Saturday, September 29, 2012

Spanish Revival (Hendry Co. Courthouse)

It was planned to paint it last weekend, but because of the old barn painting, it was postponed till today. Actually I had been looking forward to doing this lanscape for quite some time with my passion for stylish Mediterranean architectures. Before I went there, I had only one concern. I always hate to paint landmark for its own sake and the painting ends up like an illustration in a tourist brochure. I'd like to see landmarks in their natural state, that is, mingled with something else naturally instead of like the only thing left after an earthquake. You know what I mean. When I got there, I was so happy to see the beautiful oaks by side of the building and they shaded part of it from the morning sun. At the same time, they also let it have some bright spots through the cracks in the foliage, that added variety to the view. I parked my car at the Chamber of Commerce and began to walk around the intersection to find the best view. In the end, I went across and painted it from the parking lot of a bank (Gosh, I forgot its name). Hope you like the painting.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Ink Wash

Since I did a lot of paintings in water-based media such as watercolor, gouache before, and acrylic, I was excited about the assignment of ink wash in drawing class. That's why I didn't wait till next week to do the homework. Personally, I like "line over ink wash" better than "ink wash over line", because the former is subtler in transition. See the following:
(ink wash over line)

(line over ink wash)

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Life Drawing

Today in Professor Schwartz' class we did a couple of gesture drawings as a warmup, followed by a full-lengh life figure drawing. I used soft pastel. Usually I couldn't do too much details with soft pastel, so I drew it pretty fast. After the first 20 minutes, I basically had the outline down and, by the second 20 minutes was over, I got tones on already. I shouldn't have dragged that long and could have started a second drawing but, regretfully, I didn't. I knew I overdid it, which wasn't very good. To my surprise, during the break when Mr. Schwartz began to critique students' homework, suddenly he asked one of the students to take my half-completed drawing off the easel and bring it to the front. Then he asked every student to come to my drawing and, pointing to the shoulder of the figure, explained how trasition in drawing shoudl be conducted. I felt very much flattered especially when those young kids wowed. Only I knew that it could have been much better that what they saw.

We have an interesting assignment for homework this week: Line over Ink Wash and Ink Wash over Line. Also we'll start to draw full-length costumed figure next week.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

My Neighbor Chez

I have been enjoying doing landscapes recently. The day before,  I ran into my neighbor Chez when he was walking his dog. I felt he was kind of paintiable, so I offered to paint him. He nicely accepted. Today I set up by his pool side to paint him. When I was finished, Chez was surprised that I could have accomplished so much in about three hours. of course, I appreciated his compliment, but I knew I could have done it faster. I experimented a little with color, especially in terms of cool colors vs. warm colors and learned something, but I could have been cleaner with strokework. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Old Barn

Originally I planned to go to La Belle this morning to paint its old courthouse which was what the locals called Spanish Revival. I drove by it a couple of years ago on my way to Orlando. Its architectural style was pretty impressive. At that time I only felt it had a whiff of Mediterranean flavor with its square clock tower but didn't know it was Spanish style. When I hit SR 80 (Palm Beach Blvd.), I noticed the old barn, which was plain but, together with the van, trailer, organge grove, etc., they made a harmonic variety of objects giving me a peaceful feeling in spite of the noise on the road. I had already passed the spot, so I made a U-turn, left my car on the road shoulder, and started to paint the barn. Before long, one of the owners of the house came out to see me paint. Mrs. Howard was very friendly and told me the story behind the barn. It was obviously not utilized these days, but long ago, her grandfather used the barn and the red shack next to it for chicken business.

For the 8 x11 piece, I spent only an hour and a half in addition to setup and cleaning toward the end of painting. As you may tell, I used the palette knives more often than usual and I found the use very effective. Hope you like it.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Paintings of Yesterday and Today

Yesterday I went to downtown Fort Myers to paint street views. As you may tell, it is the entrance to the courtyard which is the weekend art walk hot spot, where you can find bands and restaurants. However, when I got there it was raining. My choice was limited. I set up under the awning across the street. Halfway into my painting, the sky suddenly cleared up. The view was totally different. I tried to make adjustment but I knew it didn't go as I liked. On my way back, I passed Ortiz Blvd. and noticed the construction site at the intersection for a new gas station with the huge red gas tanks and cranes. I told myself I would come to paint it the next day. It turned out OK. See them for yourself.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Street Entertainer (Homework for Drawing Class)


The instructor required each of us make a three-tone soft pastel drawing of  a figure "in environment". Usually I can do a single-tone drawing pretty quick. For myltiple tones, if possible I always try to avoid including black because it may kill the tone color if it doesn' t go with the color. Therefore, I ended up making a soft pastel painting instead of a drawing. As you can tell, I used quite a number of colors. Hope you like it.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Drawing Class

