Saturday, March 31, 2012

Open Up That Golden Gate!

Michael and I are coming to San Francisco to push Kim Novak into the Bay again. We will be in town from April 10 to April 14. Heads up to all our San Fran peeps!

We look forward to a few days in the most beautiful city in the United States.

When most people think of San Francisco, they think of Tony Bennett or Jefferson Airplane. I think of Bernard Hermann, but then, I'm a little peculiar.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

I Love the Revolution Church

Pete's Candy Store in Brooklyn, just blocks from my home, where the Revolution Church meets on Sunday afternoons.

Here is a great sermon that disposes with the dreaded John 3:16 among many other things, and proposes alternatives and a new way to think about "The Gospel in a Nutshell."

This is audio and takes some time, but it is definitely worth it.

On the L Train

The always crowded L train on a normal day.

The always crowded Bedford Avenue stop on the L train where one young man fell on the tracks and was killed by a train in a drunken brawl not too long ago. The other man has since been found and arrested.

As I was pressed against a door on a crowded L train going into Manhattan one morning recently, a young well dressed couple within inches of me began discussing their rent, how to pay it this month, if they could get away with paying just part of it, what groceries they could do without to make the rent. They certainly did not look the part of poor struggling tenants. They looked like low level office professionals of some kind, maybe hipsters on the weekends. They were both on their way to work with their ID badges on. And yet they were talking about doing without to make the rent.

There are so many things wrong with this picture, I thought. Why should anyone who's employed have to worry about paying the rent? Why should 2 employed people worry about paying rent? Why are they, and all the rest of us, pressed together like cattle on the way to a slaughterhouse on a train that runs unreliably at best?

The L train is crowded because the former industrial areas it passes through have been rapidly developed as residential neighborhoods to accommodate the throngs of people driven off Manhattan by the sky high rents all over the island. There was no corresponding expansion of utilities and services for this expanded population. At the very moment when ridership on the subway is at an all time high with growing demand, funds are being cut resulting in service cutbacks, thus densely packed trains and dangerously over-crowded subway platforms at all hours. Deaths from falls on the tracks are up this year.

Michael and I pay a low rent for this neighborhood. Our landlady very much wants to keep us and has no plans to raise our rent anytime soon. And yet, we both hold our breath at the end of every month. We're not really all that different from the couple on the train. Both of us are employed professionals. We are both very much middle class. And yet, there are weeks when I am cashless and Michael does without. Our rent is the least of our problems. I carry a big student loan debt whose monthly bill is now about equal to my rent payment and about to exceed it (Michael's younger sister and her husband across the hall carry even bigger student loan debts, and work 2 full time jobs just to pay the bills). We both carry credit card debt since we have to use those to make up for the occasional lack of cash. We are both living from paycheck to paycheck.

Something is so very wrong with this picture.

We've both had all kinds of problems with banks, credit card companies, and health insurance companies over the years making our lives ever so much harder at just the wrong moment. Just when we think we've caught up, they move the goal posts. Just when we're having a rough time and we'd like a little help, they raise our monthly payments, sometimes tripling them.

And things aren't much better in dear old Dallas where the cost of living there is rapidly catching up with New York. You can still get more there for your rent money, but not much more. On top of that, there are lower wages, and the costs of owning a car which is not quite so necessary in New York as it is in Texas. So, it all comes out the same in the end.

It feels like we, that couple on the L train, Michael's sister and her husband, and lots and lots of other people are being punished. For what? We've always worked hard and were honest. I would imagine the same is true for the couple on the train, and for most people I see in a day. So why does everything feel so damn punitive these days?

And yet I hear the professional moral scolds and read the pundits like David Brooks and Ross Douthat among others bang on and on about how overindulged and spoiled we all are. Ha! That means a lot coming from guys making 6 and 7 figure salaries just to opinionate in public, who are regulars on the Washington dinner party circuit, who I'm sure would never pass up a bonus or royalty check just to help out some poor sap somewhere, let alone for anything like "the common good."

It seems to me that the main agenda of all of our rulers, political, economic, cultural, and religious is to stay in power and to cover their asses.

