressed by the ensemble performance. However, it was not clear to me at all why John Dillinger became such a folklore hero (legend, yes). The absent element was the lacking of portrayal of the historic background. I had no sense that people were living in an economic depression. All the people were calm, composed, and serene, except for a brutal police investigator. Without that piece of information, I came away with puzzlement in my mind. The stature of the story and the movie diminished a bit.

Another squirming factor: the quiver rich music. The abundance of its emotional tugging cue took away much thunder from the utterances and facial acting of the actors. Most time, less really is more.

California, the Trend Setter and the Downfall of an Empire

The madness of the financial crisis in California is the harbinger of the collapse of the empire. The competitive edge of Californian economy does not lie in tax breaks for businesses but the fruits of its once excellent educational system. Now we are chopping down those fruit-bearing trees and when they are completely or half-gone, even if our tax rate becomes zero, our advantage will not last long.

So long to the might of California, which unfortunately is also setting a trend for the United States of America. It may be that we are witnessing the end of the American era, for better or for worse.

Celebrating Bastille Day - (Some) Parisian Style

According to New York Times, the departing Paris Opera general director Gerard Mortier's last commission would be a theatrical work by the German painter Anselm Kiefer (conception, mise en scène, décors et costumes, according to Opéra Bastille official website). The new work Am Anfang (In the Beginning) was composed by Jörg Widmann. It has bibilical feature and the famed Trümmerfrauen (Rubble Women), who salvaged bricks in bombed-out postwar Germany under orders from the victorious Allies.

Anselm Kiefer, without unqualification, is my most favorite living artist. I saw his astonishing retrospective at San Francisco Modern Art Museum and would love to see any of his work, no matter what media he employs.

To make things more enticing, the matinee performance on the Bastille Day will be free.

How I wish I could be there, but I have a book group meeting that day, so Paris has to wait.

Hopefully, you'll make it?

Billie Holiday and Her Dog's Steak

A few days ago, on San Francisco Chronicle, I saw a photograph by Herman Leonard of Billie Holiday making steak for her beastly huge dog. I became instantly angry, though I was not sure what the sense the photographer was trying to convey – exposing the absurdity or celebrating the glamor? I read carefully and saw a story like this:

A woman answered the door wearing a house dress and an apron. "First I thought, 'This is the maid,' " says photographer Herman Leonard. "She said, 'Excuse me, but I've got to feed the dog.' She had a steak in the frying pan, and she was cooking the steak for the dog."

The woman was Billie Holiday, one of the greatest voices of modern times.


The scene was sealed forever on film by Leonard, now 86, who captured the odd, intimate moments in the lives of jazz greats. In the last half of the 20th century, he documented the most fertile period in jazz history; the Smithsonian has more than 130 Leonard photographs.

My suspicion was confirmed. An intimate moment? Yes, sure. However great Billie Holiday was, I cannot help but feeling uneasy by such indulgence, and disgusted by the celebratory tone of the adoring writer of the article and Chronicle editor. The picture was taken in 1949. Did any American think about how many meals that steak could buy for the poor third-world people? How could Americans waste so much precious food while other people were dying of malnutrition? We all are human and have our weaknesses. But celebrating them?

Friday, July 10, 2009

Helen Mirren in Phèdre Comes to Cinema Near You

Last Month I saw a poster of Racine's classic Phèdre featuring Dame Helen Mirren at the entrance of Elmwood cinema in Berkeley and was excited for the new "movie" and only learned later that it was a simulcast of a live performance in London. When I went back to Elmwood theater, all tickets were sold out.

Resigned to waiting for the possible DVD, I happily learned that it will re-ply in Rialto Cinemas Cerrito (El Cerrito). A ticket price of $22 (plus $3.50 online fee), won't bring you to London, but it will bring Dame Helen to a theatre near you. I'm looking forward to this treat.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

My Hero Käthe Schmidt Kollwitz (July 8, 1867 – April 22, 1945)

Today is the birthday anniversary of German painter, printmaker and sculptor Käthe Kollwitz's birthday. She is one of my favorite artists, despite my aversion of her dark images when I was a child.

She was well known in China, largely due to the introduction of a very influential left wing writer, LU Xun, who was active in the 1930s. What I saw in her works, when I was little, were nothing but scary images of the hollowed eyes crazy and demonic figures. I couldn't stare at those screaming images long to contemplate the meanings and beauty hidden.

When I grew older, and more experienced, I became drawn to her works like moth dancing around fire. Her works exert an enormous influence on my thoughts and my works. Her unflinching approach to human miseries due to poverty and war, was the epitome what an artist ought do.

