Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Preserve the Beauty, Not Irrelevancy

Today, San Francisco Chronicle reported the story of an attempt to class S.F. North Beach Library as landmark. It is a depression read. I have no opposition to preservation, but I do have issue with San Francisco Bay Area's brand of preservation. Quite often, many people tried to preserve something ugly and irrelevant. Their obvious reason behind the motive seems to me to keep the small town (however ugly) feel and look.

Chronicle says:
Enter the modern architecture buffs who say the branch merits preservation because, in the words of the motion being considered on Wednesday, "it embodies all the principles of mid-20th-century American public library design and displays a signature style developed by Appleton & Wolfard."

Part 1 of the phrase is true for all seven of the firm's surviving branches, not just this one. As for the supposed display of "signature style," that's a stretch in any qualitative sense.

Where a branch like Eureka Valley spreads out with inviting ease, North Beach feels like what it is: an intruder shoehorned into what now is Joe DiMaggio Playground by order of then-Mayor George Christopher.

I have argued against such classification in my "This Fading American Life" blog and my feeling remains unchanged.

To me, we need to preserve something with true meanings and/or beauty. I've been to several very well reserved old cities and they are remarkable, not because they are simple old, but because they are beautiful and old.

For example, Bruges in Belgium and Prague in Czech Republic. Below are a few picture I took during my trips there and the Joe DiMaggio's Playground Library actually made wonderful North Beach uglier. It's high time to move on.

Bruges, Belgium:


City Park

St. John's Hospital and Belfry

Prague, Czech Republic:

Karl's Bridge

Karl's Bridge

And for one of the most wonderful libraris, one has to count the on in Strahov Monastery:

Strahov Library in Strahov Monastery

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Scrupulous Germans? Nein!

Reading Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice in German translation, Stolze und Vorurteil by Ilse Krämer, I was struck by an observation that even the German translators are not scrupulous in fidelity as they ought to be.

I made such discovery in Chapter 5 when "Mein Gott" was uttered by Mrs. Bennet. I don't remembered that she cried out "My God" in Pride and Prejudice, therefore I compared the translation to the version I have and then with an online version, and discovered more sloppiness and laziness, and even unforgivable incorrectness.

Below are a few examples from the first five chapters alone. Jane Austen wrote short chapters. For such a short novel, she divided the texts into sixty-one chapters.

In Chapter 3, in the ball, Mr. Darcy commented on Elizabeth Bennet as "tolerable", yet the German translation gave us "leidlich hübsch", namely "tolerably pretty". It is correct, in essence of its meaning, but not the way of expression. This was repeated in Chapter 5, when the Bennet women and Lucas women discussed the ball.

The example of a grave incorrectness is at the beginning of Chapter 3. English version says: "To be fond of dancing was a certain step towards falling in love; and very lively hopes of Mr. Bingley's heart were entertained."

German: "Wer gerne tanzt, ist schon auf halbem Wege, sich zu verlieben. Die kühnsten Hoffnungen in Mrs. Bennets Herzen fanden Nahrung."

Jane Austen described a general excitement amongst Misses and Mrs. Bennet in the hope of winning Mr. Bingley's heart. The German translation made us believe that it is a hope in Mrs. Bennet's heart we are witnessing being stirred.

However correct this particular translated sentence in broad stroke, it is utterly wrong.

Scrupulous Germans? Nein!

Reading / 讀 / Lesen
Reading © Matthew Felix Sun

Saturday, August 28, 2010

"Siege" Completed

A passage about a fight between a wounded seabird and innumerous little armored crabs on the beach in "Europe Central" by William Vollman touched me very much and propelled me to visualize this epical fight. The wounded noble bird being overwhelmed by numerous small but lethal enemies represents, to me, a metaphor of our epoch, if I can presume to compare human species to the noble bird.

After months's labor, "Siege" is finished:

Siege / 圍攻 / Belagerung

Oil on Canvas
18" x 24"
Completed in 2010

© Matthew Felix Sun

Part of Matthew Felix Sun's Apocalypse Series

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A Wonderful Model's Return

One of my favorite models returned to the Cal's drawing session. He is a former ballet dancer and his poses are often very interesting and challenging to draw. I have used him as model for a commission. His poses are so dynamic that by the end of the session, I was exhausted but exhilarated.



















