“Orange and Red Diptych”
48″ x 32” Each
These 2 pieces were breakthrough pieces for me. They were so lush and so right I did not want to sell them and so I hung on to them for years. During this time I started selling my work at Art Fairs and in my own showroom. I often used these pieces as my “show stoppers” to get people to stop and come in to have a closer look. It worked.
Eventually I had an offer from someone who wanted them both. So I let them go. If anybody knows the whereabouts of these pieces please let me know. I would like to purchase them back. Or at least arrange to get a better photo of them.
30″ x 15” And 15″ x 40”
This way of combining images and abstract sensibilities surfaces in my production every few years. I don’t understand why. And I don’t understand why I am not able to make it the focus of my work for at least a year. Perhaps one day I will.
“Self Portrait with Cidual Overlay”
12” x 12”
Originally, I painted a simple, straight forward portrait of myself. Then, I decided to wash it out with a couple of large strokes of white paint. Then, I wiped a bit of the white paint off with a rag leaving my face visible again but obfuscated. For no apparent reason, I decided to paint my signature Cidual over top of all of that in black.
The Cidual is a triple pun. It is roughly my Chinese family name in Grass script. But it is also the symbol for I-5 or Interstate Highway 5 which is a very large highway that passed directly over the roof of my Eastlake studio of 20 years. That highway was a defining element of my experience for a long time. Finally, the Cidual is roughly a linear portrait of myself in profile. So it is loosely my identity … both Chinese and American, my space and my image all obfuscated and blended.
6′ x 4’
At the time I painted this I did several of them. Some were more successful than others. But I remember wondering if I would ever be able to paint an abstract differently than one’s that look like this. From the distance of another 20 plus years as I write this, those worries seem laughable. Just scroll backwards and you can see the incredible variety of approaches just within abstract art.
I have occasionally heard the expression that life is short but living is long. When I was younger I only pretended to know what that meant. Now, as I recall my struggles with boredom and fear of being boring I can see more clearly what that expression means, of course child rearing helped me understand that too.
To younger artists I say… trust your obsessions. And feed your mind and soul. If you do those things you will dig deep into what inspires you and you will not need to worry about being stuck and getting boring. Time will move slowly in the moment and allow you to explore something beyond scratching the surface. And yet time will develop quickly enough into a longer arc over which time your work will develop sometimes in great leaps and sometimes in such small ways you won’t notice but before you know it you will be looking back taking the measure of things as I am doing now and realize how much you have grown and changed and yet how many beautiful diamonds you materialized along the way.
“Cidual Self Portrait”
80” x 30”
1994 or 1995
This is a triple pun. Its a rough approximation of my Chinese last name in “grass script.” It is also a loose sketch of myself with my left eye dominant. My left eye is not the passive receiving eye. It is the eye that fixes the world; freezes it, identifies it, and cuts it out and makes it real. It is an outward eye. The third layer of the pun is that I adopted this symbol for my studio, which at the time, was under interstate 5… I-5. It is roughly an eye and the number five, as well as my image.
48” x 24”
Every so often throughout my career I have tried to utilize various elements of my painting techniques and styles to figure out and then communicate my deeply felt notions about how the universe is made. Here I am drawing heavily on my studies in Chinese landscape painting, Western figurative realism and abstract symbolism. The landscape in the background is inspired by Ni Tsan, a great Chinese painter from the 13th century. His work inspired me because of the degree to which he abstracted his mark making and the overall minimalism of his work. The broad openness of his paintings allow so much play for the imagination and creates a quiet excitement.
But my piece has the intrusion of a pair of legs. The legs are noteworthy for their volumetric presence. More beguilingly, though, are the symbolic abstract marks on the upper part of the painting. What is that? I honestly don’t know. But I think they create the effect of a crucifix. I think the landscape, space and volumetric figure collude to create a symbol of surrender and transformation which are, after all, the essential themes of a crucifix.
6’ x 4’
“Abstract Collage” 3 Versions
20″ x 18″
Two artists worth considering are the nearly household name Henri Matisse and the lesser known Robert Motherwell. Henry and Bob. French and American. Early and then mid 20th century. I learned a lot from both of these artists. Among other things, I learned how to boil it down.
In this case, it’s boiled down so much I don’t even know what the subject might have been at one point. Maybe there never was a subject. I do create lots of abstract paintings after all. But it does seem to suggest a figure in front of a landscape. Or a portrait in front of a window. The terms of the piece are few enough to count without much effort. Is that the ocean and a night sky? Or just a blue wall with a heavy shadow. Is that the bridge of a nose or just the way the paper tore?
