Monday, April 30, 2012

Yellow Flowers in Spring Time

Spring time is so lovely and I was enchanted by the yellow roses in my building:

Yellow Roses _ 8605

Yellow Rose _ 8606

While enjoying these, I remembered some pictures I took in my office, yellow and red cactus.  I don't think that they are flowers but surely they are just as beautiful:

Yellow Cactus _ 8599

Yellow Cactus _ 8600

Saturday, April 28, 2012

My Favorite Paintings at Galleria dell'Accademia, Venezia (Venice Academy)

My second day trip from Firenze (Florence) was to Venezia (Venice). This is much more challenging than a trip to Sienna, due to the much longer distance between the cities, and the fact that Venice had much more to offer than Sienna.

We departed by train in the early morning and near mid-day, we arrived at Venice.  We spent a decently short time to marvel at the canals and the took river taxi (much cheaper than gondola) to the St Marco Square and saw the amazing Romanesque cathedral.  Afterwards, we marched through the intricate alleys, canals and bridges, in order to spend some time at Galleria dell'Accademia, Venice (Venice Academy).

My main goal was to inspect and admire two incredible Venice School paintings, along side wit many other wonderful works.  But these two pieces were indeed my main goal.

One was "Tempest" by Giorgione. Perhaps, this one is even more mysterious and intriguing than the more famous "Mona Lisa" by Leonardo Da Vinci. This painting was full of symbols whose meanings largely lost to modern minds.  On its foreground, on the left, was a young man in fanciful dress, not quite a knight but not your common city or country folks either.  He gazed at the far right, but not at the woman sitting in the bush, nursing her baby.  She looked towards the left, but not quite at the young man either.  Most mysterious element was that she had only some short cape over her should and completely nude down below.  She seemed sitting on the rest of her clothes.  The background was a city/country scene rather reminiscent of more medieval Sienna.  Above the cityscape, lightening flashed across stormy sky, in the same lovely green/blue hue, which actually was the signature of Giorgione to me.

In regardless whatever the symbolism this painting held, it was a lovely painting, with charged dramatic gestures and held the viewers in complete enthrallment.

United States public domain tag

My second focus was an incredibly ambitious painting by Paolo Veronese, "The Feast in the House of Levi", with measuring of 555 x 1280 cm (18 x 42 feet).  It was ambitious, showy, and bursting with activities in a feast and splendid colors, dominated by various hues of red and green/yellow.  It was indeed that the Venice School paintings were most excelled in their amazing colors.  The way Veronese painted many sorts of fabrics was truly virtuosic as well.  The tableau of the feasting table, was quite similar to the "Last Supper" by Da Vinci, again.  No artist had monopoly on ideas. The overall composition was quite solemn, befitting to its biblical theme and the monumental size, with activities framed under immense classical arches, and contrasted with somewhat menacing sky, and enlivened by the aforementioned activities and lively colors.  

This was a very stagey tableau and it sheer immensity made it a marvel to see. 

Wikipedia Commons, source: Ghirlandajo

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Related posts on Art · 文化 · Kunst
- Il Ghetto di Venezia and Museo Ebraico (Jewish Museum) in Venice
- San Giorgio Maggiore, Il Redentore, Scuola e Chise Grande di San Rocco, Venezia
- Magical Piazza San Marco in Venice
- Boy With Frog Sculpture and Punta della Dogana, Venice

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Walking Around Berkeley in a Cloudy Day

It should be raining in San Francisco Bay Area in this time of year, yet it rains almost every other day. When it rains, I have to walk instead of riding my bicycles to work, for safety's sake. The benefit of such walk is that I can observe many beautiful things carefully, instead of just let them fly by.

Yesterday was such a walking day and I took some pictures to document what I saw. There were many flowers in Berkeley now - glamorous or humble, plain or unusual:

A Cloudy Day _ 8577 - 500

A Cloudy Day _ 8575 - 500

A Cloudy Day _ 8559 - 500

A Cloudy Day _ 8536 - 500

Beauty exists not only  in fanciful colors, but also plain:

A Cloudy Day _ 8551 - 500

A Cloudy Day _ 8535 - 500

Even the most impersonal building blocks had some melancholic allure:

A Cloudy Day _ 8554 - 500

A Cloudy Day _ 8564 - 500

A Cloudy Day _ 8560 - 500

However, I was always glad to be back in nature:

A Cloudy Day _ 8563 - 500

And to top it all, to encounter a lovely feline, who didn't give me any due attention.  Cat!

