Thursday, August 27, 2015

My Favorite Painting & Sculptures in Il Redentore, Venezia

DSCN0471 _ Redentore, Venezia, 11 October

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.

DSCN0457 _ Baptism of Christ, Paolo Caliari known as il Veronese, Redentore, Venezia, 11 October
Baptism of Christ, Paolo Caliari known as il Veronese

My second favorite painting was Transport of Christ to the Sepulchre, by Jacopo Negretti called Palma il 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.

DSCN0460 _ XVII Century painting, Transport of Christ to the Sepulchre, by Jacopo Negretti called Palma il Giovane, Redentore, Venezia, 11 October
Transport of Christ to the Sepulchre, by Jacopo Negretti called Palma il Giovane

My Favorite Museum Collection Series
>> My Favorite Museum Collection Series 104: My Favoritate Paintings in Scuola Grande di San Rocco, Venice

<< My Favorite Museum Collection Series 102: My Favorite Paintings in Church of San Giorgio Maggiore, Venezia

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

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Saturday, August 22, 2015

Featured Painting "Progression"

My 2009 oil painting Progression, conceived and executed after our nation and the world had suffered the dark era of George W. Bush, and entered an epoch ought have ushered in some changes in the U.S. following the ascendency of President Obama. Alas. It was not to be. Many people's feverish hope proved constructed from thin air, and the changes were ever elusive, and the human rights abuses we collectively permitted largely remain in place. The long list of human sufferings continue.

 My painting attempted to catalog such sufferings in a collage of iconography images, from Jesus carrying the cross to Calvary, Michelangelo's slave sculpture, David's Liberty Leads People, and the hooded abused prisoner in Abu Ghraib. The focal point of the painting is the sad face of an earnest man, personification of the sorrows and compassion of humankind.

Progression / 進展 / Entwicklung, Oil on Canvas, 30"x24", Completed in 2009
Oil on Canvas
30" x 24"
Completed in 2009

Here is a video presentation of this painting:

This painting has been choose to be part of a group exhibition, Today's Artists Interact with Major Art Movements from the Renaissance to the Present, at Arts Passages in Berkeley (22 August - 11 November 2015), curated by Expressions Gallery in Berkeley.

Originally posted on

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Monday, August 17, 2015

Featured Painting "Liberation Road"

My most accomplished painting to date is a portrait of an old woman, Grandma (2003), while its companion painting, Liberation Road (2010), is my most personal one.

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

 17 Paintings Completed in 2010 (part 2 of 2)

This painting was based on a photo of my paternal great great grandmother, or maybe great grandmother, I do not really know for sure. She was a very elegant woman with a knowing look and her photo had often haunted me and caused me to wonder what had happened to her, to her family, to her descendants in the ensuring years - all those endless upheavals, wars, famine - human suffering of all kinds, from the end of the imperial time, the republican era and culminated in the so-called revolution in the mid-twentieth century. Furthermore, this painting also touched on the traumatic experiences my parents and my sibling and myself suffered in the iron grip of the Chinese Communist Party, or any totalitarian regime, even to this very day.

The left side of the painting showed ruined houses and railroads, balancing the right side of the portrait of my dignified grandmother. The horizontal road sign bisecting the painting read "Liberation Road", yet at the end of the arrow, we saw a sorrow-stricken person, helplessly rested his/her head on the knees, anything but liberated. There was a similar figure, at the lower right of the painting, echoing this figure, in the same posture, though in profile.

I made this painting to pay tribute to my elegant ancestors who had striven to achieve personal enlightenment and successes and later suffered precisely for their achievements in the hands of the anti-intellectual and self-righteous puritanical Communist Party. By surrounding my great grandmother with ruins and other suffering people, I tried to demonstrate the scope of the destruction in the wake of the Communist Party.

In order to show both the complete picture and its details as the "camera" panning across the canvas, I incorporated two video clips into one single final video and they can be played simultaneously. I deliberately kept my left clip static, so as to show the complete painting, while the right clip demonstrate the details, exactly as the video above.

Originally posted on

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Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Featured Painting "The Song of Orpheus"

I have always been drawn to the complex, intensely humane and deeply flawed characters in Greek mythology, and have made several paintings of based on several such figures, e.g. Minotaur, Daphne and Apollo, Helen of Troy, and Oedipus, etc. One of my such efforts was an oil painting on the theme of Orpheus, one of the most famous musicians in human history, conceived while I was reading Rainer Maria Rilke's Die Sonette an Orpheus. That subject was a dangerous ground to tread into, because there were so many wonderful artworks had been created after this Orpheus myth, from paintings to operas; yet the lure of this myth and the reinterpretation by Rilke was so strong and irresistible, I pressed on. My Orpheus was a collage of many variations of the much-told myth. My painting started with his descend into Hades to seek his beloved Eurydice, traveling on the River Styx. His lyre, which had persuaded Hades and Persephone to let Eurydice return to the earth, dominated the canvas. The lyre also took a shape of a strange animal, and was also a linkage to Apollo. After he had lost Eurydice for the second time, the grief driven Orpheus refused to entertain Dionysus' followers who in their rages ripped him to pieces. His skull became an oracle and his flesh and bones were tossed into sky, scattered about and filled the universe with his music. Thus the marriage of Apollonian and Dionysian spirits ushered in a new era.

The Song of Orpheus / 奧菲厄斯的歌 / Das Lied des Orpheus, Oil on Canvas, 30" x 24", Completed in 2010
The Song of Orpheus / 奧菲厄斯的歌 / Das Lied des Orpheus
Oil on Canvas
30" x 24"
Completed in 2010

17 Paintings Completed in 2010 (part 2 of 2)

I saw Orpheus as the means to bring joy and meaning to the world, through his irrepressible quest for love and his suffering, and ultimately his death. I saw his lyre singing and I saw his bones being scattered into the highest sphere, just like his notes would have crowned the heaven. Holy ointment burned in his skull, which had transformed into an oracle, rising up to dance with his ever higher notes. That's The Song of Orpheus.