It probably doesn’t matter. But these peekaboo games can be enjoyable, to a point. Like all things aesthetic, when that line is crossed from pleasantly engaging to annoyingly puzzling is a fine line to distinguish. One man’s aesthetic pleasures is another man’s befuddlement. Hard to know where we are here. Something tells me, though, it’s worth keeping around for awhile.
Maybe this website will eventually become my own “Zervos” catalogue raisonne. I am referring to the legendary catalog of Picasso’s art prepared by French art historian and critic Christian Zervos and which contains over 16,000 works of art in 33 bound volumes. And if it did, there would be several pages devoted to paintings that look like this. I did lots of them around this time.
During this particularly productive time there was no distinction between sketching and painting. Ideas were explored in paint on any substance I could get my hands on. I was broke at the time so that was rarely conventional materials such as canvas.
At this time I was fascinated with the power of symbols and began running them through the vocabulary of styles I had been studying and emulating the previous 3 years. Eventually these experiments coalesced into an approach that looked like this and which I still use to express ideas in my ongoing almost diary like sketching today…30 years later. You can see more of what became of this way of making images over the next 30 years in the section on “works on paper”.
Around 1994 I stopped painting this way. Painting became more of an activity for presentation than for exploration. That is not entirely true but to a large extent it is and explains why the works from this point on look at lot more presentational.
30″ x 24”
1993 was a year of intense experimentation for me. This piece, and the other two featured along with it, were all painted at that time. For the purposes of organization I created various categories to organize my work. These pieces are all difficult to place because they don’t really fit into any of these categories. They are not quite abstract pieces nor are they still life or figure paintings. They aren’t really even true Enzo pieces in that they are not Sumi ink on paper nor were they done as a kind of single stroke meditative exercise.
But they are beautiful and needed to be on the site. They also demonstrate just how wide and varied my work was in 1993. So here they are, somewhat arbitrarily in the “abstract” section of my website.
Oil on silk screen
36” x 60”
This is painted on a found Chinese Screen. These screens are often made of multiple panels and are typically displayed partially folded and standing on a table or other furniture rather than attached to the wall. So typically one would see both sides of the piece as you moved around it.
Western Art has no such thing, not even in the decorative arts. To me this absence of so interesting and simple a device in Western Art and decorative arts is just strange to me. And in fact, I myself have only painted one in my 40 plus years of painting. Perhaps I will have some screens made and do more painting like this. There is so much room for creative expression with panels coming into view and overlapping. The possibilities for story telling and aesthetic pleasure are endless.
4′ x 4′
By the time I did this painting my work really loosened up. Compared to the work I was doing when I first arrived in Seattle a few years prior to this work, my process is now sloppy and on the verge of not even cohering. It looks like I’m leaning on the system I had developed with stacking symbols and references to mythology as a kind of anchor.
This brief chapter of my work lasted about 2 years and proved to be completely unpopular with my growing audience and market for my work. I don’t think I sold a single one. But to this day, roughly 25 years later as I write this, I still love this little body of work and don’t understand why it hasn’t found an audience.
The three paintings below are of similar size and were done about the same time.
This painting looks like a cross between the eye in Picasso’s “Guernica” and the balls in Motherwell’s Spanish Elegy. Both of these paintings were inspired by the Spanish civil war. Picasso’s painting was inspired by the emotional response to the dramatic beginning of the war. And Motherwell’s piece was inspired by the contemplation of the long senseless war as it dragged on.
This piece is not about the Spanish civil war. But is about contemplative and viscerally impactful painting. How could one painting be both? Or, what was more compelling to me at the time : how could a style of art have a visual vocabulary and syntax that would be suitable to express this seemingly conflicting set of concerns?
This piece is a sketch….a study…an effort to formulate that language. Perhaps someday someone will organize a show of my work starting somewhere around 1980 and going all the way up through 2023 (the time of this writing) to see how this project unfolded and to see if there is anything that comes close to achieving that goal. I’m pretty sure there is some good stuff in there. But then again, I’m the artist so I’m not in a very good position to say.
But there is more to it than that. This little story wouldn’t be complete without mentioning something else that was very much on my mind then: the idea of the mythic eye. This is the idea that an eye not only absorbs light and is an organ of seeing. But it is also an organ of projection. It has the ability to project energy and power and is perhaps most famously known these days as the eye of Sauron in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.
But a mythic eye doesn’t have to be evil. In fact in its more traditional understanding it is beyond the dualities or good and evil. It is raw undivided primordial power. If anything, it is the originator of division before becoming divided itself. It is what cleaves the universe from the unseen and the seen. Seeing, in this case isn’t the passive act of discerning what is, but rather the act of making what is. Seeing makes the universe.
