Ego and Soul

Jase Lim

Art is an unmapped territory.  Some artists stay within their comfort zone, and others prefer to tread on new territories, there is no rule or boundary.  Any limitation is only within oneself by one’s attitude.

As an artist, I keep questioning myself, what I really want? what is art to me?  So as not to fall into the trap of ego satisfaction walking in the field of art.

The soul is the source of one’s passion while ego is the source of desires.  Ego may control knowledge but the soul is the source of wisdom.


Dance in the Country

Dance in the Country

Auguste Renoir. Dance in the Country, 1883,  Oil on canvas, 180x90cm. Musee d’Orsay, Paris.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir needs no further introduction.  He was a leading voice in the development of the Impressionist style.  This 19th century artist is a celebrator of beauty and feminine sensuality.

In Renoir’s word: “For me, a picture should be something likable, joyous and pretty – yes, pretty.  There are enough ugly things in life for us to add to them.”  Thus to Renoir, painting acts not so much as a mirror of life but as an escape from it.

Renoir had painted numerous paintings on dance and party scenes.  In this life-size painting, measuring 180cm x 90cm, a couple is seen dancing under a chestnut tree.  Set in the open air, this painting depicts the merriment of country life.  There is a sense of carefreeness, clearly evident from the hat dropped in the foreground or the disorderly table left behind by the couple who are swept away by the music.

The woman dancing is Aline Charigot, Renoir’s future wife, she holds a fan in her right hand, displays a smiling face and looks towards the viewer or the artist (Renoir)?   She is wearing a bright red hat, her costume is in white with small orange red florets, which is a contrasting colour against her dancing partner, the man named Paul Lhote, a friend of Renoir, dressed in blue suits.


Art Creation

Jase Lim

Bird Nest at GBTB

“Art” at the birth of word means “to put things together”, it is a verb instead of noun.  To use the word “Art” as verb, “Creation” became repetitive.

The impulse to create is inborn in human.  Since Palaeolithic time, art was infused with daily living connected to spirituality but to-date it has been institutionalized and separate from daily life.  It has been commodified and requires expert to determine whether it is art.

Art creation is integrated with the social structures, their subject matter may be influenced by the art academies, systems of patronage or cultural background.  These creations usually arise with an intent to communicate.  And by posing questions on how these arts were created, a new set of ideas about the nature of art, artistic practice and the meaning of art may evolved.  The question on what is Art may be as difficult to define as the question, who am I?

On the other hand, animals built nests, bee hives, cocoon, web etc for survival and reproduction, they may not (except Bower Birds?) be inspired by aesthetic or narrative ideas.  But from the human perspective, that creations has become an object of beauty to mimic. An architect may observe the bee hives and transform it into a magnificent building. Artist is able to see or observe and transform natural shapes – metaphorical.  Metamorphic translations is a necessary faculty for the creation of art, for example, Picasso see the number 7 as an upside down nose.

In art creation, making things is a powerful act rather than the ‘things’ you make.  It is the making itself, the experience.  One do it naturally, beautifully without a hint that we have done anything that has to do with art.   The work of art lives in the experience, the journey within the process not resulting monument to be presented.  It is a process of putting things into some order, it is the process of organizing ‘truth’ around a person nucleus.




The Chopin Rose

The Chopin RoseThis rose is named after Polish-French composer Frederic Chopin.  It is a strong growing crossed bred hybrid tea rose. The blooms have mild fragrance and grow in small clusters of 3 – 5.

Frederic Francois Chopin (1810-1849), died at a young of age 39, probably of tuberculosis.  His music are widely loved all over the globe.  He was a leading musician of his era who wrote primarily for solo piano

Chopin left Poland when he was 20 and settled in Paris at age 21.  When Chopin arrived in Paris, he has encountered with artists and other distinguished figures and found many opportunities to exercise his talents and achieve celebrity.  Among them were Robert Schumann who declared “Hats off, gentlemen!  A genius”.  And critic Francois-Joseph Fetis wrote “Here is a young man who…taking no model, has found, if not a complete renewal of piano music…an abundance of original ideas of a kind to be found nowhere else…”

Thereafter, in his last 18 years of his life, though he gave public performances but preferred the more intimate atmosphere of the salon and his apartment as he realized that his essentially intimate keyboard technique was not optimal for large concert spaces.  Chopin said to a pupil that “concerts are never real music, you have to give up the idea of hearing in them all the most beautiful things of art.”