Thomas Frank recently wrote an op-ed in which he expressed astonishment that just about everyone responsible for two major debacles over the past 10 years kept their jobs. All the pundits who were cheerleaders for the Iraq invasion, George Will, Charles Krauthammer, and Thomas Friedman among others, are all still employed, all still considered "authorities," despite their active involvement in a debacle that cost thousands of lives of both Iraqis and Americans, and effectively broke the national treasury. All of those executives and professionals on Wall Street who inflated all the bubbles, who kept the pot boiling, who defrauded millions of people around the world are still employed and doing better than ever. The financial pundits on CNBC and in the papers who did their part to keep the bubble inflating are also still employed.

I would go even further. The ideology that has dominated public debate in this country for more than thirty years, and enabled both of these debacles is stronger than ever with ever more extreme and rabid adherents practically frothing at the mouth in red faced spittle flecked rage on the tee vee every night. The supremacist regime that created all of these disasters is set to take power again, and this time it is likely that they will make their reign permanent.

Those enthusiastic enforcers of conventional morality in the service of established power, the evangelical and Roman Catholic churches, have lost none of their enthusiasm or power despite scandal and criminality, and despite rapidly growing public alienation from religion in general. Catholic hierarchs and mega-church autocrats are eager to provide moral camouflage for the ambitions of the already rich and powerful to confiscate the remaining assets of the middle class and poor. Marx may well be vindicated in his claim that the priest is the landlord's best friend.

Workers today in Spain are starting a general strike as their government decrees drastic cuts to worker rights, using the current economic crisis as an opportunity to roll back 4 decades of progress since the death of Franco. Sound familiar? It should. The same thing is playing out in state governments here and will soon reach the federal level.

I'd love to see a general strike here, but I despair of that ever happening. Our country is too large, too heterogeneous, and too conflicted. Our rulers are so much more expert at divide et impera than their European counterparts, and we have so many more social and cultural fissures in which to drive wedges than Europe.

And so I ask those old socialist questions:

Whose economy is it? I produce, why don't I share?


Professional moral scolds and the religious right always fret over the state of marriage these days. I've got an idea which will preserve the institution better than recriminalizing homosexuality or stoning adulterers.

Give everyone a raise.

Give people more money to take home. Give them paid parental leave when they have children. Make people feel more secure and safe about keeping a home and a family with national health insurance, student loan debt forgiveness, and public education.

Give people a raise.

More marriages end over money (usually the lack of it) than for any other reason; 57% of all divorces are over money.


Here's a post by economist Duncan Black on his blog Eschaton that is worth quoting in full:
For the past couple of decades we've all (by "we" I man all the Very Serious People in the chattering classes) bought into the fantasy that all we need to do is pursue Conservative Means to achieve Liberal Ends and everything will be awesome. First of all, those conservative means usually don't work (I won't say never, but that discussion is too great for the margin of this blog post). But more importantly, the point of such "compromises" was to actually pass some legislation that might achieve stuff, and was premised on the idea that there were people in both political parties who want to make life better for poor people by improving educational opportunities a bit and maybe help a few more people get decent health insurance. Whether those people in the Republican party ever really existed or if they just mugged for the cameras and the Villagers I don't know, but they don't exist anymore. Right now we have one political party that is very up front about and proud of their desire to mug everyone in the non-millionaire club, steal all their money, and give it to rich people. It's time for the other political party to recognize that the era of dumb compromises is over, and if they'd actually come up with a way to help people, instead of a plan to set up a program to provide the incentives to blahblahblahblahblahblah....

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Passion Series

It's occurred to me that in the more than 3 years I've kept this blog, I've never posted my most successful painting series, The Passion of Christ. I've posted it on my Facebook page for a long time now, but not here on the blog. As Holy Week approaches, I thought it might be the time to finally post these here.

I didn't think these paintings would be successful when I started working on them. I was convinced that the series would be a career killer. On the contrary, this turned out to be my most successful project ever. I owe a big debt of thanks for a lot of that success to Kittredge Cherry over at Jesus In Love. She discovered this series online and has championed it ever since, and even devoted a chapter of her book, Art that Dares to these paintings. Paintings from this series have appeared in magazines and on numerous blogs (both admirers and detractors).