Today we practiced drawing in Conte crayon or soft pastel. I like the effect of the medium even though it could be headache how to keep the work intact without being damaged. I used hairspray. However, the big droplets may damage the artwork. Possibly I held it too close to the work. We did about 30 drawings in class from 30-second to 20-minute. 30 second was kind of short. Sometimes, the time was almost over when  I successfully turned over a page. I looked at my 30-second drawings. They look more like Piccaso and Matisse. You judge yourself:



Monday, September 17, 2012

Home Work

This fall. I went to FGCU to take their drawing class. It is fun, but there is always homework. So I spent the whole morning today drawing my own hand. Just to share with you my homework.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Bridge and Tolerance

When I browsed the paintings I recently did, I was surprised to notice that there are quite a number of paintings which have bridges in them. Then I came to think that probably I have been doing a bridging job of which I am not consciously aware of myself. I am trying to bridge art and life, Chinese and American culture, individual and society, etc. One thing always puzzles me is the fact that sometimes, human beings are so much similar with each other but in other times we are so different. For instance, tolerance is generally considered to be a virtue in this country. However, in reality, what is happening in the world has enabled us to see many different sides of the concept. How would we call this when someone made a film you consider offensive, you just pick up your gun and mow down other innocent people because they share the same nationality, culture, religion, ethnicity, etc with the film maker? Of course, Florida doesn't lack fanatics like that, either. It reminds me of a quote from Bertrand Russell:  

"The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves and wiser people so full of doubts."

Today I came across a very good article which shows sort of Chinese side of tolerance. I can never trust Google translating software to do the job. Maybe it works well in translating within the linguistically Germanic family or even between Germanic and Latin language families. However, I don't think technology has developed to such a sophisticated level as to be able to translate Chinese into English without causing errors which would make you laugh till you hold your sides. One of my friends once shared with me what he got from Google translation. Believe me, those errors are good raw material for late night talk show. So I took the time to translate the article. I include its original version, too. This is part of my bridging work.

Easy to Stoop down but Difficult to Stand up
By Hong Huang*

Several days ago I was asked by Group M Advertisement, Inc. to give a speech on “Embracing Changes”. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to go there, so I made a video of the speech and sent it to them. Group M President Li Qianling is my good friend. She asked me more than half a dozen questions – all about how to face changes in our lives.
I grew up as an obedient child. I didn’t say anything when my parents sent me to a boarding school at the age of 9. I was placed by mistake in a class in which I was one year younger than my classmates. I didn’t complain. I was bullied in the dorm, but I didn’t tell. When I reached the age of 12, I was sent to America, away from home. I took it as an honor. In America I didn’t understand what people were talking about but I blamed myself for lack of vocabulary. Therefore, I tried hard to memorize English words. I felt I was really a good child for being able to tolerate so much. As far as I remember, I never thought of making a fuss to my parents.
For that reason, my first answer to her question was like this: "The Chinese attitude about changes is, usually, trying to resign yourself to adversity, that is, to go on with your life as you can and never mind about other things." I felt that was our great strength. I had done the same thing myself in the past.
So that was the hole I unconsciously dug for myself and I even had the audacity to identify with the forces of “reactionary feudal” culture, asking other Chinese to go on with that kind of tolerance.
I did not realize my answer in the video was “reactionary feudal” till last night when I watched Meng Jinghui’s drama To Be Alive, which suddenly dawned on me about the nature of my answer. I like Meng’s dramas. His artistic expression is always trend-setting. He manipulates dramatic skills naturally like fish in water. Watching his drama work makes you feel it is familiar but refreshing, enjoyable but not superficial.
 I watched the show at China Grand Theater, which I liked.
Way before I watched the show, I had read the story in book and watched it in movie but didn’t remember a lot of details. The story is about how a Chinese spendthrift resigned himself to adversity, a kind of Chinese version of Les Miserable story. Meng intertwines the tragic ups and downs of the story with modern-time singing and dancing, even mini episodes so that in the midst of the overwhelming sadness suddenly you get a chance to catch your breath and you temporarily forget the sadness. I thought of the videoed speech I sent to Group M when I was watching the show. Then I felt like wanting to slap myself on the face. How could I teach people to follow the teaching of meek submission to oppression like that? Was I crazy?
Probably this was the moment when the idea popped into my mind: the protagonist of the story was happy to realize that if he had not gambled away all the land and wealth he inherited, most probably the person who was executed as a landlord during the land reform movement would not be his gamble buddy Long Erye, but himself instead. It was at that time when I felt enlightened: We are always ready to find a self-deceiving excuse for sufferings and keep telling ourselves, “Tolerance of sufferings is a disguised blessing.” Anyway, we consider the attitude to be a virtue.
However, is meekly submitting to oppression a virtue?
There is another fundamental reason why I cannot tolerate picturing sufferings in Chinese art. That is because all the pains are not to be sublimated into anything and what we do is only struggling painfully in the deep water to keep our heads out of it.