Chopin refused to conform to a standard method of playing and believed that there was no set technique for playing well. His style was based extensively on his use of very independent finger technique, he wrote: “Everything is a matter of knowing good fingering … we need no less to use the rest of the hand, the wrist, the forearm and the upper arm.” He further stated: “One needs only to study a certain position of the hand in relation to the keys to obtain with ease the most beautiful quality of sound, to know how to play short notes and long notes, and [to attain] unlimited dexterity.”

Berlioz wrote in 1853 that Chopin “has created a kind of chromatic embroidery … whose effect is so strange and piquant as to be impossible to describe … virtually nobody but Chopin himself can play this music and give it this unusual turn”.  Hiller wrote that “What in the hands of others was elegant embellishment, in his hands became a colourful wreath of flowers.”

Both Maria Wodzinska and Eugene Delacroix had painted a portrait for Chopin.  Delacroix gave an account of staying at Nohant with Chopin in a letter of 7 June 1842: “The hosts could not be more pleasant in entertaining me. When we are not all together at dinner, lunch, playing billiards, or walking, each of us stays in his room, reading or lounging around on a couch. Sometimes, through the window which opens on the garden, a gust of music wafts up from Chopin at work. All this mingles with the songs of nightingales and the fragrance of roses”.

From 1842 onwards, Chopin showed signs of serious illness. After a solo recital in Paris on 21 February 1842, he wrote to Grzymała: “I have to lie in bed all day long, my mouth and tonsils are aching so much.”  Late in 1844, Charles Hallé visited Chopin and found him “hardly able to move, bent like a half-opened penknife and evidently in great pain”, although his spirits returned when he started to play the piano for his visitor. Chopin’s health continued to deteriorate, particularly from this time onwards.

Chopin made his last public appearance on a concert platform at London’s Guildhall on 16 November 1848, when, in a final patriotic gesture, he played for the benefit of Polish refugees. By this time he was very seriously ill, weighing less than 45 kg, and his doctors were aware that his sickness was at a terminal stage.

On 17 October 1849, after midnight, the physician leaned over him and asked whether he was suffering greatly. “No longer”, he replied. He died a few minutes before two o’clock in the morning.

Chopin’s innovations in style, harmony, and musical form, and his association of music with nationalism, were influential throughout and after the late Romantic period.  His often tumultuous love-life, and his early death have made him a leading symbol of the Romantic era. His works remain popular, and he has been the subject of numerous films and biographies of varying historical fidelity.

Extracted from:




The Untroubled Mind

Jase Lim

Rose taken in Flower Dome at GBTB by Jase Lim

My work is anti-nature
You will not think form, space, line and contour
Just a suggestion of nature gives weight
We say this rose is beautiful
And when this rose is destroyed
Then we have lost something
So that beauty has been lost
When the rose is destroyed
We grieve
But really beauty is unattached
And a clear mind sees it
The rose represents nature
But it isn’t the rose
Beauty is unattached, its inspiration – its inspiration
The development of sensibility, the response to beauty
In early childhood, when the mind is untroubled
Is when inspiration is most possible

Extracted from page 35 of Agnes Martin Writings
Edited by:  Herausgegeben von Dieter Schwarz
Publisher:  Hatje Cantz, Germany, 2005

Ventriloquist and Crier in the Moor

Ventriloquist and Crier in the Moor

Paul Klee. Ventriloquist and Crier in the Moor. Water and ink on cardboard, 41.9×29.5cm. The Bergruen Klee Collection, 1923.

