Penticton ancestors is a wonderful sculpture of three large figures on the shore of Okanagan Lake in the small city of Penticton, British Columbia. It was created by sculptor Michael Dennis and was installed in 2009. The figures represent the spirits of the past, and they do indeed make me think of benevolent ancient spirits that are there to guide and protect.
Lakeside Sculpture: Penticton Ancestors
The sculpture is a good example of public art that perfectly matches the surroundings. The figures are large enough that they aren’t dwarfed by the lake and hills in the background and the material—wood—is a good match for the natural scenery. Because they are carved from cedar, the figures will eventually change from brown to grey as time passes.
The artist, Michael Dennis, lives on Denman Island BC. His sculptures of human figures—like the ones shown here—are smooth, flowing and minimalist. He originally worked in academia in the field of physiology before devoting himself to sculpting, so it is interesting that someone so familiar with the intricate details of the human form would adopt such a minimalist approach to sculpting that form. His brief artist’s statement sums up his approach well
SCULPTING THE SHADOWS OF ANCESTORS I try to capture the essence of human gesture from a tree using only the minimum definition required That in one piece the viewer may see both human form and form of tree We do not need details of feature to respond Consider the essence of the female form the mother we know the lover we seek How few lines it takes to see her
The colors and light in the photographs are a little unusual. That is because there was a lot going on in the sky when I was taking the photos—a sunset, a slight haze from a distant forest fire and the sudden appearance of storm clouds over the city. The sky over the lake looked like this:
Taiwanese artist Ju Ming (朱銘) is best known for his Tai Chi sculptures, with their instantly recognizable blocky forms, but he also has a more colorful and whimsical side which comes to the fore in his Living World series.
Sculptures from Ju Ming’s Tai Chi Series
What I love about Ju Ming’s Tai Chi sculptures is the sense of balance between the heavy, blocky, rock-like shapes and the clear, light and graceful sense of the implied movement. And what better subject is there for focusing on balance and movement than the gentle, flowing martial art of T’ai chi ch’üan? It’s a perfect match!
There are two scupltures by Ju Ming outside Exchange Square in Hong Kong: Single Whip Dip (1986) and the smaller Tai Chi (1991).
Ju Ming was born in 1938 in Miaoli County in Japanese-occupied Taiwan and started his career as a sculptor at the age of 15 when he started work as an apprentice to Lee Chin-chuan, a master woodcarver at the Temple of the Empress of Heaven. After finishing his apprenticeship and opening his own studio, he became an apprentice to another sculptor, Yang Yu-yu, who was also the one who advised Ju Ming to take up Tai chi as a way of developing mental and physical discipline. Ju Ming did follow this advice and he was inspired to incorporate the martial art’s forms into his artwork. He has continued developing this series over the years by working with different materials and techniques.
Ju Ming’s sculpture Taichi: Sparring (Harmony), which is outside the Bank of China building in Hong Kong, is just what the title says: two tai chi practitioners sparring. Most people have seen basic Tai Chi routines; however, there are also more advanced routines involving swords and staffs as well as a two-person training routine called pushing hands (推手). Moving past that, advanced Tai Chi practitioners may practise a kind of martial arts sparring that also involves strikes, blocks and grappling techniques. This is the kind of training shown in the sculpture.
The sculpture was made from bronze using a technique that involved creating molds from carved styrofoam pieces. The end result is a sculpture that looks like it has been roughly hewn from slabs or rock.
Ju Ming: Sculptures from the Living World Series
The sculptures in the Living World series are snapshots of daily life that range from a boring wait on a bench to a pleasant family outing to an adventurous skydive. His works invites viewers to participate. Passers-by will often get into the scene—jumping into a queue of umbrella wielding commuters or joining a formation of sculpted soldiers.
These sculptures were part (the outdoor part) of an exhibition of Ju Ming’s work—Sculpting the Living World—that was held at the Hong Kong Art Museum in 2014. The exhibition featured works on loan from the the Ju Ming Museum in Jinshan, just outside of Taipei.
Ju Ming began work on the Living World series in the 1980 and has continued to the present.The sculpture shown below is entitled Lining Up and depicts people queuing up on a chilly, rainy day. The different postures, clothing and actions of the people in the queue can reveal a lot about each individual.
For example, the man in beige, who is wearing what appears to be a matching Chinese-style trousers and jacket set, seems quite stylish and traditional. With his scarf, hat and umbrella, he has taken care to protect himself from the elements. He has edged up as close as possible to to the man in front of him to get a surreptitious look at the newspaper.