Victor Hugo’s Les Miserable is a sad story, too. However, due to the compassion and protection by Bishop Myriel, the protagonist Jean Valjean transforms from a victim who submitted to adversity at beginning to a man who controls his own destiny toward the end. His adopted daughter Cosette falls in love with young revolutionary Marius, whom Jean Valjean rescues when he is wounded in the uprising. In the end when Cosette’s voyage comes to a safe and sound ending, Jean Valjean redeems himself with love. His attitude tells us that the experience of his sufferings is eventually sublimated into wisdom and value.

If you think Jean Valjean is too dramatized, then you may like John Steinbeck’s The Wrath of Grapes.  In the story, Tom Joad is not an easily tolerant person in the first place. Otherwise he would not go to jail. He is forced to go to the West, looking for jobs during the Great Depression. Intolerant of  exploitation, he doesn’t mind being on the run a second time.

To be Alive, Les Miserable, and The Wrath of Grapes are all stories about human sufferings. And they all have screen versions (more than one) and stage versions. The greatest difference between them is that in To be Alive, there is no deliverance for sufferings, and that all the sufferings the protagonist has experienced do not bring about a little bit of rebellious spirit. When the historical turmoil turns his initial bad luck (the loss of 100 Chinese acres of land) into an inadvertent luck (evasion of being executed as landlord), he simply believes he gains something. He does not stand up and protest against the injustice; the only thing he does is putting up with anything coming his way. That is the difference between Chinese-style sufferings and French- or American-style sufferings. We have a higher level of tolerance of sufferings than any nations in the world!
Is it a good thing to be tolerant like that? Isn’t it an encouragement to tyrants? Isn’t it true that this kind of submissiveness equals giving up life itself?
Did we get it from Buddhism? Or from Confucianism? What has made us to be so subservient, so easy to stoop down but so difficult to stand up, so meek to oppression, so obedient, so yielding?
If such terrible sufferings fail to let us achieve sublimation like Jean Valjean or to rebel like Tom Joad, unless we are destined to be rich and powerful, the sufferings truly serve us right.

Source: Southern Capital Weekly

*Hong Huang is a well-known Chinese public figure. She is from a privileged family. Her mother was Mao’s English teacher and interpreter. Her stepfather was China’s foreign minister. They had a close relationship with first President Bush and his wife. After the 10-year-long havoc of Cultural Revolution was over and Deng Xiaoping came to power, the couple was accused of being involved in the Gang of Four’s conspiracy and put in jail for some years.

Recently Hong Huang appeared and commented in the documentary film Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry.



几天前 Group M 广告公司开全体大会,要我去发言,题目是拥抱转变。由于不能前往,只好做了一段录像发过去。公司老总李倩玲是我一个好朋友,给我提了七八个问题。都是问我怎么面对生活中的变化。
















来源: 南都周

Friday, September 14, 2012

Metro Extension Bridge under Construction

This morning after I was done with Florence's protrait, I went to Alico Road to paint  Highway Metro Extension Bridge. I planned to paint this scene a week ago when I saw it driving on Alico. I was impressed by the magnitude  of the bridge size, especially it curves its way in the air over Alico. There was very little traffic on Alico. The cars and trucks under the bridge were the construction workers vehicles.  

 I exited Alico into a small winding road and circled around, inadverdently arriving at one end of the space under the bridge with some huge lifters and mobile bathrooms. I liked the contrast between the shaded gound under the bridge and the strong sunshine out in the open.  Line and shape play an important role in its composition. I liked its balanc in value with the large messes of darkness. Hope you like it, too.

Florence, Nursing Home Resident

This morning my model at Winkler Court Nursing Home is Florence. She was very patient and quiet. Over the past year, I went to Winkler Court from time to time to paint its residents, more exactly, mainly the residents in their Alzheimer Unit. So far I have quite a collection of these elderly people. I consider it a kind of social service. Each time, I will have a quality photocopy made and mail it to the unit manager. At the same time, I also take a pciture with my camera of the painting and E-mail to the manager as an attachment. She would, in turn, forward the picture to the resident's loved ones, especially those who are out of town or do not live nearby. Sometimes, the manager would tell me that so-and-so's children are excited to have received their mother's picure.
I am glad I could use my art to enrich their lives. Like today, Charlie, my first model at the nursing home, was so excited to see me and came over to give me a hug, His painting was  still on the wall. The  manager joked by calling me their " resident artist". It is true that not everyone can remember things as well as Charlie. However, during my conversation with them (I usually like to talk to my model so that he/she won't feel so easily fatigued because of boredom), I could still see sparks in their eyes when they talked about their vibrant lives before they became a resident there. a carpenter from  Texas once kept talking about his wife, but the nurse whispered to me, "His wife is long gone."
I am willing to do something for them maybe because this disease has caused me to think a lot about life. Sometimes, I feel more sorry for their loved ones because they know the person they loved and knew so well is gone or drifting away even though her physique still exists as a form of    life. Scientists have found ways to extend our life, but not our memory.
Some time ago when one of my friends heard about that I have been volunteering to paint nursing home residents, she sent me the following story with the poem:
When an old man died in the geriatric ward of a nursing home in North Platte, Nebraska, it was believed that he had nothing left of any value.