A Cloudy Day _ 8545 - 500

A Cloudy Day _ 8584 - 500

And this beautiful scene was definitely a fitting finale for such a day:

A Cloudy Day _ 8566 - 500

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Snowy Mountain, II - A New Ending

Snowy Mountain, I / 雪山之一 / Schneebedeckt-Berg, I
Snowy Mountain, I
Oil on Canvas, 24" x 20"
Completed in 2006
I have made two snowy mountain paintings.  The first one, Snowy Mountain, I (left), was a smooth sail. I arrived at the final stage without an iota of struggle.  The execution stage was quick and assured and it matched my design or vision perfectly.  A Chinese ink painting influenced work.  It was completed in 2006.

Soon after, I worked on its companion piece, Snowy Mountain, II, but this one gave me so much struggle and had pulled me into various directions that I was attempted to give it up time to time, if it had not become my Moby-Dick.

My obsession to wrestle with this small beast finally made it yield somewhat and the last reincarnation fit the mood and style of its companion piece rather well, and I am relieved to say that it is completed.  (For now).

Snowy Mountain, II / 雪山之二 / Schneebedeckt-Berg, II
Snowy Mountain, II
Oil on Canvas, 20" x 16", Completed in 2012

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

My Favorite Paintings in Palazzo Pubblico, Siena

During my week-long stay in the glorious Florence, Italy, in 2000, I made two day trips - Siena and Venice.  Siena, the arch-rival of Firenze, though could not compete with it for the incredible amount of art treasures, it did have its distinctive flavor and some substantial art collections.  My top two favorite artworks in this more medieval than Renaissance city were both in the Palazzo Pubblico, the former seat of Siena city government.  They were actually companion pieces - The Allegory of Good and Bad Government, a pair of large frescoes by Ambrogio Lorenzetti (c. 1290 – 9 June 1348), much older than say High Renaissance artist Michelangelo (6 March 1475 – 18 February 1564).

These allegorical paintings were full of fantastic imagination and blessedly free from the constraint of Renaissance perspective correctness, which was a giant leap forward for sure, also became a shackle in a lesser hands in the ensuring centuries.

I was most taken in by the delicacy yet vibrant of the colors and the expertly drawn figures, with such linear beauty resembling the more famed late comer Sandro Botticelli (c. 1445 – May 17, 1510).

An interesting point was that this is the only pairing of such contrast between good and evil, that the good is more interesting than the evil, markedly different from Goethe's Faust Part I and II, and the Dante's Paradiso.

Perhaps, the evilness of the bad government was too real and too familiar, while the good government was a true paradise, which was absolutely a fantasy.

 Ambrogio Lorenzetti, The Allegory of Good and Bad Government, Palazzo Pubblico, Siena, 1340

 Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Allegory of Good Government, Palazzo Pubblico, Siena, 1338-40

Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Allegory of Good Government (detail), Palazzo Pubblico, Siena, 1338-40

Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Bad Government and the Effects of Bad Government on the City Life (detail), fresco in the Palazzo Pubblico, Siena

Effects of Bad Government on the Countryside (detail), 1338-40, fresco in Palazzo Pubblico, Siena

My Favorite Museum Collection Series 

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List of My Favorite Artworks in the Museums I've Visited

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Home Made Bagels

Hamantaschen _ 8518 - 500

My friend made a batch of delicious Hamantachen (above).  While I enjoyed the wonderful snacks, I was inspired to make somthing myself.

I remembered the great-tasting home made bagels recently, I decided to give it a try, following the recipe our cousin gave us graciously and simple enough even for me, who has no affinity to baking.

I followed the recipe to the letter.  Unfortunately, our cousin, an expert baker, didn't think it necessary to specify the temperature of water for mixing with yeast, therefore, I used cold water.  After a while, when I saw the dough didn't rise, I asked an expert and learned that warm water was best for such purpose.  I sat the container on a pot of hot water and later the dough dutifully rose.  The rest of the recipe was very clear and in due time, my first batch of home made bagels were ready - good looking and great tasting:

Bagels _ 8519 - 500

Bagels _ 8521 - 500

Bagels _ 8522 - 500

Friday, April 20, 2012

San Francisco Ballet Banners

Last week, I attended a performance in San Francisco Ballet.  During the intermission, the balcony, with a view of San Francisco City Hall, was a wonderful play to rest and breath.