The exhibition also featured bronze sculptures of three rows of soldiers standing at ease. Though at first glance, they seem very similar, the soldiers are all individuals—they are of different heights, have different face shapes, seem to be of different races and there are variations in their uniform, equipment and rifles.
These soldiers are part of a much larger set of over three hundred sculptures located at the the Ju Ming Museum. The whole set of soldiers, which represent different eras and branches of the armed forces, was created during a four-year period.
Here are a gymnast on the high bar and a motocross enthusiast.
In the following photo, a family investigates a sculpture entitled The Whole Table—a group of people are sharing a moment together with a representation of a group of people sharing a moment together.
For the last sculpture on this page, we are back to the blocky, rock-like style of the Tai chi sculptures, but the theme here is familial love.
The pride and love of the father is clearly visible even though his face consists of just two tiny indentations for eyes and a line for a mouth. So much emotion is expressed in just the posture and that simple expression.
Ju Ming has an intuitive style of sculpting and is deeply influenced by the material he is working with. In a video interview with RTHK (the video is embedded below), he states:
Every material has its own characteristic, an irreplaceable characteristic. When I do wood carving, after a while it will raise all sorts of questions telling me how to carve it. But then one day, it will stop telling me these sorts of things. so I change and work with another material such as stainless steel, and it tells me different kinds of stories.These are the things that I need to absorb. You have to know that what the stainless steel is telling you is different from what the wood is telling me. What wood can do, stainless steel cannot. This is what I am after.
What do you think of the works in the Tai Chi series?
What do you think of the works in the Living World series?
Why is it important for an artist to experiment with different materials and techniques?
Create two artworks. For the first one, paint, draw, sketch, photograph or sculpt a scene that captures a moment in modern life. Focus on the people in that scene. For the second artwork, try to capture the same scene using a different medium. What effect did the choice of medium have on your creative process?
What does the color blue evoke? Serenity, coolness, depth, sadness, otherworldliness? The sea and sky? This article introduces ten mostly monochromatic blue works by eight artists. Let’s dive into blue!
1. Chun Kwang Young: Aggregation
Here are two works from Korean artist Chun Kwan Young’s Aggegation series. The works in this series are abstract three-dimensional mixed-media pieces created from Korean mulberry paper (also know as hanji).
Mulberry paper is strongly associated with Korean culture. Besides being used as writing paper, it has also been used as wrapping paper for food and as a kind of insulating material. As mulberry paper is made from indigenous plants, one can say that Chun Kwan Young’s artwork is literally made from part of the Korean landscape.
The process of creating the artworks is outlined below:
Mulberry paper is sourced from discarded books. Consequently, some Korean words—mainly in Hanja characters—are still visible on the artwork.
Some of the mulberry paper is cut and twisted to form strings.
Stryfoam is cut into small triangular prism shapes.
The paper is wrapped around the styrofoam prisms and tied with the string to form what look like little packages. The inspiration for this package design came from Chun Kwang Young’s memories of a childhood visit to a TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) doctor where he saw packs of wrapped medicine hanging from the ceiling. For a more detailed description of the artist’s inspirations and thought processes, you can check out this highly-informative page: www.chunkwangyoung.com/html/03_Biography.php
These packages are then colored (usually with natural dyes).
The colored packages are then assembled in tight clusters to form patterns.
The end result is that from a distance the artwork looks very modern and abstract, while up close there are many reminders of traditional Korean culture—in the paper, the texts and the wrapping techniques.
Mini-bio: Chun Kwang Young was born in 1944 in Hongchun, South Korea and studied at Hong-Ik University and the Philadelphia College of Art. He is best known for his paper-based artwork.
2. Mao Lizi: Ambiguous Flower
These two abstract oil paintings are from Mao Lizi’s Ambiguous Flower series. At first, I thought they were ink paintings because of the soft stain-like flow of the paint.
Mao Lizi is deeply inspired by traditional ink painting, especially those works that express a minimalist sense of beauty. In an interview with Denise Tsui, he states:
When I was young, I visited the Palace Museum near the Forbidden City [in Beijing]. It was there that I saw Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) painter Xu Wei’s ink painting Grapes. I felt like the ink was just dropped randomly on the painting. It had a simplicity that was beautiful. The experience left a great impact on me. Throughout my career in painting I have always strived to achieve the same spirit as what is captured in Grapes.
Mao Lizi’s aim as an artist is straightforward: he strives to create happiness and beauty via art.
