Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Red Bean Paste & Apple Pie, exhibit & reception

The work is installed, and now I just need you all to show up!

Bamboo Mountain, Potato Hill
Diptych, gouache & acrylic on paper mounted on birch panels
12"h x 24"w

First Unitarian Church of Portland, Fuller Hall
1034 SW 13th Ave, Portland, Oregon (enter at corner of SW 12th & Main)

Dates: November 4 - 25, 2012
Public hours: Sundays, 9am - 1:30pm and by appointment

Artist's Reception: Sunday, November 11, 2 - 4pm
There will be homemade goodies, but of course!

For more on the series, following this tag.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Asleep in the Chamber of Mirrors

(Asleep in the Chamber of Mirrors) Moonlight Becomes Frost Becomes Apple Pie Becomes Moon Cake Becomes Moonlight
Polyptych of four panels
Gouache and acrylic on paper mounted on birch panels
24" H x 24" W

The 11th from the series Red Bean Paste and Apple Pie.

Yeah, I know the title is a mouthful, but I wanted to convey the complexity of the idea of 'home.'

The Moon Festival on the lunar August full moon (usually occurs around September or October in the western calendar) is one of the most important Chinese holidays. People make their way home from wherever they are, often traveling for days for the round trip. So the ideas of moon and home are always entwined. The equivalent in the west might be the harvest moon, also an important time traditionally as people gathered to help each other harvest.

There's a famous Chinese poem by Li Bai that translates as:

Before my bed a pool of light –
Can it be hoar-frost on the ground?
Looking up, I find the moon bright;
Bowing, in homesickness I am drowned.

(Translation by by Li Ziliang, Li Gouqing and Zhao Feifei, from "Chinese Literature, Cultural China Series". I found it on this page.)

To me, there are just so many similarities between these two traditions, even down to the sweets we eat — moon cakes for Moon Festival, and apple pie in autumn. Moon cakes are pastries filled with a variety of fillings, from red bean paste to salted duck eggs, lotus seeds, durian fruit, etc. I wanted to create a piece that addressed these similarities.

There are many things I could draw on, to pair the 'equivalents' between my home here in Oregon/US and my home in Taiwan. I ended up choosing moon cake & apple pie, the statue of liberty and the big stone statues of Guan Yin (Goddess of Mercy), the mountains (Mt. Hood and garden rockeries that are meant to represent mountains):

Breaking with previous pieces, instead of a medallion, I'm putting a heart in the center:

The moon cakes, apple pies and other details are going in:

The statues are going in:

The bed, the frost, the halos around the moons:

The finished piece is the image at the top, with the moon represented as floral structures.

Friday, October 26, 2012

By Air, By Land, or By Sea

By Air, By Land, or By Sea
Gouache and acrylic on paper mounted on birch panels
12" H x 24" W

The 10th from the series Red Bean Paste and Apple Pie.

Growing up in tropical Asia, an apple was such a precious thing, so shiny, red and beautiful. They were also imported, being a cold weather fruit. Our whole family of 5 would split an apple after dinner. Here in the Pacific Northwest, I have an apple tree in my yard, and so do a lot of my neighbors. All through the neighborhood, I see unwanted apples on the ground by the hundreds, but I diligently pick mine. What we can't eat quickly enough, I dice up and freeze. I make apple sauce; I make apple sauce bread. The deer comes by to help as well. I'm happy to share. Every fall, I spend hours and hours processing these apples, but I appreciate having them when the season has passed. I'll probably still be eating these homegrown apples until March or Apple next year.

There are other thoughts going on in this piece. Transient vs. rooted. Precious vs. common. And who knows what else I'm still not consciously aware of yet.