More than 100 years after her birth, 55 years after her death, the world has not learned the lessons from her time and ignored her eloquent and often searing accounts of the sad human conditions in the first half of the 20th century. The misery continues, therefore the duty of artists to document and to illuminate continues.

Killed in Action

Woman with Dead Child

Saturday, July 4, 2009

A Memorable Chamber Music Concert

A Memorable Chamber Music ConcertLast night, in Chamber Arts House in Berkeley, I attended a chamber music concert given by Quartette d’Accord, which consisted 14 to 15 years old Lukas Whaley-Mayda (cello), Alia Welsh (violin/viola), June Park (violin/viola) and Nicolas Locatelli (violin).

The program included movements from String Quartets by J. Haydn, A. Dvorak, D. Shostakovich, C. Debussy and I. Andraisov (Armenian). The concert was marked by the deep commitment of these talented young musicians and extreme emotional intensity. The charismatic adviser of the group, Erika Miranda, explained the reason behind the switching seat amongst violinists and violists. By truly mastering different parts of the music, the young musicians can truly understand the quartet music as a whole piece. All the pieces they performed were of great interests, particularly those by Shostakovich and Debussy. Though only the first two movements of the No. 8 String Quartet by Shostakovich were performed, it was almost too much to bear. The very first chord sounded to me like the rending of a piece of enormous fabric, accompanied by plunging devastation. The weeping and heart rending persisted through out the two brief movements, brought me to the edge of the seat and the brink of weeping myself. It was stunning.

The piece by Debussy was utterly different. It was like montages of slowly blooming flowering here and there, scintillating and hard to pin-down.

Once I returned home, I played Fitzwilliam String Quartet recording of Shostakovich’s No. 8 in its entirety. As if to proof the point I made on yesterday’s blog entry Digital Rembrandt, listening to must recordings would never be able to re-create the spiritual, emotional and even physical reactions as one listens to music in concert halls and opera houses, the recording by the mature musicians didn’t hit me with the same ferocity and emotional charge as the music being played live a few feet away from me. Music played live penetrates into one’s burning vein and beats with one’s heart and soul.

Bravi, Lukas, Alia, June and Nicholas.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Four Steps for My New Painting - "Constance - Four Seasons' Perspective"

I just finished a series of four small paintings Constance - Four Seasons' Perspective. Below are the four stages during the creating process:

Very simple and orderly a process. Isn't it?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Digital Rembrandts

According to San Francisco Chronicle, "the life work of Rembrandt - all 317 known paintings, 285 etchings and more than 100 drawings - go on display next week in full-size digital reproductions that attempt to re-create the works as they emerged from the artist's studio rather than as they exist today.

"The Complete Rembrandt, Life Size exhibition opens Sunday in the former Amsterdam Stock Exchange building and runs through Sept. 7."

It must be an amazing experience to see all those reproductions together and I would love to be able to see it. After all, I was introduced to Florentine Renaissance works in such reproduction exhibits in Northeastern China.

However, one should be aware of the differences between reproductions (no matter how faithful they are) and real pieces. The experience to behold the real paintings, etchings and drawings with one's naked eyes will have a profoundly different impact than from viewing reproductions, even enhanced ones, or perhaps because of the "enhancement." Just like listening to must recordings would never be able to re-create the spiritual, emotional and even physical reactions as one listens to music in concert halls and opera houses. The effects and impacts are utterly different. I would even argue that age marks and deterioration of art works, create unique effects of their own and a sense of history. Who will ever forget the smoke and grime darkened Sistine Chapel frescoes? One might even prefer the "dirty" ones to the "restored" or "cleansed" ones.

One can only hope that once the viewers see reproductions of those works in "freshly made" conditions, they will venture further to the art museums to savor the real masterpieces.

Sad Day for Art Lovers in San Francisco Bay Area

San Francisco Chronicle reported that the Fishers give up on plan for Presidio art museum. What a sad day it is for art lovers in San Francisco Bay Area!

I was never enamored with the Presidio location for an art museum, because of the accessibility issues. It is very hard to get there, not only for people from East Bay, but for the San Franciscans as well. When I lived in North Beach, I found it very difficult to get to the Fine Art Museum of Legion of Honor. Presidio location is just as cumbersome. However, I would rather prefer a wonderful museum in a difficult location to not to have it at all.

I do hope that the Fishers will not abandon this noble attempt. They should also look beyond park locations and cast eyes on urban settings. One can argue that the convenient locations of San Francisco Modern Art Museum and Asian Art Museum contributed greatly to their successes. Locations in Downtown Oakland and Berkeley, near BART stations should be considered seriously.

If eventually the Fishers decide not to proceed at all, today would be a truly sad day for us.