Later, when the nurses were going through his meager possessions, they found this poem. Its quality and content so impressed the staff that copies were made and distributed to every nurse in the hospital. One nurse took her copy to Missouri.

The old man’s sole bequest to posterity has since appeared in the Christmas edition of the News Magazine of the St. Louis Association for Mental Health. A slide presentation has also been made based on his simple, but eloquent, poem. And this little old man, with nothing left to give to the world, is now the author of this ‘anonymous’ poem winging across the Internet.
Crabby Old Man

What do you see nurses? . . . .. . What do you see?
What are you thinking . . . . . When you’re looking at me?
A crabby old man . . . . . Not very wise,
Uncertain of habit . . . . . With faraway eyes?

Who dribbles his food . . . . . And makes no reply.
When you say in a loud voice . . . . . ‘I do wish you’d try!’
Who seems not to notice . . . . . The things that you do.
And forever is losing . . . . . A sock or shoe?

Who, resisting or not . . . . . Lets you do as you will,
With bathing and feeding . . . . . The long day to fill?
Is that what you’re thinking? . . . . . Is that what you see?
Then open your eyes, nurse . . . . . You’re not looking at me.

I’ll tell you who I am. . . . . . As I sit here so still,
As I do at your bidding, . . . . . As I eat at your will.
I’m a small child of Ten . . . . . With a father and mother,
Brothers and sisters . . . . . Who love one another.

A young boy of Sixteen . . . . With wings on his feet.
Dreaming that soon now . . . . . A lover he’ll meet.
A groom soon at Twenty . . . . . My heart gives a leap.
Remembering, the vows . . . . . That I promised to keep.

At Twenty-Five, now . . . . . I have young of my own.
Who need me to guide . . . . . And a secure happy home.
A man of Thirty . . . . . My young now grown fast,
Bound to each other . . . . . With ties that should last.

At Forty, my young sons . . . . . Have grown and are gone,
But my woman’s beside me . . . . . To see I don’t mourn.
At Fifty, once more, babies play ’round my knee,
Again, we know children . . . . . My loved one and me.

Dark days are upon me . . . . . My wife is now dead.
I look at the future . . . . . Shudder with dread.
For my young are all rearing . . . . . Young of their own.
And I think of the years . . . . . And the love that I’ve known.

I’m now an old man . . . . . And nature is cruel.
Tis jest to make old age. . . .. . Look like a fool.
The body, it crumbles. . . . . Grace and vigor, depart.
There is now a stone. .. . . Where I once had a heart.

But inside this old carcass . . . . . A young guy still dwells,
And now and again . . . . . My battered heart swells.
I remember the joys . . . . . I remember the pain.
And I’m loving and living . . . . . Life over again.

I think of the years, all too few . . . . . Gone too fast.
And accept the stark fact . . . . That nothing can last.
So open your eyes, people . . . . . Open and see.
Not a crabby old man . . . Look closer . . . See ME!!

Remember this poem when you next meet an older person who you might brush aside without looking at the young soul within. will all, one day, be there, too!

It is a very inspirational story in spite of the confusion now floating online. I did a little research. There are different versions of the poem and story.   As a matter of fact, the story is finctional and the poem was written by English writer Phyllis McCormack. Read the following:
 The poem was not found in the belongings of a nursing home resident in rural Australia as claimed. Nor was it found among the possessions of an old man who died in a hospital in Florida, USA or any other US location. In fact, there have been numerous - equally fictional - US based versions of the poem's supposed origin.

The poem itself has a long and somewhat convoluted history. The original version of the poem (included below) featured an old woman rather than an old man and was set in the UK. The poem has been known by several names, including "Crabbit Old Woman", "Kate", "Look Closer Nurse" and "What Do You See". For decades, the poem has been included in various publications in the United Kingdom often accompanied by the claim that the poem was found by nursing staff in the belongings of an old woman named Kate who died in a hospital's geriatric ward. Many versions claim that the hospital was located in Scotland. Others claim the hospital was in England or Wales.