But the initial idea here was simply the preciousness of what is hard to come by vs. what is common and taken for granted. On the left, cargo plane & cargo ship; on the right, ground covered in apples and a deer ready to dine:

Rather than making waves as I have done in previous pieces, which follow the style of traditional Chinese embroidery, I wanted something that moved more, something more turbulent. Something like what a cargo ship going across the Pacific would see:

As an aside, I started this a couple of weeks ago, and in these last 2 days, I listened to Life of Pi as I finished this painting. I had to wait for this book on CD to become available, I was something like no. 17 in line when I reserved it from the library. So there was no telling when I would actually get the book. But of course, the story is about a shipwreck, a cargo ship going across the Pacific. I find that many of the books that I listen to as I paint seem to have some relationship to the pieces that I happen to work on at the same time. I'm sure much can be explained by the simple fact that, well, it's what interests me, so I pick those books and I paint those paintings. But sometimes the pairing is uncanny. As a result, when I look at some of the paintings, I immediately remember the books that I listend to as well.

But I digress. Next, the big sky with cargo plane, and 3 giant apples with halos:

And the left side is almost complete at this point:

Started on the right side with the tree:

Followed by ground & sky:

And the finished piece is the top image.

Thursday, October 11, 2012


Gouache and acrylic on paper mounted on birch panels
12" H x 24" W

The 9th from the series Red Bean Paste and Apple Pie.

There's a Chinese saying, "choose either fish or bear paws, but you can not have both." Although I've never had to choose between a fish and a bear paw (and really, who has!?), I think having to choose between locally grown cherries and locally grown lychees might prove to be fairly impossible.

Food brings a sense of place both in the locations where they are grown, but also in our imagination. Growing up in Taiwan, cherries were associated with a romanticized version of the West, a symbol of luxury and elegant living. I remember the imported chocolates with the cherries and syrup buried within, the contents gooey and indecipherable. I remember a commercial where a beautiful woman leisurely bathed in a huge tub of bubbles (another symbol of Western luxury), and a bowl of fresh cherries sat on the edge of the tub. It wasn't until I moved to Oregon, started working and shopping for myself that I first encountered a fresh, real life, locally grown cherry.

It's no coincidence that around the first time I encountered my first real cherry was also about the last time I had a fresh, locally grown, delicious lychee. The summer of 1983. Yup, that's how long it's been. I have not been back to Taiwan during lychee season ever since. Lychee needs those hot, hot tropical summers to ripen and they have a very short season. And that season happens to be around the same time that cherries ripen here.

So there you have it, choose either lychees or cherries, but you can not have both. (Admittedly, the heat and the humidity in the tropical summer is one of the reasons why I have not gone to Taiwan during lychee season, but, for artistic reasons, we will not talk about that.)

Here's how the piece started, a 5-petal cherry blossom, and some ovals that I was planing to develop into some lychees:

I'm sketching in a view of the Columbia River Gorge around Hood River, famous for its cherry orchards and high winds (and coincidentally, the 1st essential factor for growing lychees is "no wind"... I'm not making this up, you really can't have both):

I decided that I really didn't care for the oval shapes around the petal shapes (too many similar shapes?), so I decided to go for a moon in the night sky instead; and the hills of the gorge are going in:

Started in on the tropical hills:

Cherries and lychees are magical, and the tropical forest is filled with ferns:

The lychees are mostly there, and the cherries are going in:

At this point, I had quite a bit of trouble finishing this piece. I tried several things, didn't care for them and had to take them out. I finally put in the high clouds and more cherry leaves, but then thought I didn't like those either. I sat on it for two days, staring at the photograph on the computer constantly (that's often how I review work), and finally decided that the high clouds had to go. I went into my studio tonight to take them out, saw the piece in real life and thought, "wait, I like it like this!"

In the end, the clouds stayed, but the fog/mist in the tropical forest got a bit more mellow, and I'm happy. The finished piece is the first image at the top.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Digest This!

Shu-Ju Wang & Diane Jacobs in a two-person exhibit

Gallery 110
September 6 - 29, 2012
Wednesday - Saturday, 12 - 5pm, and by appointment

110 3rd Ave S.
Seattle, Washington

First Thursday: September 6th, 6 - 8pm
Artists' Reception: Saturday, September 8th, 5 - 8pm

Top: It's Complicated, Shu-Ju Wang, gouache, acrylic and glitter on paper mounted on birch panels. Bottom: Diane Jacobs, molded handmade cotton paper.