Paul Klee (1879 – 1940) was a Swiss German artist.  He painted on small-scale but towards his death, switched to work on bigger scale, often used geometric forms and grid format compositions as well as letters and numbers with playful figures of animals and people.  His ‘childlike’ forms are embedded with influences from poetry, music, dreams and transcendental philosophy.

Ventriloquist and Crier in the Moor was painted in 1923 at age 44.  The write-up on this painting by The Met: “this work, with its humour and grotesque fantasy, may strike many viewers as the quintessential Klee.  Imaginary beasts float within a transparent ventriloquist who appears to be all belly – except for a pair of legs, tiny arms and a head without mouth.  The little creature inside the ventriloquist may symbolizes the odd noises and voices that seem to come from there.  Yet why he stand on a small gangplank in a swamp and cries is everyone’s guess”.

The swamp is indicated by the background grid of warmth earth colours that turns dark toward the centre and against the figure portraying the transparency ‘body’.  As if attracted by the animal sounds above him, a stray fish is about to enter a net hanging from the lower part of the body, perhaps to join the menagerie within.

Abstraction to Klee is the way the artist painted the picture and not at the picture’s message. He called it pictorially pure relations:  light to dark, colour to light and dark, colour to colour, long to short, broad to narrow, sharp to blunt, left right – up down – behind before, circle to square to triangle.  He said “Art does not reproduce what is visible, but makes thing visible.  The nature of graphic art easily makes abstraction tempting, add rightly so.  The imaginary character is both blurred and has a fairy-tale quality about it and at the same time expresses itself very precisely.  The purer the graphic work, i.e. the greater the importance attached to the formal elements used in the graphic representation, the more inadequate the preparation for the realistic representation of visible thing.”

Klee passed away at age 61.  In his words:  presumptuous is the artist who does not follow his road through to the end.  But chosen are those artists who penetrate to the region of that secret place where primeval power nurtures all evolution.


Portrait of Dr Gachet

Portrait of Dr GachetPortrait of Dr Gachet was painted by Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh in 1890.  The size of the painting is 67x56cm and was sold to a private collector through Christie’s New York in 1990 at US$82.5 million.

Dr Paul-Ferdinand Gachet (1828-1909) was the doctor who took care of Van Gogh during the final months of his life.  From Van Gogh’s letter to his brother Theo, his first impression on Gachet was not favourable as he felt Gachet is sicker than he is but after two days, Van Gogh’s impression on Gachet changed completely and said that he had found a true friend, like another brother and that they resemble each other physically and also mentally.

It was mentioned that there are two versions of this portraiture, the second version looked less finished.  Both were painted in June 1890 when Van Gogh was discharged from an asylum at Saint-Remy and went to stay in Gachet’s second home in Auvers.  This painting featured here is the first version sold through Christie’s New York, depicted Gachet sitting at a red table with his cheek resting on his right hand.  The dark colour coat highlighted Gachet’s tired, pale facial features.  His heavy-lidded eyes seem to be in deep thought gazing at nothing exuded a sense of melancholy and compassion.

There are two yellow books on the table; Germinie Lacerteux (1865) and Manette Salomon (1867), both by the Goncourt brothers, Edmond and Jules de Goncourt.  The two novels are depressing in content—Germinie Lacerteux is about a young servant who lives a debauched life and dies miserably in the workhouse and Manette Salomon describes the lives of four more or less unsuccessful painters.

FoxgloveIn the foreground of the painting, one cannot miss a vase of purple medicinal herb known as foxglove. The foxglove is also known as fairy thimbles, witches’ gloves and dead men’s bells. The drug Digoxin is derived from this plant. The side effects affects the vision, imparting everything with a yellow hue and a halo. It is thought that some of Van Gogh paintings were painted under the influence of this drug which was prescribed at the time for epilepsy and mania (Van Gogh might be suffering from both).

The foxglove’s prominent place in the composition, might serve as a badge for the physician or the sombre purple blue hue has in come ways toned down the bright red table cloth and extend the melancholic feeling.