San Francisco Ballet put out some meshed banners above the niches and looking through these banners, I could see the glistering dome of the City Hall, superimposed on the impossibly posed amazing dancers.  Beautiful!

San Francisco Opera House _ 8418 - 500

San Francisco Opera House _ 8417 - 500

San Francisco Opera House _ 8420 - 500

San Francisco Opera House _ 8419 - 500

San Francisco Opera House _ 8423 -500

San Francisco City Hall _ 8445 - 500

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Farcical Singing and Dancing in China

For anyone who had paid attention to China, it would be to have missed the spectacular fall of Bo Xilai, the former Chinese Communist Party chief in Chongqing Municipality, a mega city with the statue of a province.

Following his successive stunts as mayor of Dalian, an important harbor city in Manchurian China, governor of Liaoning Province (also in Manchuria), and minister of commerce, he was sent by the higher-ups to the more remote southwestern Chongqing, in semi-exile.  In order to make a comeback and be promoted into the highest ruling body - nine-member Standing Committee of Politburo, he staged a highly controversial and visible "Chong Hong Da Hei" campaign, literally meaning Singing Red Hit Black.  Red was revolutionary red songs, many of them were popular in the crazy Cultural Revolution time in 1960s-1970s; while Black were crime bosses alleged had been running Chongqing when he arrived.

Incredibly, within two years' time, "since June 2009, some 2,000 people were detained in his sweeping campaign against gangsters in the city" [wikipedia].  57 were condemned to die and 17 had been carried out - most of them were politicians with connections to rivals, rich businessmen with huge properties to lose.

New York Times stated that 
Da hei, begun in June 2009, was Mr. Bo’s crown jewel, a strike against the corruption and law-flouting in China’s governing and business classes that ordinary Chinese deeply resent. It helped win Mr. Bo a national reputation as “a guy who gets things done,” Mr. Li of the Brookings Institution said.

In 10 months, 4,781 people were arrested, including business executives, police officers, judges, legislators and others accused of running or protecting criminal syndicates. In one celebrated case, Chongqing’s top justice official, found to have buried $3 million beneath a fish pond, was shot in July 2010, one of 13 da hei defendants who were executed.

Some sources even claimed that eventually, as high as 50,000 people had been investigated, detained, and/or arrested.

Cynically, his Singing Red campaign had grown so big that even 6 of 9 current member of the Standing Committee of Politburo made pilgrimage to Chongqing and he had organized countless rounds of singing contests and concerts at all levels, and spent enormous amount of money.

These were not hard to understand - a politician believed it was a good way to self-promote, using tax-payers money or money confiscated from "mafias" was as natural as sunrise and sunset.  What baffled me was the how easily people had been brought into this mass singing mania.

My report in May 2011 can give you For a glimpse of what went on then - at that time, Bo had his eyes on the position of Prime Minister:
Coinciding with the disappearance of internationally renown artist and social critics Ai Weiwei, and the "Singing Red" movement in Chonqing, championed by Prime Minister aspirant, Bo Xilai, China is making great leap backward, back to 1960s and 1970s.

Chongqing: Sing the Classic Red Songs, Summon the Spirit of Development

Chongqing: ten-thousand people renewed their vows to the [Communist] Party and Sung "red" songs in unison
I cannot help by wondering what those participants would be thinking and feeling, following the downfall of Bo, or not, of their own performances during his brutal and deceptively benign rule.

I am sure that there were willing participants, and some were forced, and others were drifting. A situation quite like the endless political campaigns had played out in China before, including the Great Cultural Revolution, during the time Bo Xilai's own mother had been tortured to death.

I was too young to have experienced the heightened mass hysteria.  According to my mother, my late maternal grandfather, not endowed with dancing talent, was forced to practice a certain "Loyal Character Dance", a pean to Chairman Mao in the form of stylized movements.  Mom told me that Grandpa used to practice for hours everyday, fearing any imperfection of posture of imprecise of rhythm would be interpreted as counterrevolutionary.

When I grew up, largely in 1970s through 1980s, the zeal had receded considerably, despite the fact that when we went to cinemas, we had to stand up before and after the show, listening to the revolutionary songs - "East Is Red" (hint: Mao as the benevolent sun) and "Internationale".  I cannot remember which one was played before and which after the show.  Always those two though.

