Monday, April 30, 2012

"Gen. Robert E. Lee's Equestrian Statue" (oil on linen; 14" x 11") sold


Reference photo

If you read my blog regularly, you may recall that during my daughter's spring break, my family visited Charlottesville, VA. In the Old Town, we came across this equestrian statue of General Robert E. Lee at Lee Park. It had been a cloudy day, but luckily the sun came out just in time to cast gentle shadows on the handsome monument.

I had first considered a different view for the painting as you can see below.  This picture shows more of the park, which was fragrant with irises, viburnum, lilac, and other spring flowers.  The park square was so enchanting that I didn't want to leave the place!

Lee Park in Charlottesville, VA in springtime

I am not a Civil War buff.  As the Civil War was, to say the least, a defining moment in American history, I would have loved to be able to intelligently speak about it with some accuracy.  All I know about Robert E. Lee is that he was an honorable man and the commander in chief of the Confederacy.  I can't say I sympathize with his cause.  If I say that I wish he had fought on the Union side, I am sure it would be a heresy to some.  As I was painting the monument, Lee's body gesture came across to me as if he was saying  that "I wish this burden had not come to me."  Altogether, it was a poignant experience to paint "Gen. Robert E. Lee's Equestrian Statue."

Friday, April 27, 2012

"Golden Delicious and Lemon" (oil on stretched linen; 14" x 18")

click here to buy

Last night, I went to John Murray's still life class, feeling refreshed and ready to paint.  But I didn't like the setup John was arranging for my corner of the studio.  Red apples on yucky green fabrics--not my cup of tea.  I looked back to see the above setup, of which I forgot to take a picture.  Wow!  I persuaded two classmates to move a bit to make space for me.  John told us to wait for the night's lesson.  I couldn't.  I started painting right away.

By the time the teacher gave us the instructions (mass the apples in one color, then separate them into individual fruits), I was done blocking in my golden delicious.  John shook his head, saying something about "nobody listens to me."  Oops.  I was unstoppable, putting down one color after another, without hesitation.  He came around occasionally to help me modify small aspects of the setup to help the design.  Other than that, he loved the painting; so did I.  I was channeling Paul Cezanne, John's hero, for the first time in his class.  I was fearless.  The painting is not quite in my style, but who cares!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

"Red, White and Blue" (oil on canvas; 12" x 16")

click here to buy

Still life setup

I was already very tired when I went to John Murray's still life class on Thursday night.  I wasn't in the mood or shape to tackle a painting.  Not that the above setup was any more complicated than usual.  John generally starts a term with "easy" arrangements, then proceeds to increasingly challenging ones.  But when one is tired, with a decreased level of concentration, anything can be experienced as an insurmountable obstacle. 

Such was the case with the white porcelain tureen.  I didn't even try to emulate its vertical ridges; I couldn't get its relatively simple form right.  The shadows on the tureen were, of course, too purple, as you may remember that I have a violet tendency.  What about the blue drapery?  Yikes!  My painting was "relentlessly" blue, as my teacher said.  He told me to inject some warmth to the blues.  I came home exhausted, feeling quite middle-aged!

On Friday morning, still tired after a restless night, I attacked the painting to see it through.  I fixed the drawing of the tureen, made its shadows and reflected light in them more interesting, and did my utmost best to make the blues of the fabric warmer.  The red peppers and plum?  After all the trouble I've had with the rest of the painting, they were easy!

Friday, April 20, 2012

"Lily of the Valley" (oil on linen; 10" x 8")

click here to buy

Reference photo

I love the lily of the valley.  The tiny nodding bells of this shade-loving plant have the enchanting fragrance that only those who take trouble to get down on their knees to smell them know.  Indeed, I had to practically lie on my stomach to take the above reference photo.  They grow under the yews, holly, and azaleas right outside of my front door.  It took ten long years to spread as far as you can see in the picture below and not all the stems have buds.  Alas, they seem to prefer a more open shade.

My treasure trove of the lily of the valley

I am doing a series of garden flowers in the natural setting this year, so I painted "Lily of the Valley" to show how this dainty plant grows in my garden.

Monday, April 16, 2012

"Temple Stone Steps, Korea" (oil on canvas; 16" x 12") sold


"Temple Stone Steps" is a commission painting of a Buddhist temple, which serves as the entry to the Seokguram Grotto, one of the National Treasures of South Korea.  It is part of the Bulguksa temple complex, located in Gyeongju in the Gyeongsangbuk province in the southeast of the country.  (Both Seokguram and the Bulguksa Temple are on the UNESCO World Heritage List.)   The huge Buddha statue and the grotto were completed in the 8th century, and is considered one of the best Buddhist sculptures in the world and one of the most popular cultural destinations in South Korea. 

Eleven years ago, my husband, my daughter, and I visited my ailing mother.  She hasn't met my toddler daughter before, so you can imagine her joy when she saw her granddaughter.  Since it was my husband's first visit to South Korea, we did some sightseeing in addition to several dinners with my extended family.  Despite our hectic schedule, we made a few tourist stops in Seoul, then headed south for the famed temple complex. 