In fact, the provenance of the piece remains somewhat hazy. However, credible reports suggest that the poem may actually have been written by Phyllis McCormack in 1966, who at the time was working as a nurse in a Scottish hospital. In a 2005 report about the poem for 'Perspectives on Dementia Care', 5th Annual Conference on Mental Health and Older, Joanna Bornat notes:

Amongst the responses to a small survey which I carried out in 1998 while
researching attitudes to the poem 3 (Bornat, 2004) was a cutting from the Daily Mail
newspaper in which the son of Phyllis McCormack, whose name is often linked with
the poem as its discoverer, explained:

My mother, Phyllis McCormack, wrote this poem in the early Sixties when
she was a nurse at Sunnyside Hospital in Montrose.
Originally entitled Look Closer Nurse, the poem was written for a small
magazine for Sunnyside only Phyllis was very shy and submitted her work
A copy of the magazine was lent to a patient at Ashludie Hospital, Dundee,
who copied it in her own handwriting and kept it in her bedside locker. When
she died, the copy was found and submitted to the Sunday Post newspaper,
attributed to the Ashludie patient.
Since my mother’s death in 1994 her work has travelled all over the world...
(Daily Mail, 12 March 1998).

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

A Long Fence (Sunset Trail off SR 80)

This morning, I suddenly felt an urge to paint. Even though It's alomst 10 AM. I put the painting kit in the trunk and hit the road. I drove down Palm Beach Blvd. (SR 80). I made a right turn into a small lane named Sunset trail simply to try my luck. There was very little traffic. I passed a country gravel road which was blocked by a cow farm door. I was impressed by the gravel road, shaded by heavy foilage of oak trees from the September sunlight. Also, I saw a long fence that skirted along the road as far as my eye could reach. I liked the way the fence went a zigzag line following the topological surface of the ground. So I backed up my car and set up my easel on the roadside.

Whenever I saw fences, I always thought of Robert Frost's Mending Wall. I believe he was talking metaphorically about the prejudicial or even xenophobic wall in human minds:

...We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, 'Good fences make good neighbors'.
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
'Why do they make good neighbors? Isn't it
Where there are cows?
But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence...

Talking about walls, I think Chinese are well-known for their passion for walls. An English writer calls Beijing "a city of walls within wall." This obssession doesn't mean Chinese are very particular about privacy. Personally, I guess they are meant to be the line of demarcation between your jurisdiction and mine. In other words, if behind the walls I am torturing or even killing my slaves, servants, etc. that is within the sphere of my power. Maybe that's why today's Chinese government keeps accusing this country and the Western world of interfering their internal affairs when we protested against persecution of pro-democratic advocates like Liu Xiaopo and Ai Weiwei. Like the perspective of the farmer in the poem, Chinese government thinks it is your fault not to be a good neighbor. Humanitarianism is just a fashionable facade. Who's going to take it seriously? Deng Xiaoping killed so many students in Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989. Did that stop Western businessmen from coming to invest in China or to exploit the cheap slave labor?

I still remember an experience more than 30 years ago when China began to open its door to the world and I was a junior faculty member at one of China's universities. Our university invited, for the first time, a group of college professors from different Western countries to teach. One American professor asked a Communist official on campus an interesting question: "Why do Chinese have so many walls? You have walls around every house, every school or university, every factory and government building." The official thought for a little while and then, in order to make an effort to show how fair and objective he was in discussing social issues, he replied, "We call our country a socialist nation, not a Communist one. On this socialist stage, there are still crimes. However, when our society enters the stage of Communism, there will be no classes in the society and there will be no crimes. By then, if you come to our country again, there will be no walls because there is no need for them."

Later when the professor saw me, he told me that he regretted that he forgot to respond to the official by saying that in America almost all houses, schools, government buildings, etc. have no walls even now and he would like to know how the official would respond.

Well, today, nearly 30 years since I became an American, I have noticed that more and more Americans began to have a passion for walls like the Chinese. Is it true?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A Touching Story on 9/11 Attack

We all remember what we were doing when we heard about 9/11 Attack eleven years ago. I'd like to recommend to you the story written by Nate Lawson, a college student whose parents were my colleagues. Nate won an in-class monetary prize for this story from his professor, but I think it deserves a broader readership. I got the word from his parents that he would not mind sharing it.


As I climbed up the long flight of stairs of the Brooklyn subway station, I could smell the pungent odor which was a mixture of trash, stale urine and the mechanical oils of the trains that were so familiar to me. The cool night air hit me as I cleared the last landing and walked outside into the very early morning. The streets were quiet and calm. I adjusted the worn bass guitar gig bag on my back and set off with the long, fast gait that I had learned in the south Georgia woods and swamps when I was young but now served me to cover ground in my adopted home.

As I walked the 15 minute trip home, past the drug dealers and the tagged, graffiti- covered buildings, my mind wandered back to the night of playing I had spent at one of my favorite Manhattan blues jams. I had played, as I lived, with the reckless abandon and the fearlessness that only a young man can have. I had played slow blues ballads, with the feelings welling up in me of love and unrequited love, I had played faster songs with unbridled abandon, the music increasing in tension, stomping my feet and dancing—yelling at the soloist to “TELL IT TO ME, MAN,” and urging them to play their screaming, emotional lines louder and harder until their solos climaxed and still I cheered them on. “There it is, there it is, Brother!” I spent the downtime with the other musicians, trying to find more work, drinking the sweet beer that the bartenders brought me, and enjoying the smoky atmosphere and cathartic music. I watched the bartenders dance on the old wooden bar, swinging their mesmerizing hips to the rhythms of the music and sometimes lifting a lighter to blow fire balls from their pursed lips with the alcohol. I cheered them too. This was living. I got clapped sharply on the back. It was Big John that ran the jam, and had been known to tersely tell people to “Get the hell off my stage” if he felt they didn’t play well enough, causing fear for most. He told me “You played good tonight, man.” I asked if he knew of any more work for me. “Sure, I’ll try to find you some,” he said, as he took another one of my business cards. I was invincible, felt invincible and played invincibly. We played hard and partied harder. It had been a beautiful night and I could still hear the faint ringing in my ears.

