Sunday, January 31, 2010

A Semi-Abstract, Semi-Landscape Painting Finished

On the last day of January 2010, I finished another painting. It started with a fleeting vision: a group of menacing tree trunks line up together in a nondescriptive landscape. The mood was desolate and melancholic. The final result looks half-abstract and half-landscape - surely it is not strict landscape painting:

Tree Trunks in Gray Landscape
20" x 24"
Oil on Canvas

Thursday, January 28, 2010

"Breaking Out of Bedlam" by Leslie Larson

Today I attended a book reading by Leslie Larson of her second novel "Breaking Out of Bedlam" at Mrs. Dalloway's Bookstore in Berkeley.

Following her critically acclaimed debut novel "Slipstream", Leslie Larson dived deep into the human condition. In the two passages Leslie read to an overflow crowd, she presented us an unflinching portrayal of an octogenarian who is sad, heartbroken, and indomitable. The book promises to be sincere, probing, serious, yet hilariously funny. I cannot wait to delve into this wonderful novel.

Last time I attended one of Leslie's book events, she read from "Slipstream" and the venue was Cody's on Telegraph Avenue, shortly before its flagship store closed -- and before it went out of business completely. I am relieved to see that another local bookstore carries the torch and that authors continue to have their books published.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Museum Disasters

The art world just learned a new mishap to a beloved artwork. According to New York Times, The Actor by Picasso in his Rose Period, was torn by a woman who fell onto the canvas. "Fortunately, the damage did not occur in a focal point of the composition," the Met said in a statement, adding that the damage can be fully repaired.

Museums often have such misfortunes. For a long list of disasters, one can read Guardian newspaper online:

Clumsy visitors are accidentally damaging some of the nation's most prized exhibits

Oops! Gallery art takes a battering

Jason Bennetto, Sunday 28 2008

Britain's art collections are taking a beating. Visitors to some of the nation's finest galleries and museums wreak havoc by walking into, leaning against, tripping over and even vomiting over valuable works, official records show.

The casualty list includes a chipped Anish Kapoor sculpture, a dented Barnett Newman painting, a vomit-stained Carl Andre piece and an installation at the Victoria & Albert Museum that was brought crashing to the ground when a security guard tripped over a barrier in the dark. In another incident, a huge 19th-century plaster cast was damaged by corporate clients clambering over it.

Details released under the Freedom of Information Act by the National Gallery, the Tate and the V&A, reveal that dozens of works have been dented, scratched, dropped and vandalised over the past five years. The culprits are not only malicious or clumsy visitors, but also partygoers, staff and removal men. The cost of accidents and vandalism is unknown because the galleries and museum declined, in most cases, to put a value on damage or repairs.

Information released by the Tate Collection reveals that a sculpture by one of its most controversial artists, the American Carl Andre, was the subject of an unpleasant accident. His 1980 work, Venus Forge, which resembles a long garden path made of bronze tiles, needed restoration work in 2007 because, as a Tate report put it: '[A] child vomited over some tiles forming part of his work.'

An oil painting, Adam, by Barnett Newman, the American artist who is considered to be one of the major figures in abstract expressionism, suffered two mishaps at Tate Modern. In the first, in October 2007, a visitor tripped and left his finger marks on the canvas and dented the picture. Three weeks later, a man also stumbled and 'pressed his hand against the canvas, leaving an imprint'.

An exhibit by the Turner Prize-winning sculptor Anish Kapoor was another victim of clumsiness. Kapoor's enormous, egg-like fibreglass structure, Ishi's Light 2003, was chipped when a cameraman struck it with his tripod last year.

It is not just accidental damage that the museums and galleries have to watch out for. A 19th-century plaster cast of the pulpit in Pisa Cathedral by the Italian sculptor Giovanni Pisano, and another plaster cast of Pisano's Virgin and Child, were found to have been harmed after a 'corporate event' at the V&A in South Kensington. The museum noted that the pulpit showed 'evidence of having been climbed by someone causing damage', while the Virgin and Child was 'knocked from pedestal causing breakage'.

Staff were the source of several incidents at the V&A. An installation called Mesh by the contemporary textile artist Sue Lawty, made of a hanging wall of thread tied around small pieces of coral, was demolished in 2006. The museum reported that '[a] security guard on patrol in closed hours entered darkened gallery and tripped on security barrier, pulling the installation down'. Reconstruction of the exhibit cost £448.90.

The 1755 porcelain figure group Leda and the Swan had an undignified accident in March 2007. The V&A reported: 'In placing the object into a basket, the head was accidentally knocked against a trolley frame and the head was knocked off.' The head has since been glued back on. In another mishap, a glass negative of a Beatrix Potter manuscript was accidentally knocked and broke in half.

