In the spring of 1984, Byzantine and Renaissance art was permanently searing itself into my subconscious as I visited church after church in Rome and Florence. My college overseas study program in Italy seemed like the logical and perhaps obligatory artist’s pilgrimage I needed to make. At the time, I had very little interest in religion. However, I couldn’t help but fall in love with the saints and angels painted onto fresco or sculpted from marble. Of particular interest to me was the depiction of halos, as if the artists were somehow gifted with the ability to see auras or electrical coronal discharge like Kirlian photographers before there were cameras.
The shrines and temples I visited decades later in China and Japan reminded me of the saints and angels of my youth. The religious iconography was quite similar even to the extent of the revered and holy being honored with halos. Perhaps there is something poignant about humans portraying other humans as special or somehow enlightened with higher consciousness, namely one person’s recognition of another person’s wonder and magnificence.
Kwan Yin (or Guanyin) is an East Asian goddess of compassion and mercy. The name literally means ‘the one who perceives the sound of the world.’ As a Christian mystic, I’ve long been fascinated by Buddhism, Advaita Vedanta and eastern thought, especially seeing and perceiving beyond labels and surface appearances. To me, Kwan Yin ultimately represents non-judgment and the ability to see another’s divinity and not their current psychological state or mental activity. Perhaps she serves as a reminder, to be kind to others, for despite our hard outer shells (arising from fear and suffering), within, the breath of God still lingers from our birth. If you can see such a halo in another person—the radiant light overflowing from within—you have gone beyond the noise and heard the faint sounds and murmurings of the world—the hidden world of people and their loves, passions, wounds, dreams, heartbreaks, joys and delights.
When I first started Googling Gerhard Richter years ago, I considered his blur paintings to be ‘destructive’ (Although Richter is adamant that they are not, merely a ‘balancing’). As I’ve come across many other artists, seemingly ruining a perfectly good work of art by painting abstract over realism, the word, destructive, always comes to mind. The first few times I attempted this, I have to admit, it did get my pulse up a little—the apprehension, I suppose is natural. Why would an artist want to spend so many hours attempting to render a subject realistically, only to obscure it with severe and harsh brushstrokes and paint splatter? In the same way an institution evolves whilst maintaining reverence for the past, sometimes art progresses in more than one direction. Who can deny that the delicate edges between the rectangles of a Rothko painting taught us volumes? Why not revisit Pollack and Pop art? What will we include in our art omelette? Perhaps the evolutionary fossil record of painting will, if you look hard enough, include the love of many muses and the love of many methods.
Luna is wearing a Marie Antoinette inspired costume. It seems fitting to go back in time, in a sense, and consider the rise of Neoclassicism in a painting that perhaps encompasses all of art history. I say this because I’ve never been able to let go of realism as I respond to modern and contemporary movements. The bright, colorful works of Superflat in all that is Pop and Post Pop, the love for Takashi Murakami and Romero Britto, and the destructive renderings of Lionel Smit and Mario Henrique all get processed somehow in my psyche. And yet all it really is—the most profound subject in all existence—a beautiful woman gazing deep in thought, in the manner of Vermeer and Ikenaga Yasunari, or atleast my take on it.
‘Remain’ (Aryuna Tardis No. 2)
Acrylic on Canvas – 30” x 48”
‘Remain’ is a project that I’ve wanted to work on for almost a year. The first painting I did of Aryuna Tardis, entitled, ‘Gimme Love,’ seemed to be well received by the model, but when I asked if she would give me permission to use another of her images as a reference picture for a painting, I never heard back, despite several follow ups. Upon a closer look at the painting, was she displeased or upset with the rendering or proportions? Was she secretly adamant that I never paint her again? Oh, the angst and drama! I checked my measurements and found to my dismay that I had made the distance between her nose and mouth ever so slightly off—maybe a sixteenth of an inch. Such tiny miscalculations are major catastrophes in portraiture. Oh well!
But after many months, I decided to ask again. Aryuna, who is Russian—and I’m not sure how good her English is—responded: Hi! Sure! followed by five heart emoji. Game on, I thought.
This second version of Layla Ong is very similar to the first except for eye color, green halo and angle. (Photographer, Lenne Chai, was kind enough to allow me to use her work as reference images) I think the influence of Japanese woodblock printing is even more apparent in the lines, and perhaps, flatness of the painting. There’s also an Art Deco feel to it, nothing intentional, just how things look to me afterwards.
Working on two large panels, I find that the color and detail are quite satisfying, but not so much as a jpg on a device. I suppose it’s the same as writing music to be performed at a stadium as opposed to a smaller venue. (Ever watch David Byrne’s TED Talk: How architecture helped music evolve?) I wonder how artists paint enormous murals on the sides of buildings. Anyway, I was in the mood for a larger work and another portrait of Layla—now on to something different… maybe.
I finally got around to painting the full size version of Layla. As much as I tried to create an exact reproduction, when I put the smaller preliminary painting on watercolor paper next to the large canvas, I noticed that there are striking differences. Even with taking careful measurements, the slight variations in proportions and contours produce a completely different mood and expression. I added a halo in this one, using a more subtle blue than my previous bright green attempts.
The reference photo I worked from actually had red paint on model, Ruyoo Jyoo’s, face. I thought it looked a little too much like blood and opted for blue. Once I added the neon colored paints, the painting activated with energy, at least what I consider nice movement and balance. I didn’t use the stencil squares as much in this one. I stopped just as I found satisfaction with smudges and marks that are part of the process. And of course, there are a few intentional and carefully placed dots.
Almost all the paintings on this site are for sale. Currently, I’m working a small‘preliminary’ paintings that I will eventually show to my art dealer and then decide on what would translate well to large canvases. If you’re interested in collecting my work, please contact me.
This is one of the rare instances where I painted from one of my photographs. The scene is from the river district in Suzhou, China. It was 2010 when I took the reference photo for this painting from a boat in a canal. I painted the scene the same year, but only recently (2018) added color.The framing with the window is one of my favorite effects. I did a series of windows a few years back, which were donated to charity, but I forgot to photograph them. There’s a good chance I’ll create another version of it on a large canvas.
Although I’ve spent a few years studying Mandarin, I still can’t understand the language, much less decipher writing. The model, Ruyoo Jyoo, told me that she wasn’t sure what the Chinese characters on her face meant. I was eventually told by someone that they mean ‘true feelings,’ or ‘real emotions,’ at least the parts that were readable (seems compatible with the expression on her face). As with recent paintings, this is a small work on paper, about 18″ x 24″ painted with acrylics. This seems to me a good candidate for a large canvas. I’ll keep you posted if it becomes such a thing. Or you can help me decide by commissioning a new project.