I reached the corner of my block, passed the broken down cars, and walked towards the steps of the red brownstone I called my home. The usual guys who were out late selling drugs off my steps told me “What’s up?” and one of the older ones told everyone to get out of my way so I could pass. I mentally cheered him for this, clasped his hand, and went inside. The day had been a good one but also very draining, emotionally and physically, from playing the music and the general “musicians’ hang” afterwards where we one upped each other with partying just like when we played the music. I was ready to sleep and as I lay down on my mattress I could still hear all of the music that had flowed through me and the others as we played with the frenetic pace of the city. We were unlike anyone else. You can instantly pick out a New York musician by how they play. As sleep finally overtook me I had a happy fulfilled feeling—I loved New York and I loved the pace, the music, the people, and I even loved the dirt and grime—I loved it all and I loved my life. I could not have begun to comprehend that the rest of the day would be a life changing event for me, and everyone else in the rest of my city and the nation as a whole.

I awoke a few times, early in the morning, to the voices drifting into my dreams of people talking outside of my window. I was in a predominately Puerto Rican and Dominican neighborhood and I could hear the unique Newyorrican accents. Since I was on the first floor the people talking on the steps were only about five feet from my head on my pillow. I heard someone say “A plane just crashed into a fucking building, YO! What the fuck is going on?”…This barely entered my consciousness and I only rolled over and peacefully drifted back to sleep. This statement meant nothing to me in my groggy, dream- filled state. A little while later, a loud voice snapped me out of sleep and I heard someone run out of the building and say “Another plane just hit the other tower!” My neighbors weren’t going to let me sleep anymore so I blearily decided to get up and face the day.

With a thick, throbbing head from last night’s debauchery, I stumbled to the kitchen to make some coffee. As the coffee started to bubble and percolate, I plopped down to see if there was anything interesting on daytime television. I didn’t have cable but still could get four or five channels with the rabbit ears that my roommates and I had. All I got was static for reception. Great start to the day. My TV is messed up. I got off the couch and started to adjust the antenna to try to get a signal. I finally found a weak signal on one of the channels. It was footage of both the World Trade Center towers spewing thick, acrid smoke. I watched in shock and horror as hopeless people were jumping out of the buildings to their deaths, making horrible thumping sounds as their spirits crashed out from their bodies. I have no idea how long I sat there staring in disbelief, wondering how an accident like this could happen, and then realized it was two different collisions. I leaped up from the couch and ran across the room to my cell phone, sliding on our uncarpeted floors. I could not get reception. I tried my home phone and could only get an ominous dial tone beeping on the line.

I hurriedly put on enough clothes to walk outside and walked out onto the street. The normally bustling street was like a ghost town. I looked towards the Manhattan skyline and it looked like a nuclear bomb had gone off in the city. There was a large, grayish mushroom cloud over the city with flocks of either pigeons or seagulls flying through the smoke, making large sweeping loops. I stood there stunned in the center of my road in Brooklyn. All I could mutter was “Oh Shit…” I pulled myself together and turned to go back inside. Thoughts raced through my mind…was this a biological attack?...who is responsible for this?...and most of all what could possibly be happening? As I walked inside, my home phone started ringing. It was one of my best friends, who was an old roommate of mine. He was in a different part of Brooklyn and said the cars there were being covered in thick, snow like ash from the buildings. It was great to hear a friend’s voice and talk to someone about what was going on and find out that they were fine. After talking to him for a while, wishing each other luck, we hung up the phone. And then the calls started pouring in.

I spent the next week glued to the television. Manhattan was basically shut down and everything in the city was cancelled. Those of us that were there during the time after the attacks lived with one of the strangest smells when the wind would blow our way. I realized that this was the putrid smell of death. The strange, sweet smell was basically barbecued humans. The smell caused a fight-or-flight response on a human being's most animalistic, biological level. There was no one there to fight, so it just caused an impulsive urge to flee the area, but there was nowhere for us to go. I watched footage of New Yorkers selflessly helping each other replayed over and over on the news. Many of these heroes paid the ultimate price trying to help and save others. It made me proud of the responses everyone had and how much everyone cared about their fellow New Yorkers. One of the cities responses was to step up patrols in the predominately Muslim neighborhoods, in and around the city. After a few days, it was quickly realized that no one blamed Muslims that lived in New York for the tragedy. They were all New Yorkers too and the extra patrols were stopped. This was our city, our country and we all felt that the people that needed to pay for this would pay. I talked to my father on the day the World Trade Centers fell. He is one of the biggest pacifists that I have ever known and would never harm or wish harm on anyone. He said “Someone should and will pay for this.” I fully agreed.