More of life drawings can be viewed at Flickr site.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Good Versus Evil

I have been struggling with a semi-abstract painting for quite a while. I wanted to create a painting representing light versus dark, good versus evil, and even if the goodness does not win the battle of the day, at least I wanted to present a ray of hope, a promise of a victory. Alas, however I've been struggling, the evil prevails insistently.

I'll struggle on.

Epic / 史詩 / Epos
Epic © Matthew Felix Sun

Friday, August 20, 2010

Another Round of Live Drawings

After many weeks absence from my Cal drawing sessions, due to museum visits and family obligations, happily, I returned:

Matthew Felix Sun's Live Drawing_6880

Matthew Felix Sun's Live Drawing_6881


Matthew Felix Sun's Live Drawing_6862

Matthew Felix Sun's Live Drawing_6869

Matthew Felix Sun's Live Drawing_6883

Matthew Felix Sun's Live Drawing_6863


Matthew Felix Sun's Live Drawing_6873

Matthew Felix Sun's Live Drawing_6877

Matthew Felix Sun's Live Drawing_6878

When I got bored sometimes or finished my sketch before the models finished their poses, I drew other artists:

Matthew Felix Sun's Live Drawing_6866

When I filed away my drawings, I saw the one below and would like to share with people, if I have not done it before:

Matthew Felix Sun's Live Drawing_6870

"Liberation Road" Completed

I just completed "Liberation Road", an oil painting inspired by an old family photo. The elegant old woman is my paternal great-grandmother. Both my parents' family suffered very much during the so-called Liberation War, aka Civil War, between the end of World War II in 1945 and the founding of People's Republic of China in 1949, and its harrowing aftermath.

Liberation Road / 解放路 / Befreiungstraße
Liberation Road
Oil on Canvas
18" x 24"
Completed in 2010

© Matthew Felix Sun

Note: Part of Matthew Felix Sun's Apocalypse Series

Monday, August 16, 2010

Slides or Digital

I just got a new batch of slides of my paintings from my photographer.

She not only made absolutely perfect slides of my paintings, also took pain to enlighten me on the pros and cons of slides and digital photos for artists. With the popularity of digital photos, I needed to decide if I want to have slide or digital photos only.

Below is the summary of her detailed answer to my questions:
Here is the breakdown of digital vs. slides. The minus of only digital is that since monitors are not color-calibrated among one another, there is no record of what the true colors of your paintings are, only a digital interpretation. For some artists, color accuracy is not a big desire, and they are willing to sacrafice definition in the lower and higher values as digital recordings are not as good at this as film.

What I suggest to most people is if they are very sure that they will only be using my photography for digital purposes, then I can give them just digital files of their work. The file size is between 10-12MB, which you can then reduce in size for internet purposes and can print an 7x9 inch print from without a problem (some folks can even retrieve an 11x14 print depending on the sophistication of the dpi process with the printer).
I have a scanner which yield 12,800 dpi files so my raw scan images are about 25 MB and I can have a large poster made from these scanned images.

For now, I'll stick to slides. Currently, most but not all galleries and competitions accept digital format entries and a small portion take slides.

Slides of My Paintings

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A New Painting Completed

I finished another painting on Friday - I called it "Leisurely", unless I come up with a more suitable name.

Leisurely / 悠然 / Gemächlich
Oil on Canvas
22" x 28"
Completed in 2010

© Matthew Felix Sun

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Traditional is the New Avant-Garde

Artists often strive to be the unique one, the one who creates things new like no other and being avant-garde is a great honor.

Yet, there are so many styles and methods can be employed, if one wants to remain in the defined sphere, instead of creating a new form completely, e.g. Andy Goldsworthy's transient installations, dance combined ballet and martial arts.

For those who want to work in the conventional format, such as pure ballet dance making, it is quite challenging to stay new.

The consolation is that, like fashion, people's taste change and often in cycles. Therefore, things considered traditional, or conventional a few decades ago, now suddenly in vogue and become the new avant-garde.

New York Times recently published a fascinating article on narrative ballet (versus abstract, non-story telling ballet, like those created by Balanchine). The article quoted the retired ballerina Gelsey Kirkland wrote in an open letter on the Web site for the new Gelsey Kirkland Academy of Classical Ballet (gelseykirklandballet.org), "I have come to believe over the years that the future of ballet lies in the art of dramatic storytelling, drawing on the wellsprings of classical tradition."