Even the V&A has trouble with removal men. In 2007, a 1957 writing desk by Franz Ehrlich and a 1947 chair by Selman Selmanagic were damaged in transit. This included 'one table leg detached, another sprung from joints. Draw handles crushed, edges of desktop crushed and abraded. Upholstery of chair abraded and woodwork scratched'.

At the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, a 16th-century painting by the Florentine artist, Agnolo Bronzino, An Allegory with Venus and Cupid, was dented in 2003 after being punched by a man. In January this year the painting Marcia by Domenico Beccafumi split in two as it was removed from the wall at the National Gallery.

Perhaps one of the most mysterious incidents is the V&A's missing teddy bears. In 2006 an installation featuring a 'teddy bear sofa' was taken down, but the V&A reported: 'Three teddy bears missing from sofa at close of deinstallation.' The museum paid €500 (£397) compensation for the toys.

Similar stories were reported on Telegraph as well.

A few years ago, Chinese government instructed that almost all museums there be free and museums instantaneous became social gathering center, much like the shopping malls in the U.S. Damages were rampant. I wonder if they are still free or not.

Several of my paintings suffered damages during shipping and when stored. It was very dispiriting to do the damage repair. Art works are very fragile and need to be tended extremely carefully.

San Francisco's Swan Lake

Yesterday afternoon, I attended the matinee performance of Swan Lake at San Francisco Ballet. This version was was choreographed by artistic director Helgi Tomasson and was debuted last season. San Francisco Ballet's website states:
Artistic Director and Principal Choreographer Helgi Tomasson’s Swan Lake, which debuted to sold-out houses last season, receives an encore presentation in 2010. Featuring lavish costumes and scenery and Tchaikovsky’s breathtaking score, this timeless story of transcendent love showcases the depth of the Company, from its principal dancers to the corps de ballet.
The principal dancers are Yuan Yuan Tan, Casey Held (guest artist from Het National Ballet in Amsterdam) and Damian Smith, all proved elegant, powerful and expressive. Soloist Hansuke Yamamoto stepped in for principal dancer Vitor Luiz in the Peasant Pas de Trois and he and partners displayed an amazing bravura and playfulness. It seemed to me the biggest number of the afternoon, and seemed no other numbers lasted as long and the proportion of the ballet seemed strangely realigned. Cygnet episode was blessedly not too cute.

The performance was swift and moving and the live music was full of life and colors. Yet, it was not completely successful. The mixed period costumes, though nice to look at, confuses. Rotbart had not much to do and the Tutor and his by play with children was embarrassingly silly. The famous 32 fouettés en tournant was reduced to 25. Most damaging, however, was during the palace scene when a huge staircase took over the half-upstage and the dancers could only dance in drastically reduced area. At the end of that scene, the staircase rose rapidly. The production team really should have lifted it up after majoy entrances are finished and cede the floor to the dancers as soon as possible. Another thing was not right to me was the way too literal projections of swans, be on the lake or in the sky. It took the magic off the show.

The prologue, mimed out in front of scene curtain was again, very pedenstrian and it should either more stylized or cut off altogether.

The production is big, but not emotaionlly grand. It is new but nothing really re-imagined.

According to San Francisco Chronicle's review of Saturday's performance,
Tomasson's staging strips the mime passages down to the barest minimum. This withholding of motivation and suppression of context imparts a "greatest hits" aura to this "Swan Lake" that seems to rebuke the entire narrative tradition. Despite the fact that this version runs over 2 1/2 hours, it seems terribly rushed.
All those said, I would not hesitate to recommend this production. The last performance will be at 2:00 pm on 31 January.

Another highly expected production is the U.S. premiere of Little Mermaid by John Nuemeier, an American active as Director of Hamburg Ballet. The music is by Lera Auerbach. According to SF Ballet's website, Little Mermaid

Featuring an original commissioned score by renowned composer Lera Auerbach, Neumeier’s contemporary version of The Little Mermaid is a haunting tale of two divergent worlds: the serenity and simplicity of underwater life and the complex, often flamboyant lives of humans. The mermaid heroine travels through both worlds, enduring torment because of her committed love for a prince—but through her own strength in the end—transcends.

Please Note: This critically acclaimed production focuses on the deeper, mature themes of the original story and is not recommended for younger children.