Most of my friends, like myself were military age. We talked and talked about what had happened and what would be done about it in the weeks and months afterwards. We had all seen the people dancing in the streets when the buildings were hit and so many innocents in New York were murdered. This caused a very angry feeling inside of us. We had never rejoiced for the fact that innocent people had been killed in the United States or any other country for that matter. I wanted everyone I saw celebrating the attacks on that TV screen to be dead. It’s hard to explain the anger you feel when you watch people being killed who are from the city that is your home. We wondered if there would be a draft instituted when we struck back at the cowards that had done this to our city. Many decided that if a draft did start that they would go ahead and join up to fight. None of us had ever seriously thought of military service until this had happened. We all had so much anger towards anyone killing innocent civilians in our city and had no one locally we had a right to direct our deep rooted anger towards.

About two weeks after the attacks, I finally went into the city to get out of the house. As I rode the subway I remember the haunted, distant look in the eyes of the other people on the subway. A very young National Guard soldier was standing there with an M-16 rifle. Being from the South, firearms do not scare me, but an 18 year old kid with very little training carrying a gun on a packed subway makes me nervous. What had happened to my city? There was a sad broken energy to the city. The ride was very somber. I arrived at the club downtown where I was going to watch a band play. They were playing on the lower level and there was a strange rumbling and shaking. I realized it was all of the earth moving equipment working at the site of the attacks. It was surreal to listen to the music, drink a few beers and know that they were recovering bodies about half a mile or less away. I left soon afterwards. I felt like I was disrespecting those that had died in the attacks even though I knew that the city had to keep moving and retain some semblance of normalcy…otherwise the terrorists had won.

Around seven or eight months after the attacks I started to see the city beginning to recover as best we could considering the circumstances. One day, as I stepped onto a subway in Manhattan headed towards Brooklyn, everyone on the subway car started to cheer and clap loudly. I had stepped through the doors with a businessman. Being confused by the cheering we looked at each other with mild panic and bumped into each other trying to get back out the doors to safety. But the doors dinged and we were stuck in the claustrophobic car. It turned out that at every stop everyone cheered for whoever that got on the subway car. The crowd had been doing this all the way from the Bronx. A middle aged businessman read a random paragraph from whatever book he had happened to be reading. We all cheered for him when he finished, screaming, clapping and yelling encouragement as if he was a sports star. In retrospect, I realize we were all cheering for each other. We were all New Yorkers and forever changed but we would persevere through the tragedy that we had all witnessed and many of us had lived. We were cheering because we were alive. We were cheering for everyone that had died on that terrible day. As I got off at my stop I smiled as I heard the raucous clapping and yelling for the people that had just entered the car and saw the panicked look of a man that was trying to leave the car as the doors slammed closed. I smiled because this was New York and you could not break New York’s spirit.

I left New York for good about seven years ago and have only been able to return once. Many musicians, including myself struggled greatly after the attacks. Friends of mine that had been there for 20 or 30 years were having trouble finding work. It was hard on all of us and finally became too much of a struggle to get by for me. I will always love the city and do not regret being there when the attacks happened. I only regret the fact that it did happen. I will always carry the feeling of that day with me, good and bad. I remember how much good the people of New York did helping others during and after the attacks. I cheer for them for that. I cheer for the people that lost their lives. Not the fact that they died, but I raise my glass periodically in remembrance of them as I do as I write this paragraph. I have had many things happen to me that were life changing. I have suffered through the deaths of friends and family, most of the friends I grew up with are dead or in jail for life, and I am myself also a cancer survivor. Still, the thing that changed me the most were the events on September 11th, 2001. I will always remember that day of tragedy, helplessness and also the selflessness of New Yorkers in my old city and I will always cheer for and raise a toast for my former home, the one and only New York.