If you're interested in getting more frequent updates with work in progress, and you're on facebook, you can also check out my art page at, and 'Like' it if you do. I frequently post progress photos to that page.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Summer Treats

Summer Treats
Gouache and acrylic on paper mounted on birch panels
12" H x 24" W

(Oops, had to make a revision. Woke up this morning and decided it needed more work, so the top image is now really the finished piece. Really.)

The 8th from the series Red Bean Paste and Apple Pie.

This is another one of those junior high school memories. I left Taiwan right after I graduated from junior high (which went through 9th grade), so it's not surprising that so many of these pieces are drawn from memories from that time. The tropics of cancer goes through the southern part of Taiwan, which makes it officially tropical in the south and sub-tropical in the north. But why quibble with such subtle distinctions? It was extremely HOT & HUMID all over the island in the summer time, south or north. One of my favorite things to do is to stop in at the shaved ice shops for a bowl of shaved ice, and we did that almost daily after school, on our way to the bus stop.

Shaved ice in Taiwan isn't like shaved ice here on the continental US or in Hawaii. As far as I can tell, the American shaved ice is shaved ice topped only with syrup, which is so INCREDIBLY DISAPPOINTINGLY INFERIOR to the kind you get in Taiwan, topped with all kinds of delicious treats, my favorite being flan, with red beans being a second favorite.

When I first came to the US, I don't think you could even get the American version of shaved ice on the continental US at all. Now I see it, but the syrupy stuff just doesn't appeal to me. Instead, I get to have ice cream sundaes, and milkshakes! I remember my American mom giving everyone milkshakes for dinner one night, when it was really hot. Another time, I had a giant hamberger, followed by a giant sundae!

Ice cream was unusual in Taiwan (when I was growing up). It was a rare treat that we got when we went to the movies, which wasn't very often. When I was a little older (8th or 9th grade), my uncle Lee took us kids to an ice cream shop, and I had a banana split (called a banana boat in Taiwan). I think that may have been the only time I was in an ice cream shop in Taiwan.

I started this early in August when Portland was having its hottest weather in 2012, and naturally, thoughts turn to summer treats — the shaved ice & ice cream, of course, lotus & dahlia, butterflies and a lace parasol to protect against the sun. Here's the progression, with the finished piece at the top.

And I'm very glad that I did not forget the butterflies antennae.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Gifts of Winter

Gifts of Winter
Gouache and acrylic on paper mounted on birch panels
24" h x 12" W

The 7th from the series Red Bean Paste and Apple Pie.

The chestnut and the batnut (water caltrop). Neither are nuts, but are both starchy fruit. To me, they're both associated with winter, cold weather, rain, fire, and general deliciousness.

Batnut, which is often confused with water chestnut (talk about a double misnomer) is the fruit of the water caltrop, a water plant. It has a blackish hard shell with very pointy ends. You must skillfully bite each in half in the middle, and if you do it right, the white flesh would pop out from each half. If you don't crack it just right, much of the meat can be stuck in the pointy ends and you have to dig it out. This was a favorite winter snack food in Taiwan -- we often sat around eating batnuts while watching tv on cold, wintery nights. I missed it terribly for a long time, and the first time I returned to Taiwan in the winter time, my mother bought me some. They were no longer being freshly cooked and sold by street vendors, and the pre-cooked nuts were disappointing. I haven't really wanted any since, and I do find that a bit sad. I think next time I go back in the winter, I should try them again.

The chestnut is the winter holiday thing — stuffed in turkeys and I always associate it with Christmas because of that song. As I was researching this piece, I found out that a neighbor down the street has a pair (you need two to have fruit), and she said that I could have as many as I want, as they haven't figured out how to get past the prickly shells! So I shall experiment with that this winter.

Here's how the piece progressed. In contrast to the previous 6 pieces, I did not have this piece fully sketched out before I started. I knew some elements — that it would be vertical, that it would have water & the batnut in the bottom panel and the chestnut in the top, that there would have a snowflake-like structure surrounded by fire in the middle. But that was it.