The performance dats are from 20 March through 28 March. Don't deny you the chance to see the ballet by the one of the most exciting living choreographers.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

San Francisco Opera's 2010-11 Season Announced

San Francisco Opera just announced its 2010-11 Season. Except for the already announced Der Ring Des Nibelungen (Richard Wagner) in summer 2011, six other operas are to be presented in fall 2010: Aida (Giuseppe Verdi), Werther (Jules Massenet), Le Nozze di Figaro (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart), Madama Butterfly (Giacomo Puccini), Cyrano de Bergerac (Franco Alfano), The Makropulos Case (Leos Janácek).

The most significant news are the Ring cycle to be conducted by the great Donald Runnicle, with Nina Stemme as Brünhilde, Karita Mattila in The Makropulos Case and the return of the tenor Plácido Domingo in a fully staged opera after a long drought.

According to a San Francisco Chronicle article:

Domingo's return will mark his first performance in a staged opera since playing John the Baptist in Massenet's "Hérodiade," although he has made concert appearances since then. In a phone interview, General Director David Gockley said that "Cyrano" - a 1936 treatment of the Edmond Rostand play by a composer still best known for having completed Puccini's "Turandot" - was Domingo's idea.

He suggested that and Handel's 'Tamerlano,' " he said, "so I got on my horse and went to La Scala and saw 'Cyrano.'

"I was impressed. It's a pretty good work - not a great work - but I thought he did an extraordinary job of characterizing the title role. He sings it beautifully, both strength and sensitivity - and he sword fights well."

Tamerlano is a work with penetrating intellect and great drama, while Cyrano, "is not a gret work".

New production Aida looked garish and do we want to hear another Butterfly so soon?

Opera not only needs to entertain, it should also stimulate and challenge.

Pamela Rosenberg (former general director of SF Opera), where art thou?

Monday, January 18, 2010

One More Painting Done - Red Flowers

Incredibly, my third painting of this year is finished as well, thanks for holidays, furloughs, etc.:

Red Flowers - Oil on Canvas, 16" x 20"

For my complete output, please visit:

Sunday, January 17, 2010

One New Painting Finished - Rafting

By my own account, at the beginning of this year, I was working on eight unfinished paintings. On 9 January, I finished one of them and today, 17 January, I finished this year's second painting:

Rafting - Oil on Canvas, 36" x 24"

For my complete output, please visit:

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Art of Translation

Recently, I had certain discussions with friend regarding what constructs as a good translation.

Since I'm reading Italienische Reise by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, I picked out the Penguin Classics English version translated by W.H. Auden as well.

Goethe wrote:
14. September

Der Gegenwind, der mich gestern in den Hafen von Malcesine trieb, bereitete mir ein gefährliches Abenteuer, welches ich mit gutem Humor überstand und in der Erinnerung lustig finde.

My direct translation reads:
"The headwind, which drove me yesterday into the port of Malcesine, prepared me a dangerous adventure, which I endured with good humor and in the memory find amusing."

W.H. Auden translated the same sentence as:
"The contrary wind which drove me yesterday into Malcesine harbour involved me in a dangerous adventure from which, thanks to keeping my temper, I emerged victorious and which highly amuses me in retrospect."
Victorious was clearly Auden's interpretation of what Goethe felt but didn't write. I actually don't believe Goethe felt victorious at all.

Interestingly, W.H. Auden wrote in the introduction to the Penguin Classics version:
"A translator, that is to say, has to assume that his readers cannot and never will be able to read the original. This, in its turn, implies that they are not specialists in his author. On the one hand, they probably know very little about him; on the other, their appetite for scholarly footnotes is probably small... The translator's most difficult problem is not what his author says but his tone of voice. How is a man who thought and wrote in German to think and write in English and yet remain a unique personality called Goethe? To offer a translation to the public is to claim that one does know how Goethe would have written had English been his native tongue, to claim, in fact, that one has mediumistic gifts, and, as we all know, mediums are often rather shady characters."
He continued:
"If the translator has really understood his author, he will be able to evoke in his own mind not only what the author has done, but also what he wanted and ought to have done."
W.H. Auden's treatise on translation is very interesting. I agree with his assertion that a translator ought to understand his author more deeply than what is conveyed by what has been written down. I also agree that it is vital to maintain the tone of the original voice. But I disagree strongly with the argument that a translation should be what the author would have written if the translated language were the author's native tongue. Instead, a good translation should be faithful to the idioms of the foreign language and the author's tone of voice, maintaining the structure of the sentences without rendering text unreadable. A tall order indeed. But it is achievable. The translator husband-and-wife team Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky set glorious examples with their scrupulously faithful translations of Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Chekhov, et. al.