Later, even that practice stopped, either gradually or suddenly, I cannot recall.

I had thought that I would never see those craze again in China, when Chinese people had experienced so much and had become so cynical.

Yet, I was wrong.

With the amazing economy growth there, the ever-increase nationalism became quite alarming, especially being fanned by cynical political leader, who happened to be charismatic.

Poor Chinese people.  Year after year, they polish their pipes and joints, sing and dance endlessly.  When they still believed, their zeal was misplaced and tragic; when they no longer believed but could not or would not stop singing and dancing, that became farcical.

The farce would not stop, unless they rid of their inner tarantula.

Devils' Dance / 魔鬼的舞蹈 / Teufels Tanz

Monday, April 16, 2012

My Favorite Art Works at Santa Maria Novella, Firenze

Santa Maria Novella, the first great basilica in Florence, Italy, and is the city's principal Dominican church, was the last stop of my art pilgrimage in my only trip to Italy in 2000.  After all those amazing museums and churches, including two side trips to Sienna and Venice, this amazing church and its adjoining cloister still had much to impress me, particularly the great frescoes by Gothic and early Renaissance masters.

The most striking one was "Scene from the life of Noa (Noah)" by Paolo Uccello in Green Cloister:

Green Cloister
Paolo Uccello - Scene from the life of Noa

Here, many figures, in forms like ivory relief, congregated in the less well-preserved lower panel, seemingly preparing for the deluge, orderly, almost in a trance.  In the upper lunette, people are much more animated and the strangely converged perspective emphasized it even further.  There was a great sense of the collapsing of time and space, seemed that the entire human history was condensed into that moment and one was moved to by the agonizing event.

And then what a balm to the troubled soul it was to view the tranquil scene of "The Visitation" by Domenico Ghirlandaio in the Tornabuoni Chapel (below).  

Tornabuoni Chapel
Domenico Ghirlandaio
The Visitation

This Visitation, between the pregnant Mary and Elizabeth pregnant with John the Baptist was a poignant scene, with an inevitable sadness undertone.  Here, Ghirlandaio gave us a tableau which had all those elements but also strangely comforting and idyllic.  Elizabeth and Mary, held each other's hands, in tender emotion, as if they knew the fates of their respective son and that was the point of this picture.  The were tended by groups of young women, not unlike three graces at the two ends of the tableau - a device used to bring in more beautiful figures, and to connect the new Christian religion and the classical period, and that was also emphasized by the classical arch at the right background.  All the ladies, except for the more non-specifically clothed Mary and Elizabeth, were clearly Renaissance Italians.  The rather solemn and stately scene at the foreground was enlivened by the picturesque landscape and town's life at the background, with the charming flying birds, marvelous Mediterranean trees, and unconcerned self-absorbed folks, carrying on their own life, oblivious of the significance of the moment.

The painting was very beautiful to behold, with ravishing yet harmonious colors and figure drawings being its primary virtues.

My Favorite Museum Collection Series

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Saturday, April 14, 2012

Beauty of a Stormy Day

Recent storm in San Francisco Bay Area has created much difficulties for the residents, particularly those who had lost power due to recording-setting numerous thunder lightening.

Yet, the stormy days had brought us incredible beauty.  I was able to snap some pictures when it was not pouring:

Stomy Day _ 8379 - 500

Stomy Day _ 8378 - 500

Stomy Day _ 8387 - 500

Stomy Day _ 8394 - 500

Stomy Day _ 8381 - 500

Stomy Day _ 8391 - 500

Friday, April 13, 2012

My Favorite Artworks at Cappelle Medicee, San Lorenzo, Firenze

After citing my favorite works at Palazzo Medici Riccardi, Firenze, the living quarter of the Medici family, now I'm ready to discuss my favorites in the place the Medici clan rested, the Medici Chapel, (Cappelle Medicee) in Basilica di San Lorenzo, Firenze.

Echoing to the simplistic yet beautiful drawing by Fra Filippo Lippi at Palazzo Medici Riccardi, I am most impressed by the wall drawing sketches made by the great Michelangelo, in a cellar direct below the better known Medici Chapel, with the marvelous sculptures for the Tomb of Lorenzo Duke of Urbino with the statues of Dawn and Dusk, and for the Tomb of Giuliano Duke of Nemours with the statues of Night and Day, all by Michelangelo.