I began the series in the summer of 2001, and was 4 panels into it when September 11th happened. Once all the smoke cleared and I cleaned the dust out of my Lower East Side studio, I began work in earnest on this project. I finished it early in 2005. These are all paintings on wood panels, 18 inches by 14 inches each. I still have a few of them, but most of them were sold separately and are now scattered across the country.

I dedicated this series of paintings to Barbara Crafton, a good friend who helped me out during some very hard times, as well as a lot of other people.

1. The Son of Man

2. Jesus Enters the City

3. Jesus Drives Out The Money Changers

4. Jesus Preaches in the Temple

5. The Last Supper

6. Jesus Prays Alone

7. Jesus Is Arrested

8. Jesus Before the Priests

9. Jesus Before the Magistrate

10. Jesus Before the People

11. Jesus Before the Soldiers

12. Jesus Is Beaten

13. Jesus Goes to His Execution

14. Jesus is Nailed to the Cross

15. Jesus Dies

16. Jesus is Buried

17. Jesus Among the Dead

18. Jesus Rises

19. Jesus Appears to Mary

20. Jesus Appears at Emmaus

21. Jesus Appears to His Friends

22. Jesus Returns to God

23. The Holy Spirit Arrives

24. The Trinity

I had a lot of influences and inspirations for this project in both its form and content from Albrecht Dürer's prints to the paintings of Leon Golub, from the movies of Orson Welles to the Civil Rights era photographs of Charles Moore, and literary inspiration from WH Auden to William Blake to Herman Melville to Hannah Arendt to Paul Tillich.
I spent many years thinking about this project and making sketches before I started the first panel.

I don't know if I will ever do anything quite like this again, though I've thought a lot about how I might do it differently since I finished it 7 years ago.

The series on exhibit at JHS Gallery in Taos, New Mexico in the Spring of 2007.

The Anglican Covenant is Defeated

Grandmere Mimi reports that the Anglican Covenant is now defeated in the Church of England with 24 dioceses now reported to have rejected it in their conventions. I think it's over. No wonder Rowan Williams decided to retire early as Archbishop of Canterbury. This is a major defeat for him.

Here's more news on the defeat from Episcopal Cafe.

It's a huge relief for us in the Episcopal Church since this was always intended to be a punitive measure for the North Americans who had the temerity to act upon their consciences. The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada decided after more than 4 decades of arguing about the issue that gays and lesbians were not criminal or pathological after all, and were therefore full members of the church. Episcopalians acted upon this when in 2003 they elected, approved, and consecrated Gene Robinson, an openly gay man in a non-celibate relationship, to be bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire.

Other churches in the Anglican Communion reacted with horror, and effectively broke off communion with the Episcopal Church and the Canadian Church. A rebellion grew within the Episcopal Church, and eventually left it with the express desire to replace it as the official Anglican presence in the USA. However, despite the exit of about 5 dioceses out of the church, the long anticipated mass exodus of clergy and laity out of the Episcopal Church never materialized.
The Covenant was an ill conceived effort to try to hold an unraveling Anglican Communion together by legal contract, and by effectively transforming a voluntary association of independent churches into a single international church with a curia and a magisterium on the Roman model. The Episcopal Church would have been demoted to some kind of second class status if it did not agree to measures in the Covenant contrary to its polity and to its history. The Archbishop of Canterbury hoped to appease an angry and well organized right wing effort to punish the Episcopal Church while at the same time, keeping the Episcopal Church at least partially in the fold.

This Episcopalian rejoices in the outcome and expresses heartfelt thanks to all those in the C of E and in England who worked so hard for the defeat of this legislation.

Those who wish this church ill will continue to bang their shoes on the desk and shout "We will bury you!" despite this setback. But, with this vote, and with similar votes in the Philippines and in the South Pacific, I think we in the Episcopal Church feel a lot less isolated.

Perhaps this is an opportunity to build a better Communion with stronger ties on the level of local parishes (where international ties were always strongest despite feuding bishops).