The article continued: "Interestingly, Ms. Kirkland’s words come just as a wave of narrative dance drama has been gathering force. At New York City Ballet — the company that consistently did the most to propagate plotlessness in 20th-century classical ballet — the past season was mainly given over to full-evening story ballets. Of the eight new ballets produced by the company so far in 2010, each by different choreographers, four have been storytelling, while a fifth, Alexei Ratmansky’s “Namouna,” has arcane suggestions of narrative."

It also pointed out that "What’s more, it’s easier for audiences now to see that the 20th-century pure-dance ballet was never abstract. As Balanchine, Merce Cunningham and Mark Morris all observed, you cannot have abstraction where there are human beings on a stage. Put a man and a woman onstage, Balanchine liked to say, and you already have a story; it has been well said that his plotless ballets actually have more drama than most story ballets."

So, the line has never been cleanly drawn. The new is always a repackaging the old. The old fashioned often make a brilliant comeback as the new new.

It is the same in the music world. New operas are more lyrical and grateful to singers and listeners instead of relentless howling and wailing of later half of the twentieth century.

Novelists are gladly telling stories in more or less traditional way, and less obsessed with the manipulations of the book format and lengths of the lines.

Fine artists are making paintings with a clear stories, sometimes even in cycles like those in the Gothic and Renaissance time. Unabashedly.

What they are doing is refreshingly different from the abstraction tyranny of the near past, they are the new avant-garde.

Soon, people will crave for something less obvious, less easily understood pieces. They will crave for challenge again - both creators and audience.

Then, the pendulum will swing to other side and we are poised for another fascinating change of time.

Leap / 躍 / Sprung
Leap © Matthew Felix Sun

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Young Artist's Roles in Goethe's Time

In Goethe's Italienische Reise - Erster Teil (Italian Journey, Part One), he had such entry:
Den 18. November.

Es ist wieder schön Wetter, ein heller, freundlicher, warmer Tag.

Ich sah in der Farnesina die Geschichte der Psyche, deren farbige Nachbildungen so lange meine Zimmer erheitern, dann zu St. Peter in Montorio die »Verklärung« von Raffael. Alles alte Bekannte, wie Freunde, die man sich in der Ferne durch Briefwechsel gemacht hat, und die man nun von Angesicht sieht. Das Mitleben ist doch ganz was anders, jedes wahre Verhältnis und Mißverhältnis spricht sich sogleich aus.

Auch finden sich aller Orten und Enden herrliche Sachen, von denen nicht so viel Redens ist, die nicht so oft durch Kupfer und Nachbildungen in die Welt gestreut sind. Hievon bringe ich manches mit, gezeichnet von guten jungen Künstlern.

The translation is:

It is again beautiful weather, a bright, friendly, warm day.

I saw in the Farnesina, the story of Psyche, whose colorful replicas as long as my room, then to St. Peter in Montorio, the "Transfiguration" by Raphael. All these old acquaintances, like friends that have been made in the distance through correspondence, and you can now see face to face. The communal life is something quite different, every true relationship and incongruity express themselves immediately.

There are also beautiful things of all places and ends, of which is not so much talked about , not so often scattered in the world through engraving and replicas. I bring some of these things, drawn by good young artists.

Young artists at the time of Goethe could earn some living by doing copying of masters' works and learn their craft. Alas, that time is not with us anymore. When they have iPhone, who needs an apprentice artist?

Matthew Felix Sun's Live Drawing_1367

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Art Buyers' Comfort Zone

1987 Man Booker Award winner - Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively had a brief description of an artist's struggle.

On page 179 (Grove Press paperpack), it says:
I can quite understand why few people want to buy his paintings; they are too uncomfortable to live with. They howl of malaise; they jar the eye; they are discordant and disturbing. Nightmare creatures stalk through surreal landscapes; things fall apart; anguished people scurry in broken cities. They hang on my (Claudia H) walls, but then I have no choice: if I won't honour them, who will? Anyway, I'm used to them.
I'm afraid that this description is all too true. Considering nowadays smaller living spaces art buyers have, versus castles and manor in the past, I can hardly blame people who don't want to hang disturbing images on their limited walls.