Monday, January 11, 2010

San Francisco Movie Critics Mick LaSalle on "Star Wars"

San Francisco Chronicle Movie Critics Mick LaSalle has a column Ask Mick LaSalle. I read a fantastic reply he gave to a reader regarding introducing Star Wars to his child. I felt that I really need to publicize his reply:

Dear Jedi Master Mick LaSalle: As someone who grew up with the first "Star Wars" trilogy, I'm not sure how to best introduce a child to the series. Would you start with Episode I or Episode IV? Any thoughts?

David Swope, Sausalito

Dear Jedi Master David Swope: My honest thought is to skip "Star Wars" altogether and avoid introducing a child to a lifetime of bad movies and a pattern of bad movie taste. Instead, get a child interested in Shakespeare. Show the child masterpieces of cinema. Get the child used to black and white.

If the child is old enough to read, get the child used to subtitles. Boys and girls have their whole lives to develop lousy pop culture taste, just through contact with other boys and girls. While their minds are still open and they still think you know a thing or two (as opposed to when they're teenagers and beyond the reach of reason), give them at least a grounding in the good stuff. It might work and it might not, but that grounding will be something for them to build on - and will be an amazing advantage over kids brought up on a steady diet of garbage.

However, if you really want to introduce a child to "Star Wars," start with "The Phantom Menace." It's so absolutely awful that the child might rebel against the whole project 20 minutes into the first movie.

Bravo, Mick!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

To Provoke - In The Good Sense - Is The Artist's Role

I enjoyed reading an article about composer/conductor Pierre Boulez by Michael Kimmelman, Boulez’s Gentler Roar. At the end of the article, Kimmelman wrote: "'Performers aren't audacious enough today,' Mr. Boulez also told me. 'They think audiences won't respond to what’s unfamiliar. But to provoke — in the good sense — is the performer's role. It's not just to give one more concert.' 'That's not culture,' he said. 'That's marketing.'"

That can be applied to fine artists as well.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

My First Completed Work in 2010 - Sheltering

Today, 9 January 2010, I finished an oil painting - Sheltering. This painting started when I had a vision of a person sheltering himself from threats. The person could well be me. I made a few sketches and much trial and debate, settled with the current image and in order to add immediacy and complexity, the barbed wires were added today as the final touche.

Sheltering - Oil on Canvas, 24" x 18"

For my complete output, please visit:

My Portrait Works

After I commented on the new Princes William and Harry's official portrait and Charles IV and His Family by Goya in my last blog entry, I took stock of my humble portrait works. I started to paint and draw portrait in realistic way. I took a wonderful portrait painting class with Carin Hebenstreit in Cincinnati. Her method was very traditional. According to her website, “her technique, influenced by the Renaissance masters and honed through years of study abroad, incorporates glazing layers of paint over her underpainting to produce luminosity and richness of color.” She taught me the technique employed by the old masters and trained my way of observation. My Woman with White Straw Hat below was done in her class I took. It was the foundation for me to build my oeuvre, and gave me the confidence of my technique and allowed my freedom to explore and develop my own way of painting.

Woman in White Straw Hat, 28" x 22", 1997

Over the years, my portrait paintings, though still figurative and traditional, became more expressive and hopefully, even truer:

Portrait, Blue & Gold, 20" x 16", 2000

A Young Frenchman, 24" x 20", 2001

Gaze, 28" x 22", 2002

Grandma, 40" x 30", 2003

Orange, 28" x 22", 2006

Aspects, 28" x 22", 2006

Irises, 30" x 24", 2006

Fruition, 20" x 24", 2006

Ecstasy, 20" x 30", 2006

Orange Parisian, 24" x 18", 2008

Progression, 30" x 24", 2009

And a couple charcoal drawings made in late 2000s:


For my portrait paintings, please visit my Portrait set on

Official Portrait of Princes William and Harry

San Francisco Chronicle reported that a new official portrait of Princes William and Harry of UK by artist Nicky Philipps was on display at the National Portrait Gallery alongside other royal portraits.

The painting was well-executed - I like its somber tone and the poses between casual and formal and the apparent brotherly connection between the sitters. It recalled me Whistler's Mother. The simplistic frontal lighting did not generate drama, instead it instilled a certain serenity. Perhaps precisely because of these, the painting seems a little dated and lacks a certain edge and energy. Was the artist being ironic? However, the painting does draw viewers in and invites people to ponder. In that sense, it is a success. The golden frame however clashes with the blue sash violently and should be replaced as soon as possible.