*I am still not able to access Thinking Anglicans, even with a search engine or through a link. I presume it is still down.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Is It Just Me ...

... or is Thinking Anglicans down? Hacked? Maintenance? Me?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

What Has Marriage Always Been About?

A painting commissioned from Jan Van Eyck in 1424 to commemorate the betrothal of Giovanni Arnolfini and a woman long thought to be Giovanna Cenami, the children of wealthy Florentine banking agents in Bruges and Paris (this identity is now controversial). If this is Giovanna Cenami, then the marriage ended childless and in annulment after only about 3 years.

I say let's return to traditional marriage as it was always understood for centuries and centuries. Let's drop all this love nonsense. Marriage was always about property and inheritance. It was about producing sons to continue the family name and the family fortune. It was about producing labor to help out with the family farm or the family business. It was about security in old age. It was never about a pair of simpering juvenile delinquents gratifying themselves.

Most marriages in the ancient world were polygamous, all the better to increase the chances of producing sons. Why run the risk of monogamy with one infertile wife?

Young people could never be trusted with an important decision that would affect the entire family. Marriages were arranged. They were the result of careful negotiations between families for an alliance of mutual benefit. The young people did as they were told. If they didn't like it, then they could grin and bear it. Love was for children anyway, not for spouses. If they still weren't happy, then that's what mistresses and lovers were for. Marriage was about betrothal contracts and dowries. It was business.

And what did Christianity bring to marriage? The Christians found marriage and the messy irrational biology at its heart to be revolting and preached celibacy. St. Paul grudgingly accepted marriage as a concession to human need when it appeared that God would be very slow about ending the wicked world.

People began marrying for love in large numbers in the late 18th century, and only in the West. And look at the predicament we are in now!

(sarcasm off)

The sarcasm is aimed at all those who insist that this is timeless and eternal. It was not. It was one moment in one place, and it wasn't even real.


Speaking of the predicament we are now in, marriage rights for same sex couples survives in the New Hampshire legislature. A bill to mandate a public referendum on the issue also was defeated.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Shades Of Emmett Till

Trayvon Martin

Here is a recording of one of 8 calls to 911 by a witness to the shooting.

Here is George Zimmerman's call to the 911 dispatcher:

Interesting that the dispatcher's first question is whether he's black or Hispanic.

I think that with all of these Everyone-Their-Own-Marshall-Dillon gun laws, something like this was bound to happen.

Zimmerman, the town of Sanford, and the State of Florida will face years of criminal and civil litigation over this, and in the end they will all certainly not come out smelling like roses.

Post racial society anyone?

Ta-Nehisi Coates of The Atlantic has been following this case for awhile.


I wonder how many white parents tell their sons not to run in public, especially with something in their hands.


Read the comments thread from Fox News on this. Post racial society anyone? "Good shot Zimmy!"

What We're Up Against

Rev'd Dennis Terry of the Greenwell Baptist Church introducing Rick Santorum

This is what we're up against folks. Instead of complaining that the secularists don't understand us (I plead mea culpa), we should turn our attention to fighting this. Some of us are, and quite courageously (I would include Jay Bakker among the most courageous who takes our message straight to people like Rev'd Greenwell's followers and speaks their language; Gene Robinson is another one).

But I think this spectacle of a fat white guy (and sometimes a fat black guy) dressed up like a banker and shouting into a microphone on the traditional fundamentalist lucite lectern flummoxes us. We don't know what to do with it, especially us Episcopalians with our God of the College Quad.

This sort of old time evangelical revival delivery clearly works. The crowd is on its feet roaring with enthusiastic approval. This kind of speaking is frighteningly effective. What's more, in this age of all pervasive media filters, this makes much better teevee than any Episcopal priest carefully unpacking a well reasoned and thought out exegesis.

We don't have to become this to fight this. But I do think we could be bolder and more assertive, even aggressive. We Christian lefties have a big advantage over our secular comrades. We can speak these people's language. We can challenge them on their own terms. As far as these folks are concerned, atheists and agnostics are beyond the pale and not worth the bother of listening. But we can take that same Bible and turn it right back at them, and they do pay attention.