What I like about his paintings is his attention to shading, space and texture. In the Ambiguous Flower paintings, the shading seems to give the paintings a sense of movement, and the focus on texture brings out the intricate patterns of veins that carry nutrients and water through the leaves and petals of the flower. To me, these two things—the sense of movement, and the intricate patterns of the veins—give the paintings a strong feeling of vitality and life. At the same time, the empty white space creates a good balance between form and space while the use of the color blue adds a feeling of serenity to the work.
Mini-bio: Beijing-based artist Mao Lizi (毛栗子) was born in 1950 in Shanxi province. In 1979, he co-founded the Stars Group, an influential collective of experimental artists in China. Earlier in his career, he specialized in photorealistic paintings. He studied at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in 1987 and worked as a visiting professor in France in 1990. Since the early 2000s, he has focused on abstract oil painting (though he has stated he will likely change styles again in the future).
3. Yan Wei: Unpredictable Distance
Although some of Yan Wei’s imagery can be quite disturbing (like in her ink paintings of children: surreal-art.tumblr.com/post/119119786476/artisafeeling-yan-wei-aka-kokomoo), the scene in Unpredictable Distance is touching; two human-faced, giraffe-bodied creatures look like they are about to nuzzle one another affectionately. As the creatures are alien, we have no reference point as to their sex (or if the species even has different sexes) or age. They could be lovers or they could simply be parent and child. The relationship is uncertain; what is certain is the sense of affection and feeling of serenity.
At the same exhibition, the painting Unpredictable Distance was paired with the painting shown below (However, I didn’t record the title of that one).
Mini-bio: Beijing-based artist Yan Wei (闫威), also known as kokomoo, studied at Tsinghua University’s Academy of Art and Design and worked as an illustrator in the advertising field before choosing to concentrate on her career as an artist. She uses ink, acrylic and watercolor to create vibrantly-colored surreal scenes.
4. Tetsuya Ishiyama: Human Fungus
When doing research for this article, I came across another Human Fungus figurine by Tetsuya Ishiyama. That one is of a baby contentedly sucking his/her thumb and is entirely white (It can be viewed here: www.asiacontemporaryart.com/artists/artist/Tetsuya_Ishiyama/WhiteBaby/en/). The all-white figurine seems cute and peaceful, while this one, due to the color and pose of the child, seems melancholy. To me, the outgrowth spiraling up from the head represents a kind of spiritual energy, and in this case, the child’s spiritual energy is tinged with sadness.
Fungus grows by decomposing and absorbing nutrients from organisms. Perhaps the ‘human fungus’ shown here grows by decomposing and absorbing emotions. That is my interpretation, anyway 🙂
The figurine is made form stoneware. Stoneware is similar to porcelain but is made from a different kind of clay, often involves a simpler firing (i.e., baking) process, tends to be fired at slightly lower (but still very high) temperatures, is more opaque in appearance and can come in different colors (like the blue in this figurine).
Mini-bio: Japanese artist Tetsuya Ishiyama (石山哲也) was born Saitama Prefecture in 1973. As a young child he developed an interest in rocks and stones. When he was 18, he began excavating archaeological sites and two years later decided to become a potter and moved to Shigaraki, a town famous for its pottery traditions. Early in his career, he worked as an artist and technical assistant at the Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park.
5. Cecilia Avendaño: e.5 E.MERGE
Cecilia Avendaño is best known for her composite digital portraits such as the one shown above. She has people pose for photos, and from these photos she creates a database of images of individual physical features (e.g., eyes, ears, noses, mouths, etc.). She then mixes and matches features from different photos to create portraits of weird-looking people who never existed. The title of her series—E.MERGE— can carry three meanings:
The E in E.MERGE can refer to the use of graphics editing software.
The MERGE and can refer to the process of joining together the features of different people.
The whole word EMERGE can refer to the new identity that emerges from the process.
A few years ago, she traveled to Asia so that she could add different kinds of features to her database. The above portrait was likely influenced by that trip. The heavy use of blue in the painting seems to add to the otherworldly feeling of the portrait.
Mini-bio: Chiliean artist Cecilia Avendaño Bobillier was born in Santiago in 1980 and studied photography at the University of Chile.
6. Zhou Lian Hua: Without the Pitch Tubes
The title of this painting—Without the Pitch Tubes—refers to comments by Mencius (孟子), an influential philosopher who lived during China’s Warring States period. Pitch tubes seem to have been an ancient equivalent of today’s electronic tuners (which musicians use to ensure they are in tune).