The snowflake, waves and the water caltrop started to go in first, followed by the stars of a cold, snowy, winter night:

The fire, the mountains, the duckweed:

At this point, I was very unhappy with the piece. I thought the bottom half was very uninteresting. After playing around with different ideas, I decided to add a favorite winter bloom, the camelia. So here I've scrubbed out parts of the bottom panel and sketched in the camelia flowers:

Camelias are now fully operational, and the mountains got some snow:

The chestnuts are flying because it's a cold, blustery, winter day:

And of course, it would not be a Pacific Northwest winter without the rain. In Chinese, the constant light rain that we have in the PNW is called "furry rain," and I do love to render those fine, fine, furry lines. So I made it rain that furry rain, and the finished piece is the top image. And more camelias.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Double Vision Confusion

Double Vision Confusion

Gouache and acrylic on paper mounted on birch panels
12" h x 24" W

The 6th from the series Red Bean Paste and Apple Pie.

Another piece about rice and wheat; the 1st piece was It's Complicated and can be seen here.

After I finished It's Complicated, I felt there was more to mine on that topic, partly because those grains are such a big and confusing part of our lives and also because I had so much fun painting the wheat fields and rice paddies.

A hole in the wall is a phrase that is often used to describe a small restaurant that might be easily missed but is quite good. It is also a phrase that often is used to describe an ethnic restaurant that is run by an immigrant family. These small restaurants are often our first exposures to another culture.

In a way, we're looking through these holes in walls for glimpses of far away lands and cultures. And it's a jungle out there!

Those are the ideas in this piece. The backgrounds of the two halves are based on two historical wallpaper patterns — the oak leaf pattern of William Morris and a chinoiserie palm tree pattern. The oak and the palm are trees often connected to wheat fields and rice paddies. The two holes in the walls turn into a pair of binoculars through which a hidden person gets glimpses of distant lands. But while she's looking at far away places, she misses the small critters that are near her — field mice and paddy frogs, two species that live in close proximity to our grains.

Here's how the piece started:

The background on the wheat panel and the wheat fields are going in:

I changed my mind about the storming sky in the wheat fields:

The field mice are in:

The frogs, rice paddies, and palms are mostly there:

The coconuts, the grain in the middle. I intended for the grain to bring to mind the 3rd eye. The circle in the middle is originally the focus knob on the binoculars (although quite enlarged), and I liked the idea of the connection between "focus" and the 3rd eye:

And here the grain is starting to take on a religious look. Not my intention, but it's interesting to me that the shape evokes the outline of the Virgin of Guadalupe. The cell structures look a bit like stain glass, too. Neither were intended, but I like the result:

The finished piece is the image at the top where the central medallion is more grounded.

Monday, July 02, 2012

It's Complicated

It's Complicated

Gouache, acrylic and glitter on paper mounted on birch panels
24" h x 12" W

The 5th from the series Red Bean Paste and Apple Pie.

Rice and wheat, two of the more common grains people consume in East Asia and in North America They have played a big part in how well humans have prospered — they could be stored for a long time, and refined grain even longer. But we have a complicated relationship with them in modern society. In cultivating them, we also developed a complicated relationship with the horned lark and the cattle egret, birds commonly found in wheat fields and rice paddies. The center medallion is the insulin molecule, and it's surrounded by 'sugar,' another thing that we have a complicated relationship with; both wheat and rice also turn into sugar rather quickly.

Here's the sequence of daily or every other day developments:

I'm waffling between doing terraced rice paddies vs paddies on the valley floor, so I'm playing with one and then the other.

In the end, I went with half and half:

The background is both sky and ocean:

And the birds went in:

The finished piece is the very first image at the top.

For the sugar, I played around with different options. I actually tried using real sugar. There was very little information about mixing sugar with acrylic paint (I would use acrylic as an adhesive). I tried using it as I would salt on watercolor, and the sugar melted and made a shiny, sticky mess. (I guess I could've guessed that.)

My critique group buddies suggested white sand for sand painting. I thought that was a great idea and went searching for white sand. But that was actually harder to come by than I figured. In wandering around the aisles at Michael's, I found this granulated glitter, which actually looked A LOT like sugar. And that's the 'sugar' around the insulin molecule.