In Van Gogh’s word “I’ve done the portrait of M. Gachet with a melancholy expression, which might well seem like a grimace to those who see it… Sad but gentle, yet clear and intelligent, that is how many portraits ought to be done… There are modern heads that may be looked at for a long time, and that may perhaps be looked back on with longing a hundred years later.”


Lilas et roses

Edouard Manet

Edouard Manet. Lilas et Roses, Oil on canvas, 32x25cm, 1882.

A still life painting by Edouard Manet in 1882.  The size of the canvas is around 32x25cm.  Painted in oil with his remarkable loose brushstrokes and sense of light are two roses and some delicate sprig of lilacs.  The greyish background colour brought out the colours of the blooms.

Christie’s Senior Vice President Jessica Fertig said that it was more than a demonstration of the Manet’s skill because he often gave still life paintings of fruits or flowers to friends. As Fertig explains, ‘Manet was visited by his friends in his Paris apartment, and would often paint the bouquets they brought. Each one relates to the person who gave it, thus becoming an illustration of their relationship and in some sense immortalises the giver.’

Lilas et roses was painted during the final six months of Manet’s life.  This particular painting was a gift to Ginevra Hareau de Villeneuve, the daughter of his doctor.  Manet said, ‘A painter can say everything he wants with fruits or flowers, or even clouds.  You know, I would like to be the Saint Francis of still life.’ Still life occupied one fifth of Manet’s paintings.

Most of Manet’s subject matters in his paintings focusing on observing the social life in 19th century Paris.  People are depicted drinking beer, listening to music, flirting, reading or waiting.  Among these paintings, there are a few well known controversial pieces like Olympia (1865) and Dejeuner sur I’herbe (1863) translated in English Luncheon on the Grass.

Lilac et roses with the simple subject of a vase of flowers exudes an endearing sense of presence.  This painting was later owned by David Rockefeller who hung it in the front hall of his primary residence.


Titus van Rjin (1641 – 1668) son of Rembrandt

Titus van Rjin

Rembrandt van Rjin (1606-1669). Portrait of the Artist’s Son, Titus, c1655, Oil on canvas, 65x56cm. Simon Norton Museum, California.

Titus is the son of master painter Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn and Saskia van Uylenburgh.  He was the only child of four by Saskia who has survived infancy.  His face has appeared in several of Rembrandt’s paintings.  Titus grew up to be an artist but he died at a young age of 26 in 1668, a year before Rembrandt himself.

Majority of Rembrandt’s paintings are portraitures and self-portraitures.  It seem that the study of human face fascinated him more than anything else.  This portraiture was painted in his signature dark earth tones and golden highlights.  The boy’s body and costume have been painted with a few broad and steady brushstrokes over the rich, dark background.  Details were applied to the collar, hair and head with techniques of glaze and impasto.  The face seem to be more finished compared to the cloak on his body.

The story on how this painting came into the scene as written by Christie Auction house was that in 1815, a British restorer named George Barker missed his boat home and took refuge in a farmhouse near Hague.  Barker spotted this portraiture by Rembrandt on the farmhouse wall, and offered to round up the bill for the night’s lodging to one shilling – if the farmer would agree to throw in the painting. This painting reached Britain, where it remained until its sale at Christie’s 150 years later around 1965.

According to Christie’s Auction House, prior to the introduction of the paddle system, buyers were allowed to choose their own bidding signals.  The American industrialist and collector, Norton Simon’s bidding instruction for this painting was misread and it was sold to Marlborough Fine Art in London at 700,000 guineas.  Simon was enraged and demanded that bidding be reopened and won by an additional 60,000 guineas.

Simon’s obscured bidding signal’s instruction was intended to help him hide from press attention.  But this incident has put him on the front cover of Time magazine that year.  Today the portrait hangs in Simon’s museum in Pasadena, California.

The background story of the painting may bridge some links with the viewer.  However, when viewing a Rembrandt’s portraiture, one should not focus so much on his mastery of techniques but instead felt the intangible characteristic of the human personality.  Look at the face, the sensitivity and emotions of the eyes, be connected with the humanity portrayed on the canvas.


