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.