Mencius said, ‘The power of vision of Li Lou, and skill of hand of Gong Shu, without the compass and square, could not form squares and circles. The acute ear of the music-master Kuang, without the pitch-tubes, could not determine correctly the five notes. The principles of Yao and Shun, without a benevolent government, could not secure the tranquil order of the kingdom. There are now princes who have benevolent hearts and a reputation for benevolence, while yet the people do not receive any benefits from them, nor will they leave any example to future ages – all because they do not put into practice the ways of the ancient kings.
Hence we have the saying: “Virtue alone is not sufficient for the exercise of government; laws alone cannot carry themselves into practice.”
In the above passage, Mencius notes that just as how skilled mathematicians and musicians need to use the proper tools to produce the correct shapes and notes, governments and rulers also need to use the proper systems and practices so that their policies can be properly implemented.
In an interview with Sara Zilienski, the artist comments on the inspiration behind the series of paintings—A Dialogue with Mencius— to which this painting belongs:
Although I live in Suzhou which is a relatively peaceful and quiet city, I am deeply concerned about many social issues that our modern society is facing today – environmental pollution, ecological destruction, disappearance of heritage and cultural traditions…to name just a few. When I read the teachings on humanism by our ancient Chinese philosopher Mencius, I am inspired by his emphasis on the innate goodness nature of human and people’s ability to do what is right. So in this new collection, I captured my impression of modern cities using my distinctive style of bold and vigorous brushwork. I want viewers to reflect on the damage we have done to our society and environment and yet to realize the inherent goodness and power we possess to change the world for the better.
An unusual mini-bio: Chinese artist Zhou Lian Hua (周蓮華) was born in 1967 in Henan province. Her path to becoming an artist started when she was 28, when her husband and mother-in-law died on the same day. To support her three children, she moved to Shanghai to look for work. She ended up working in an art gallery and started to create her own paintings. She continued painting and eventually became a full-time artist. She is now based in Suzhou.
7. Chae Sung Pil: Terre Anonyme (historie de bleu 180302)
Chae Sung Pil creates landscapes in the most literal sense of the word; his abstract works are comprised mainly of…land. He collects soil from around the world, which he then filters, dilutes and mixes with glue to create natural pigments (he makes it a point to never use artificial materials in his work). The artist then uses a large brush to apply the mixture onto a mulberry-paper canvas that is laid flat on the floor. He adds highlights and shadows by dropping silver dust and ink onto the pigments and then tilting the canvas.
Chae Sung Pil’s paintings embody the artist’s love for Earth (the planet) and earth (the surface of the land). He states:
It all began over 20 years ago – I started working with earth….Every time I touch earth, I feel again like a boy playing in earth. When drawing with earth, I feel so good – as if embraced by my mother….I love earth, because it never changes, even when everything in this world does. God used clay to create the first man – soil has always been there. Of the five elements everything began with, it is earth that is in the center. Water, plants, fire, iron are all around it.
South Korean artist Chae Sung Pil (채성필) was born in 1972 on Jindo Island and studied at Seoul National University and Université Rennes. He is now living and working in Paris while working on his PhD at Université Paris.
8. Studio 30: Hug Me
Studio 30, the Russian artist duo of Lily Balasanova and Sergei Kolevatykh, is best known for large and complex collages of cityscapes (which I will introduce in another article), but they also create more intimate works like this painting of two rabbit-headed figures embracing one another.
Besides being associated with fertility and procreation, Rabbits can also symbolize fear and vulnerability. In this painting, the main figures are surrounded by dragonflies, which are often said to symbolize things like change (because they transform from water-living nymphs to flying adult dragonflies) and the ability to endure hardships (as they have been around for hundreds of millions of years). Therefore, the painting could represent the importance of mutual support when facing frightening hardships and changes.
The artists in Studio 30 tend to combine collage techniques (involving digital printouts and fabrics) and more traditional acrylic painting techniques to create their works.
Bonus Round & Coming Soon
I had been planning on introducing more artworks on this page, but I think the article is quite long already, so I will stop here and do a second Blue Art page in the future. The next page in the color series will be devoted to red artworks.
Which of the above artworks do you like best? Why?
Choose one of the above works. Why do you think the artist chose to use mainly blue for that work?
What are the benefits of an artist putting a limitation or restriction on the creative process (e.g., painting only in one color, writing a novel without the letter ‘e’, using only five notes to write a song, etc)?
Using any medium (e.g., ink, paint, photography, sculpture, mixed media, etc.), create an artwork that uses only blue, black and white.
~ text and photos by longzijun, with two photos by Maggie Lai Man-yee