Rembrandt and Etching

Rembrandt, Self-Portrait and Etching

Rembrandt. Self-Portrait, Etching on paper, 1648.

Many know about Rembrandt’s mastery technique in painting, but not many knew about his talent in printmaking.

Self-Portrait at a Window was created using etching medium.  Etching and drypoint is a printmaking technique of the intaglio family.  The image is first incised into a copper plate with a hard-point needle that is applied like a pencil on a drawing paper.  Black ink is applied on the plate and the image is printed by pressing on a paper.  In this self-portrait, Rembrandt has used   technique known as burr, which gives a rich fuzzy quality to the engraved line.

Self-Portrait at a Window, reflects a different sensibility in Rembrandt’s personality.  Dressed in warm clothing wearing a hat, he seemed to be travelling on a train, sketching on a stack of paper, studying his reflection intently in a mirror.  It was at the time marked by personal tragedy, most notably after the death of his wife, Saskia in 1642 and the decline of his finances.

This self-portrait presented him in middle age with an image of sober view in life.  The heavily shadowed interior was lit by a single light source from the window.  He worked on the plate gradually, lightly etching the preliminary composition and then adding layers of etching, drypoint and burin, building up the rich contrasts of light and shadow.

The scenery outside the window was not defined clearly, his sorrowful eyes and clenched lips was an act of affirmation in the face of adversity.  It was mentioned that this would be the last he would make in this etching medium.



Why we bring flowers to the grave site?

Graveyard and FlowerWhile reading a book on The Abuse of Beauty by Arthur Danto, a statement caught my eyes:  Why we bring flowers to the grave site?  Or to funeral?

It was mentioned in the web that putting flowers on grave sites in cemeteries is a tradition as far back as Stone Age.  This practice remains popular till to date.  The purpose for this flowers may be sentiment, aesthetics or symbolism.  This explanation provide us the information to know the external value of the flowers but there is another layer which touch on the human sensibilities which is worth exploring.

It is similar to why sentimental music affect one’s mood.  There is this beauty in the music and flowers which works as a catharsis, transforming raw grief to tranquil sadness, helping the tears to flow as soothing balm.


The Kiss

Gustav Klimt, The Kiss

Gustav Klimt. The Kiss, 180x180cm, Oil and silver and gold leaf on canvas, 1907

The Kiss was painted by Austrian painter Gustav Klimt (1862 – 1918).  It was painted on a square canvas measuring 180x180cm and this painting is currently housed in Osterreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna, Austria.

Gustave Klimt is one of the greatest painter of the Art Nouveau period.  He was a successful painter of large paintings in public buildings.  His style of paintings has evolved into a more ornamental and sensuous style synthetizing swirls, shapes, colours, gold and silver leaf.

This painting, depicting a couple locked in intimacy, their bodies enveloped in elaborate robes was painted in decorative style with oil paint and gilded with gold and silver leaf.  It was mentioned that this style was influenced by the Byzantine mosaic arts, during his visit to Italy in 1903.  But before his visits in 1903, gold and flatness composition has already appeared in his creations for example his Beethoven Frieze (1902).

There are several theories as to who are these two character in The Kiss.  Popular perception is that they are the painter himself and his long-time partner, fashion designer Emilie Floge.  Or it may be an allegory of Zeus kissing Danae in a shower of gold.  Sister Wendy Beckett in The Story of Painting mentioned:    The Kiss is a fascinating icon of the loss of self that lovers experience.  Only the faces and hands of this couple are visible; all the rest is a great swirl of gold, studded with coloured rectangles as if to express visually the emotional and physical explosion of erotic love.

In this painting, the man’s head seem to touch the edge of the top canvas. Both the bodies are kneeling on a patch of flowery meadow with tendrils flowing from their robes.  The man’s robe is decorated in masculine geometric shapes of rectangles in black and white colours while the female has feminine floral in circular shapes on her whole body from head to toes.

This painting, The Kiss has break new ground for Klimt.  As his previous painting often depict dominating woman compared to this woman who is submissive and yielded to the man with abandonment with her arm clinging on the thick and masculine neck of the male.