This notion took hold in me and by 1993 gave me the understanding I needed to break through the hold that abstract painting had on me. I literally opened my eye and made a universe of paintings that I made by seeing. I found a way to paint the human figure that wasn’t just vapid observation. It was figurative painting where the power of the mythic eye literally saw the beings into existence.
8′ x 4’
This painting was created in collaboration with Denny Sergeant. For a description of our process and goals, please see the entry under “Lingham” in this website. I don’t remember the title of this painting, but I do remember that it was created to invoke a gentle Hindu goddess who represented peace, tranquility, and femininity. All of the pieces that were created with this project, were all “done at once.” Like with some painting techniques, there was no layering or “dialogue with the work” over a period of time. There was a direct knowing about the process with this creation, and I would begin at one corner and move across the surface, just like the way a house painter would paint a room. For some reason, the technique arrived intact and complete even though I had painted nothing like these in type or size before these were created. I had then continued to use some of the techniques of blending and intermittent use of bristle and sable brushes in my figurative work for the next 10 years.
8′ x 4’
This is one of about five large paintings I created in collaboration with Denny Sergeant. Denny taught English as a second language at Seattle University where I also taught for one summer. He devoted his life to occult studies with a particular interest in the works of Alastair Crowley and the spiritualist movements at the turn of the century in England. His devotion and seriousness were equal to my own. Denny was also an artist, working mostly in clay but his masks lacked skill and talent. However, his work was not lacking in integrity, forceful inventiveness and are imbued with a spiritual presence. Denny is the real thing.
We would combine our talents to invoke spiritual energies, and he would do autonomic drawings on 24″ x 18″ paper. These scribblings were done in charcoal in the dark, and the particularly messy and indistinct nature of charcoal along with the darkness were deliberate attempts to circumvent the conscious or rational mind. Instead, they had opened channels to either the unconscious, the collective conscious, or even the spiritual realm. At some random moment we would stop and turn on the lights.
At that point, I would codify the scribblings into some kind of coherent form and translate them on to a large panel. To be sure, there was some application of rational decision making in the process. Choices were made about form and color, but it was hoped that my intuitive nature as an artist would provide just the right balance of faculties to preserve some of the raw tentative connections with other realms, while giving them a more durable and comprehensible form.
I am not sure how successful I was at that, however, there is no doubt that every one of these five large pieces is something worth keeping and looking at from time to time. They are all gorgeous and imbued with some primal archetypal energy. Looking back now with the perspective of 20+ years, I wish I had done more of these.
In this particular piece, “lingams” are totemic stones found in the Ganges River in India. For Hindus of that region, the lingam is one of two paired primary religious icons and the other one is called a Yoni. They are primordial “male” and “female” forces that combine to form everything that is. In their most basic sense they are “cock” and “cunt.” The Langham is usually a chunk of basalt that has deposits of iron and other minerals, that when polished by millions of years in the river Ganges, give it the unique dark smooth coloration with veins of red or brown throughout or in parts. I have seen many lingam stones in museums and they are always beautiful in even the most rudimentary aesthetic sense.
8′ x 4’
This painting is one of five large pieces done in collaboration with Denny Sergeant. For a description of our process and goals see the entry for the painting “Lingam.” This piece is called “Kali” because it was created during a ritual to invoke the Hindu god “Kali.” Kali is a female god of both creation and destruction. She is highly venerated and feared in India. She is often depicted as a fierce hag with a necklace of skulls giving birth while she dances on a pile of baby corpses.
This fierce no-nonsense vision of a goddess appealed to Denny and I, as we struggled to release ourselves from the confining middle class timidity we grew up with and felt trapped in. To some extent it worked. The painting has some of this impact, but more importantly, for the next 10 years I lived in a kind of exile from middle-class life and created an enormous body of work – the result of smashing open creative channels that made it possible for me to create prodigiously and largely uninhibited.
8 x 4’
This painting was created in a collaboration with Denny Sergeant. For a description of our process and goals see the entry under the painting “Lingam.“
I don’t remember which god or universal force we were invoking when creating this piece. But I do remember thinking this painting has a darker almost malevolent element in it. And indeed, I feel the final painting carries some of that quality even now.
8 x 4’
The idea of a crucible has been meaningful for me since as long as I can remember. On one level it is a container where an alchemist transforms one state of matter into another. On a deeper level it is the symbolic idea of a container itself. In all of my experiments with art as well as community building, I have noticed that things go better if there is a healthy understanding of the limits and rules … even if they are broken sometimes. In fact, I would argue that the power in breaking the boundaries of the container would not be possible without a container in the first place.
Over time, I began to see the canvas or the blank page as the crucible that would be a nearly permanent part of my life. And by extension, the studio.