Saturday, May 09, 2009

700: Exodus


This is the 700th post. I've been counting down since February I think. Perhaps since the day I painted and presented this to its current owner (27 Feb), since the day I knew I wanted this to be this blog's new header; I cannot remember exactly when.


It began when Chian Ming asked for a painting last year, seeing what I did with the bird against the fiery red sky. She asked for flowers.

And then just before 10.00 p.m. on 9 Feb this year--I think it was one of those stressful seasons--she sent me this message;

"Look out the clear sky. The moon is extra big today. :-) take some time to admire it to clear ur mind off a little. Do Tc k."

So I stepped out of my room and went downstairs and stood near the cactus and looked at the moon. And so it started with a flower, and the flower was joined by the moon, the moon by the cactus, and the cactus by a desert.

At that time I was reading the article on Vincent van Gogh in the October 1997 issue of National Geographic. I was thinking a lot about art, and wondering if I might actually be able to experience the joy of painting once again. With van Gogh came the sunflowers, the melancholic portraits, the tragic life that was tragic because (as Don McLean cleverly observed) "they could not know you"--people could not understand his genius--the struggle to maintain artistic integrity, and the tulips of Holland.

I had not yet decided what sort of flowers to paint for her.


It happens that at that time, Lent was about to begin. By Ash Wednesday on 25 Feb, I'd decided that I'd use the book of the Exodus as my Lent reading. First of all, it was convenient: 40 chapters of Exodus for the 40 days of Lent. But I believe one of the strongest drawing factors was that I had been identifying myself with Moses quite a lot then, what with the feelings of inferiority, of wondering why God would choose such a person for so apparently monumental a task.

The burning bush is the deciding metaphor of the Exodus. On that mountain (Mount Sinai) God promises that Moses and the Israelites would worship following their liberation from slavery. In the blazing fire that yet spared the bush, there was a symbol of the refining, purifying act of God. "Remove your shoes for you stand on holy ground."

And in that conversation between God and Moses, God made only one point (for indeed He probably only had one point to make): that Moses was mere mortal while God was--and is--God.

I could not reflect on the Exodus without also thinking of Jesus Christ. And so images as diverse as the Ark of the Covenant, the golden calf, meteorite debris, the pierced hand of the Christ, blood, living hearts, and fire, all poured into my mind and onto the scraps of paper upon which I jotted my thoughts.

U2's 'The Fly' was an anthem of sorts for How and myself at the time; in many ways it still is. This line from the song kept ringing in my head, "Love, we shine like a burning star, falling from the sky tonight." And that was when it all came together.


It was going to be a night scene in the desert. In the desert because that is where God tested and purified the Israelites, where Jesus spent 40 days and 40 nights before being tempted by Satan, where Jesus won the victory. At night because the moon comes out at night.

There was going to be fire. Not just fire from a burning bush, but fire from burning stars falling from the sky. And these falling stars would reincarnate themselves as tulips; and irony because tulips are so familiar yet they remind me of the artist whose thoughts and emotions reflected ideas that did not seem at all to come from Earth.

I didn't know how to draw the mountain, so I based it on a photograph I took of Mount Kinabalu when I was there in 2007.

In the painting I also liberally use, as a motif, the strokes and general structure of the Chinese character for 'moon', yuèt.

I used Arches 185 gsm watercolour paper and Artist's Alpha Water Colors, and a sponge to add texture to the mountains.


We only live, only suspire
Consumed by either fire or fire.


~ T.S. Eliot, 'Little Gidding'

* * * * *

On 6 Feb last year, I wrote: I think it’s fitting to mark the 600th entry on this blog with a reflection on my recent sabbatical from, and subsequent return to, photography.

A hundred entries and a year later, I am returning to watercolour and other forms of art. But I am not leaving photography behind; I'm seeking ways to create hybrids of the two.

4 comments:

林庄生 said...

Hey bro,

Nice to be able to read your blog again. I wonder what happened when you put up the sign "Under Construction"... Anyway, just been moved by your description in this post. You have never stop amaze me with your outstanding wisdom and knowledge, which surpassed my expectation of a junior. Did you know that you are the first ever junior that really think critically towards the thoughts I have been bringing to my fellow juniors, and actually criticize it? (Just remember that very day when we were sitting at the Science Faculty cafe, talking about the anti-establishment sentiment I used to bring towards the juniors) Seriously, I'm proud of you... I mean your boldness and your sense of mental establishment.

Wish you all the best. Feel free to visit my new blog, and possible, can you change the link in your blog to my website? I've changed my website to another place already.

With Love,
Johnson.

http://eagleinmotion-en.blogspot.com

Shannon said...

eh nice painting....i had no idea you could paint nicely as well!
haha.

siedne said...

happy 700th! wohoo!

silentsoliloquy said...

A beautiful painting, old friend. :)