An official portrait is always difficult to inject artistic statement, but a successful artist must find inspirations from this constraint. One of my favorite official portrait is "Charles IV and His Family" by Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (see below). The Princes William and Harry is a very good official portrait; I just wish the artist and the sitters would be bolder and have made more excellent decisions.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

"Avatar" - Beautiful Visual, Disappointing Message

After much debate, I accepted an invitation to join friends for an IMAX 3D showing of the movie Avatar. It is a phenomenal movie for sure - from the breathtaking scale to the sensuous beauty, I was served a grand feast. Yet, at the end of the movie, after some discussion with friends, I am left with a sense of disappointment that justifies my initial hesitation.

The movie does have a strong message, exposing the greedy and destructive nature of corporate culture and corporations. But in the end, the movie cheapened its message by providing a juvenile "solution" - fight back the monster machines with bows and arrows, you'll win the day, and the evil forces will not return. The protagonists live happily ever after.

The audience's ability to buy tickets made them (us) members of the denounced culture and destructive force depicted in the movie, arguably its driving force. Yet the movie provided an outlet for the audience to root for the good guy, who helped indigenous people to fight back the invaders from Earth. Rooting for the hero allowed us to figuratively wash our hands clean. It was unearned self-congratulation, freeing us to replay the role of hero in our minds afterward, as we munch on McDonalds burgers and slurp Coca Cola, thus continuing to enable corporations to wreak havoc on Earth and beyond.

Not only did the movie propose no true solution, no serious questions were even asked. For such a highly touted movie, I ask for more than "Avatar" delivered. The disappointment of being shown so little confirmed my initial hesitation.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

My Favorite Works at De Young Museum, San Francisco

Today, I visited De Young Museum in San Francisco for the King Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of Pharaohs exhibit. It was a fantastic show, despite the fact that the most spectacular beautifully inlaid gold mask of the young king, who died at the age of 19, was not included in the current exhibit of these artifacts. Some old timers had the luck of viewing it when the show came to San Francisco decades ago. I cannot say that I was cheated out of something. It was a very beautiful and stimulating exhibit. You can still catch the show before it ends on 28 March, 2010.

I chose to visit the museum after New Year, and in the afternoon, to avoid holiday crowds and school kids. Therefore I was able to view the objects at a measured pace and spent two and half hours there.

Before my timed visit started, I visited De Young Museum's contemporary painting collections and saw quite a few my favorite paintings and sculpture, such as these:

De Young Museum will bring masterpieces by impressionists (Birth of Impressionism) and post-impressionists (Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne and Beyond) from Musée d'Orsay of Paris when it's under renovation. Impressionists exhibit will be on display from 22 May to 6 September while post-impressionists exhibit starts in 25 September and will end in 18 January 2011. I cannot wait to see these works again, hopefully, I'll be able to visit both exhibits more than once.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

My Oil Paintings Completed in 2009

In 2009, I have finished fifteen paintings (two of them were re-working on previously thought finished pieces - Nos. 12 & 13):

1. Bruges, Impression, 24" x 30"

2. Funnel, 24" x 30"

3. Urban Forest, 18" x 24"

4. Cave, 24" x 36"

5. Awakening, 18" x 24"

6. Eternity – Four Seasons, 10" x 8" (x 4)

7. Daphne, 30" x 40"

8. Progression, 30" x 24"

9. Crow, 24" x 18"

10. House Of Hope, 30" x 24"

11. Swing, 22" x 28"

12. Snowy Mountain, II, 20" x 16"

13. Heavenwards Ladder, 20" x 16"

Heavenwards Ladder / 天梯 / Himmelwärts Strichleiter

14. Heralds, 16" x 20"

15. Skyline, 16" x 20"

It was not a bad year. At this moment, I'm working on eight canvases. I'll continue to work hard.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

A New Begining in the New Year

I just started a new painting, inspired by a passage in the book I'm reading now - Europe Central. Though we all hope for a better new year, I still feel like I am being threatened:

Friday, January 1, 2010

California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco

On 30th December 2009, I visited the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco for the first time since its reopening.

It was very crowded but one had to appreciate how people were trying to educate children. The building itself has attained iconic status and the living roof was as delightful as the houses for teletubbies.

The "rain forest" was very interesting - people walked along spiral pathway from bottom to top, examining fish, plants, insects, birds at different altitudes.

The aquarium has always been my favorite part. There were so many amazing creatures to see but the most wonderful thing I saw was "Leafy Sea Dragons". Since it was not allowed to photograph them, I'm directing my readers to the the Academy's official website featuring the Leafy Sea Dragon - Phycodurus eques (Picture 1, Picture 2, Picture 3, and Picture 4).

I also enjoyed seeing the skates "flying" in the water.