Are you surprised to learn how old the grotto is?  Korea is an old country, with many well-preserved historic monuments and buildings, most of which are Buddhist.  I would have never painted "Temple Stone Steps."  Fortunately, an old Canadian friend of mine asked me if I could do a Korean landscape painting for her teenage grandson who was in love with all things Korean Buddhist.  How about that!  I was honored and thrilled to oblige. 

I found a couple of pictures, which, pasted together, served as the reference for the painting.  It was a winter morning with soft light when I took the pictures.  It has been a while, so I don't even remember climbing up the worn stone steps.  But I was mesmerized by them while painting.  You look up the steps.  There is the colorful, old temple with a sagging roof, which is framed by bare winter trees. 

Bitter sweet memories--of my bed-ridden mother, my daughter getting sick during the trip, short visits with my dear relatives, revisiting my favorite Buddhist temples, etc.--flooded back.  How I wish I could go back in time to see my mother once more.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

"Green Spring Gazebo" (oil on linen; 11" x 14") sold


Gazebo at Green Spring Gardens Park

For the first time since last December, I went outside to paint yesterday.  It was not a paint-out, just a "let's go painting together if the weather turns out good" kind of thing; there were three of us--a friend of mine, myself, and a gentleman who happened to come to paint.  It has been cool lately, or a normal mid-spring weather, to which we were no longer used.  The temperature reached 60 degrees, sunny and pleasant to be outside. 

At Green Spring Gardens Park in Alexandria, VA, our location, were school children on field trips, families with young children picnicking, old couples taking walks, and amateur photographers taking pictures of flowers.  We had plenty of visitors and admirers.  What can I say?  Plein-air painters should be paid for our service of making a place more picturesque!

My subject matter was the popular gazebo at the garden park.  I have painted it several times in the past; I might be obsessed about it actually.  The drawing is not easy, although I have gotten better at it thanks to practice.  The hardest part of painting the gazebo from the viewpoint I have chosen was making the architectural, hard structure not stick out against the dark evergreens in the background.  It was not a thick woods, just a screen of tall trees in the shade.  I wanted to capture the feeling of airiness and the gazebo melting into the happy, sunny, spring landscape.  Do you think I succeeded?

Friday, April 6, 2012

"Lilac Season" (oil on linen; 11" x 14") sold


Reference photo

Lilac is one of my favorite flowers.  Its subtle scent brings back sweet memories of my college days.  I went to Yonsei University in Seoul, Korea during the late 70's.  I chose my alma mater partly because of the beauty of its campus.  My liberal-arts college was housed in a stone building covered with Boston ivy.  Throughout the spacious campus, with an amphitheatre and several hills, bloomed lilac bushes every May.

Seoul, then and now, is a over-crowded metropolis where trees struggle to survive due to the bad air quality.  My family lived on a dusty, commercial street.  Throughout my childhood, I craved for greenery.  Imagine my joy when I first saw my college campus turning pastel, then green, in my freshman year.  (The Korean school calendar starts in March, a legacy of the Japanese colonization of the Korean peninsula.) 

But it is somehow the lilac flowers that remain most vivid in my memory.  It must be its fragrance.  The visceral sensations of color, taste, texture, or smell reside in our deepest, dearest memories, haunting us with their sweet and sad associations.  Why sad?  Because we can never go back to our childhood or youth.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

"Pink Tulips in Spring Garden" (oil on linen; 10" x 12") sold


Reference photo

Last Sunday I worked in my garden for six hours, weeding evil wild strawberries.  The mild winter has done wonders for this relatively tolerable weed, turning it into the 10-inch-tall, garden-chocking, monster!  I did take a few breaks, though, to drink water and take pictures of flowers in my garden.  The above photo was my favorite. 

"Tulips and Creeping Phlox" was painted on Monday, because I couldn't wait, despite the general fatigue and bad aches in the neck and lower back.  A couple of hours into painting, I no longer felt any fatigue.  Perhaps, it was the pain killer.  Or, I would like to think, the magic of art.  The mauve tulips are the stars of the show.  But without the chorus line of the blue creeping phlox, would they have worked as well? 

By the way, the creeping phlox is the talk of my neighborhood.  Three years ago, I transplanted a small clump, which was barely hanging on, chocked under yews, azaleas, and vinca vines, to the current open location under a mature crepe myrtle.  Neighbors stop to ask us what it is, then compliment us on its beauty.  My husband and I garden because we love flowers.  But it's not just we, but the entire neighborhood, who get to enjoy them.  I don't volunteer at Green Spring Gardens Park, which is not far from where we live.  Nevertheless, I contribute to the community in my own way and am proud of it.

Monday, April 2, 2012

"Pasque Flower" (oil on linen; 8" x 10") sold


Reference photo

Early last week, I saw this fuzzball of flowers at the rock garden at Green Spring Gardens Park in Alexandria, VA.  Another visitor and I admired them, wondering what they were.  All I could say was that I used to have the plant in my garden, but that it died out.  I posted the picture on my Facebook page; to my delight, a fan informed me right away.  The power of social networking!

Pasque flower (or pasqueflower) is also called wind flower, prairie crocus, and Easter Flower.  Why Easter Flower?  Because the flower blooms in early spring (around Easter), and Pasque refers to Easter (Passover).  The know-it-all wikipedia says that the showy part of the flower consists of sepals, not petals.  Who knew?