My landscapes sell much better than my portraits, precisely because my portraits tend to be more jarring and disturbing, either in your face or challenging. I know if I "modify" a little of my approaches or subjects, I will have better commercial success. Yet, I will not.

I only need to find my Claudia Hampton.

Source / 源 / Quelle
Source © Matthew Felix Sun

Grandma / 祖母 / Oma
Grandma © Matthew Felix Sun

Sometimes, I did meet my Hampton.

Companion / 夥伴 / Begleiter
Companion © Matthew Felix Sun

The synopsis on Man Booker's website: Claudia Hampton has lived a full life as historian, reporter, lover, mother. Now she is dying in a London hospital, where she remembers the events in her life, particularly a romance with a tank commander during World War II, a passion that defined much of the rest of her life.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

SFMOMA's 75th Anniversary Show

SFMOMA is celebrating its 75th anniversary. My visit to the 75th Anniversary Show confirmed my impression of this important yet provincial institute.

SFMOMA has accumulated a relatively impressive body of works from many important artists but the depth is rather shallow. The main draw to the locals in this anniversary show mostly lie on their relatively unknown collections, such as a semi-abstract Pollock and a very early Picasso. Interesting works by Max Ernst, Paul Klee to Elmer Bischoff and Eva Hesse were included as well.

I love The Window by Rufino Tamayo below. The handing of the paint is masterly and the atmosphere was economically created. The pistol on the window sill added several layers of emotions.

The Window, 1932, Oil on canvas, Rufino Tamayo 1899-1991

This piece of Picasso is quite whimsical and can be mistaken for a Matisse or a Paul Klee. Rather too decorative for my taste but is interesting to I'm still glad to learn that aspect of the Spanish master.

La Cruche fleurie (Jug of flowers), 1937, Pablo Picasso 1881-1973

I haven't gotten much chance to see a Max Ernst and was delighted to encounter the La famille nombreuse (The Numerous Family). The twisted world can be applied to nowadays easily. The misery of human kind is timeless and universal.

La famille nombreuse (The Numerous Family), 1926, Max Ernst 1891-1976

A dozen of small formatted Paul Klee from the Djerassi Collection were included and many of them are very beautiful indeed:

Mazzaró, 1924, Gouache and watercolor on paper mounted on board // 75th Anniversary Show, SFMOMA _6717
Mazzaró, 1924, Gouache and watercolor on paper mounted on board, Paul Klee 1879-1940

Rotes Haus (Red House), 1929, oil on canvas mounted on cardboard, Paul Klee 1879-1940

Pferd und Mann (Horse and Man), 1925, Oil transfer, ink, and watercolor on paper mounted on board, Paul Klee 1879-1940

A painting by Clyfford Still almost constituted a companion piece the the aforementioned Max Ernst.

Clyfford Still 1904-1980

I usually don't care much for geometrical pattern play. But the piece by Robert Motherwell has much more to offer and the color palette was quick subtle and delicious. I love it very much.

Untitled (Figuration), 1948, Oil and sand on Masonite, Robert Motherwell 1915-1991

Jackson Pollock was represented by this semi-abstract work. It has a very rich palette which is quick different from what he was best known for. Yet, the universally accepted mastery of his later period didn't take of the luster of this earlier one.

Guardians of the Secret, 1943, Oil on canvas, Jackson Pollock, 1912-1956

Elmer Bischoff provided us another rich painting. The vibrant and rich red colors were literally dancing in front of my eyes. However, the dance is not the kind of joyous expression. It was sliced and smudged by many bold and intrusive strokes. A world has gone mad again.

Untitled, 1948, Oil on canvas, Elmer Bischoff 1916-1991

Coming out of Germanic gloom, we were comforted by idyllic seaside picture of The Bathers by David Park. The high view point, stylized figures and beautifully contrasted color blocks elevated this painting above hidden eroticism or pictorial pleasantry.

Bathers, 1954, Oil on canvas, David Park 1911-1960

More stylized is the abstract sculpture by Eva Hesse. It is orderly yet free. It contains a universe. Dignified and sober. All Apollonian. Sans Dionysian?

Sans II, 1968, Fiberglass and polyester resin, Eva Hesse, 1936-1970

This is a very interesting survey of SFMOMA's endeavors over seventy-five years. With the addition of the amazing Fisher Collection, SFMOMA is poise to the a heavy weight amongst contemporary art museums.