Originally posted on

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Friday, August 7, 2015

Modernism Not Welcomed at David Gockley's San Francisco Opera

On August 1, SFOpera presented Jennifer Higdon's "Cold Mountain" to acclaims. Even though juries are still out regarding this work, it has won most hearts of audience and critics. Here is an online review of "Cold Mountain":
Higdon’s is tonal music, with appropriate, occasional incorporations of Appalachian folk tunes. But it is a thoroughly modern score: Though often elegiac, the music is punctuated with violence and dissonance is almost an orchestral character itself, paralleling the opera’s unsettled, anxious mood. 
The opera company in question, SFO, alas, was not San Francisco Opera, which under the general director David Gockley, has commissioned impressive numbers of new operas but most of them were miserable affairs.  Rather, the glory belongs to Santa Fe Opera. Curiously, San Francisco Opera had announced this in an archived article:
SAN FRANCISCO, January 26, 2009—San Francisco Opera General Director David Gockley, joined by Music Director Designate Nicola Luisotti and Chairman of the Board of Directors John Gunn, today announced artistic details for the upcoming 2009–10 repertory season; plans to commission three operas by American composers Christopher Theofanidis, Mark Adamo and Jennifer Higdon.
While Higdon project apparently didn't pan out, Theofanidis's "Heart of a Soldier" and Adamo's "The Gospel of Mary Magdalene" did come into fruition, but both suffered severely from weak dramatic structures and insubstantial and turgid music.

This past June, instead of the healthy mixture of melodic and modern music by Higdon, San Francisco Opera presented a new opera, "La Ciociara" ("Two Women") by Marco Tutino, of an overly-melodramatic libretto coupling a maudlin score, which Gockley viewed as a strike back against the advance of modern development of classical music.

Here is what San Francisco Chronicle's review of the premiere:
... Tutino — along with General Director David Gockley, who commissioned the work from him on the recommendation of Music Director Nicola Luisotti — has also taken this opportunity to mount a rather forceful esthetic argument. In its strongest form, the claim is that the history of 20th century music has been a nightmare that we need to wake up from, and that the path to redemption lies in a wholesale return to the ancient traditions.

Committed to archaism
One doesn’t have to be a diehard modernist, or even much of a modernist at all, to appreciate the weakness of that position. Things have changed since 1900 — if nothing else, there have been two world wars — and plenty of musical ideas have been hatched in the interim. What possible purpose is served by turning one’s back on all of it?
 In a press announcement of "La Ciociara" before its premiere, David Gockley explained his philosophy behind pale aping of Puccini, claiming that "the failure of modernism has given opera a new start and a new potential." [see the embedded video below: 55'48']

In addition, Gockley stated in the video: 
I have a style to pursue, that is neo-verismo, and … one of the things both Nicola and I … we wanted an opera that will immediately speak to the audience, that they would take to heart immediately and walk out of the theater and would make a big impact on them. It’s a cliché you know walking out whistling the melodies and it’s not what you know we are supposed to do you know through out the 20th century with musical modernism being so chic. So we’ve decided we would turn our back on that, and forget that it existed. And we said to Marco: “You know, your fathers are Puccini, Leoncavallo and Mascagni and let them rip.”

We have a co-commissioner and co-producer in the Teatro Regio Torino … of course they thought twice about this you know, "are people going to say this is too retro?" And I said: “Come on, you know, be … be heroic, you know, go against the grain and maybe we’ll re-ignite a tradition.

It was distressing to hear such sweeping denunciation of modernism from an impresario overseeing such an important theater. Gockley had expressed more than once that he wanted his composers to forget that modernism ever existed.  Could this be the reason that Higdon balked or dumped, despite the fact that her music was not even that edgy.

San Francisco Opera has also announced another commission - the seminal 18th Century Chinese novel by Xueqin CAO, "Dream of the Red Chamber", to be composed by Bright Sheng.
San Francisco Opera today announced two key artistic personnel for the Company’s world premiere commission, Dream of the Red Chamber by renowned Chinese-American composer Bright Sheng (Madame Mao, The Silver River). Premiering Fall 2016 at the War Memorial Opera House, Dream of the Red Chamber will be conducted by American maestro George Manahan and staged by celebrated Taiwanese director Stan Lai in his Company debut.
Initially, I was very excited by the idea but my excitement turned to suspicion when I learned that this might be a vanity project, as it was pushed forward by Chinese Heritage Foundation of Minnesota, which engaged San Francisco Opera to commission this opera.

Granted, that alone was not enough an alarm, then I encountered this report online, Opera on A Dream of Red Mansions:
When the project took off last year, Gockley asked Sheng for two things. First, the music - both vocal and instrumental - should relate to Chinese music, so use Chinese instruments. Second, it must be "beautiful" and avoid traces of European modernism in the score.  
Really, avoiding any trace of modern development in music history, in an opera set in English, commissioned for an English-speaking audience?

Haven't we heard something like that before. What was it called?

Degenerate Art!* Of course!

When artistic straightjacket becomes shackles, the stipulation degenerates from foolhardy to heinous.  Such regression is anything but heroic. If the artistic approach behind the "Dream of the Red Chamber" won't change, that project is doom as well, I am afraid.

* On Wikipedia: Degenerate art (German: Entartete Kunst) was a term adopted by the Nazi regime in Germany to describe virtually all modern art.

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