Michelangelo made several large scaled quick sketches in the cellar, for the sculptures he was to execute.  The sketches, quick, liquid yet solid, were as close as we could to see the great master at work and for that reason alone, I was eternally grateful and happy to behold these, though unfinished, but undeniably powerful sketches.  Miracles!

Michelangelo Buonarroti's Sketch, Cappelle Medicee, Sacrestia Nuova, San Lorenzo, Firenze _ 0294 _ 500

After the rough, we came to the polish.  Amongst those above-mentioned sculptures, I'd choose the statue of Giuliano Duke of Nemours for my second favorite.  Seated, without helmet, Giuliano looked at the first Roman Emperor Augustus, though less bulky, less imposing and self-important.  This rather delicate youth, was full of surprising humility.  He looked really more like a musician, a follower of Apollo, than a military leader and statesman, who he had been groomed to be before his early death, despite the fanciful armor he wore, or perhaps because of it. Looking away from the gaze below, he refused to answer any probing questions.

Duke of Nemours, Michelangelo Buonarroti, Capelle medicce, Sacrestia Nuova, San Lorenzo, Firenze _ 0293 _ 500
Tomb of Giuliano Duke of Nemours

My Favorite Museum Collection Series

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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Thomas Kinkade and Andrea Bocelli

I am very hesitating in writing this blog - I don't enjoy being critical, particularly to someone who just passed away or has emerged from adversaries, yet the ripples of his early death compelled me to address his legacy, however difficult the task might be. 

Undeniably, American painter Thomas Kinkade (January 19, 1958 - April 6, 2012) had his vision and drive to achieve it and had left behind a huge presence, and one had to admire him for that.  It was an achievement in a tall order.


However, what he had achieved, could hardly be called art, despite the fact that San Francisco Chronicle had reported that Kinkade works selling briskly since artist's death and what I overheard people's passing comments such as "at least he brought art to people."

The self-styled "Painter of Light" left a vast amount of paintings with glowing warm-lights setting off Hansel und Gretel type ginger bread houses, cottages, villages, and churches.  One could never tell if he really believed in his vision or believed in the marketability of his vision.  However, from a viewer's point of view, a critical one, his works were false representation of life and the world.  They were as as saccharine and nutritious as Coca-Cola, and actually the opposite of truth.  He had found much popularity amongst religious people, who had an affinity to his escapist messages.  He had successfully branded his light to that from the God.  Yet, his highlights over saturated pastel colors - sometimes, cynically hired "highlighters" would add by hands to mass-produced prints, became cliched very fast and worse, kitsch.

One could have just ignored his formulaic and seemingly harmless and occasionally charming dabble but his huge commercial success made this impossible.  Not only his enterprise had siphoned away large portion of money available for art works which challenge, probe and stimulate, have much greater connection to the world we live in, his monetary success also conditioned many impressionable of thinking his efforts as high art.  Thus my argument against the sentiment that he had "brought art to people". What he had achieved was bringing kitsch to the masses and ensuring them the kitsch was art and they ought to seek no further.

This reminded me of another vastly popular figure packaged as great artist - popular singer Andrea Bocelli.  Here too, I am a bit hesitate in speaking out against him - a blind Italian who had learned to sing, and mimic the most demanding operatic singing and moved crowed with his agreeable voice and touching story, to the mass craving for uplifting sentiment or sentimentality.

Bocelli, who had taken the world by storm, possessed a unique timbre, sense of style and when sang in the right repertoire, such as Romance and popular songs, could be very effective and moving.  Yet, he aspired to sing operas for that tall task, he had no voice to justice to.  But no matter.  Record companies churned out one complete opera CDs after another for him, in the era when many mainstay artists couldn't have a chance to record his or her seminal creations.  Bocelli, regularly sold out in stadium performances, became the "Opera Guy".  Instead of luring people to classical music, he lured away people from real classical music and gave them the false understanding that his under-powered, insufficiently trained, though personable and verbally telling, microphone boosted singing as operatic.  Worse still is that very rarely his fans would be curious enough to investigate what is going on in concert halls and opera houses, despite the desperate outreach programs from those lofty institutions, who also give many discounted tickets to be exploited.

If Bocelli hasn't been packaged as a classical/operatic singer, his presence as one of the most communicative singers would be mostly welcomed.  But I cannot even say that for Kinkade. Only if his works were simple picturesque in an honest way.