Sunday, September 9, 2012

What a Wonderful Day! (Fort Myers Yacht Basin)

This scene was actually selected yesterday. After I was done with the downtown painting yesterday, I drove around that area and then walked over to the yachts. As soon as I came to the spot, I decided to paint it the next day. It was so beautiful wth the ideal water color. Today when I went there, it was pretty windy. I had problem with keeping the umbrella straight. Finally I had to do without the umbrella. It was OK since it was kind of cloudy. The sun didn't bother me while painting.
I love the scene with those small boats docked against the backgound of the Edison Bridges. Since it was so windy, I had to focused on the large messes, so the picture looks looser that usual. Maybe less is better than more. Hope you like it.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Saturday Morning in Downtown Fort Myers

I got up early this morning. By the time I arrived at Downtown Fort Myers, it was still pretty early. The sun light touched only the top part of the buildings across the street and my side was still totally in shade. I set up at the corner of First St. and Hendry St., in front of the First Natonal Bank. The flier box at its entrance served well as my water bottle table. I didn't even know the name of the restaurant across from me but it opened pretty early. The waitress came to open the door and smiled to me, saying, "You've made my morning." Pretty soon she took out the umbrellas and open them over the tables on the sidewalk, adding a lot of color to my picture.
The picture took two hours and a half. I made an effort to hold up the tone because the sun was rising and its shining angle changed fast; so did the shaded area. Therefore, I stuck the lighting the way when I began and, as I was painting, I consciously kept in mind the street I saw in the beginning. I painted things first that would soon change  with the sun. It was a good thing to paint it in the small sizeof  8 x 11. Hope you like thee picture.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Gilchrist Park, Punta Gorda, FL

Yesterday my friend Trudy called me from Punta Gorda, asking if I would join her group in portrait studio on Thursday. Unfortunately, it conflicts my drawing class at FGCU, so I told her I was sorry but was unable to join them till after Christmas. She was a nice lady and was so kind as to take care of my pantings and the award ribbon and kept them for me while I was in New York. Therefore, I thought to myself that it would be better to go today and get them back, especially when she was volunteering today at the VAC library. However, the round trip was more than 80 miles. In order to make the trip more worthy, I decided to paint today in Punta Gorda. I left home early in the morning and went to Gilchrist Park. The above picture is what I did there. Hope you like it.
One more thing, recently I have been reading Emily Dickinson. I know her poems are not easy to read. Something I read about her piqued my interest in her poems. I felt I share her attitude about life and art. She was an obssessively private person and writing poems was totally a personal thing to her. As for her poems, I believe in what Robert Forst said about poems. He said poems should be read metaphorically. Poets talk about one, but suggest something else. In other words, we each can read our own meaning into poems based on our experiences.
In the collection The Single Hound, there are several poems in which she mentions soul. For instance,
           The soul that hath a guest
            Doth seldom go abroad -
            Diviner crowd at home
            Obliterate the need,
            And courtesy forbid
            A host's departure, when
            Upon Himself be visiting
            The Emperor of Men!
I have to say the word soul often causes my reflections because I clearly remember some of my experiences in which I felt I needed to stop to think because of this word. In most occasions, the English word could be equevalent to the Chinese word "灵魂”。
The first time I remember I pondered the meaning of the word was when I read Chinese writer Lu Xun's novelette Benediction in which the protagonist, a two-timed widow, who feared her two deceased husbands would fight over her in the next life, asked everyone she met whether human soul would still exist after death. At that time I understood soul as something spiritual that would survive our physical existence. To me it was a simple conception, that is, my "conscience". If I read meaning into Dickinson's poem, conscience is the guest that keeps "soul" home?
Later when China opened its door and I began to have some contact with American literature. I remember when we were discussing Sherwood Anerson's Grotesques of Winesburg, Ohio, the American professor suddenly asked us, "Do Chinese believe in soul?" I began to sense some difference in Western conception of soul than Chinese. It seemed to be more than just "conscience" and encompass the power that control the way of thinking and doint things. Later on, I realized Western interpretation of soul had a lot to do with religious belief. Talking about soul is a kind of self-reflection.
Then I read Yale scholar Francis Hsu's Passage to Differences. Hsu observes that there is a difference between Chinese and Westerners in terms of attitude about religion. According to his analysis, traaditionally Chinese don't have as much religious passion as Westerners because of Confucian ideology. He mentioned that even though China is traditonally an pantheist society and that if there is a kind of thing which functions close to a religion, it is Confucianism. However, Confucianism is, at most, a quasi-religion. Cofucius was never interested in things supernatural. He once said, "Just focus on this world and never mind about the world of the guosts or deities/gods. He promoted ancestor worship instead of any supernatural powers. Does that explain it?
Recently, I sort of had another round of the previous experiences. My friend Ben Harris, who is interested in China and things related to China, one day asked me, "What is the sould of the Chinese?" I am not sure if I gave him a satisfactory answer. I reflected all my experiences with the term "soul", I really feel, like Dickinson's poem, everyone can read his/her own meaning into it.  As far as religion is concerned, I believe my personal experiences are illustrative of at least a part of Chinese American community. In a pantheist society like China, my Buddhist parents, who lived in the French settlement of Shanghai, sent all their children to an American Baptist school across the street in the British Settlement. When communitsts came to power, of course, everyone became an atheist, willingly or not. Since I came to this country, I tried to rekindle my religious passion, but was soon turned off by evangelists' corruption and their attitude about science. I still respect religious believers and have many friends among them, I have stopped going to church. No matter what, I still have the original conscience with me in soul.