I remember marching in the Gay Day Parade in New York for many years with the Gay Lesbian Center contingent past the phobes and they wouldn't even look at us. In later years when I started marching with a contingent from my parish, those same phobes greeted us with red-faced spittle flecked rage. We can really get under their skin like chiggers.

Contrast the above video with this:

The thing I like about this is that he challenges very deeply held beliefs quite boldly and directly without insulting the people in the pews. The people in the pews are not the ones who need to be attacked. It's the people who presume to speak for them.

This is not just a religious or cultural struggle, but a political struggle of the most profound sort. It's more than just a struggle over rights and inclusion. It's about 2 fundamentally different conceptions of the United States. Rev'd Terry and his followers see the USA as a white Christian republic, a polity made up by and for people just like them and only them. Jay Bakker, and most of the rest of us, see the USA as a secular cosmopolitan democracy whose promises, protections, and enfranchisement are universal.

Our own atheist, IT, over at Friends of Jake, is constantly urging us Piskies to take our light out from under that bushel basket. I think she's right.


Margaret sends a gay "ad" for notoriously homophobic Chick-fil-A:


Bella Roma! Dutch Catholic clergy in the 1950s had 10 boys surgically castrated as treatment for homosexuality, and as punishment for complaining about abuse.
We forget that castration was a common "treatment" for gay men back in the 1940s and 1950s, and even into the 1970s in some parts of the USA (Texas for example). More evidence that the Roman Men's Club hierarchy is a pack of monsters, though they have a lot of other monstrous company among all the pious evangelical mega-church autocrats.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

ACT UP is 25

My picture from a 1994 march

AIDS may be out of fashion, but it hasn't gone away. The medical profession reminds us that the "cocktail" is only a stopgap, not a cure. The disease has not gone away at all, and infection rates are on the rise again.

There probably wouldn't be a "cocktail" if it wasn't for ACT UP making life miserable for those in power and for medical professionals. The movement began 25 years ago this month out of desperation. AIDS by 1987 had already killed thousands of people and thousands more were dying, frequently in miserable and degraded conditions. The policy of the Reagan Administration was one of malign neglect. AIDS was seen as a way to rid the country of a nuisance population. There was talk in those days of "innocent" victims as opposed to most who somehow deserved what they got for being queer. That a lot of other victims were minorities and drug abusers was considered a bonus. Most other countries, including Haiti, had more advanced and pro-active AIDS policies than the USA at the time.

That nuisance population decided not to go quietly. ACT UP decided to kick the ogres in the shins, and to keep kicking them until they got their attention. ACT UP sometimes resorted to extreme measures. Their most controversial act was to disrupt a Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral (Cardinal O'Connor and the minions of the Archdiocese in City Hall successfully blocked the City Health Commission from distributing safe sex information). At the time, the action was considered a fatal over-reach by ACT UP alienating supporters. In retrospect, it may have been a bold move that announced to the powerful outside the walls of the cathedral that ACT UP was not afraid of them and would follow them into their inner sanctums if necessary. Indeed, policies on the local and national level slowly began to change not long afterward.

ACT UP's tactics continue to shape dissent today, most notably in the disruptions by Occupy of official political events.


Promo for a new documentary on ACT UP and the response to AIDS.

Hat tip to Joe Jervis of JoeMyGod.


The Bizarre Rabbit sends us this old ACT UP tribute to Cardinal O'Connor.


Frank Bruni writes a very fine column in the NY Times today based on the movie advertised in the Extra above. It's a good essay, though I think his conclusion is a little too optimistic.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Counterlight's Peculiars Endorses Barack Obama

Time to dig out Shepard Fairey's famous poster from the hard drive.

This blog makes its official endorsement a little early this time. There's a simple reason. There's really no better alternative, and the others contending to push him out of the White House are so very much worse. It's a choice between Gordon Gecko who just really wants to be President as well as to protect his investment interests, a used car salesman trying to sell us a 1972 Renault as a brand new hybrid, and Sister Dolorosa Excruciata's best pupil at Our Lady of Unbearable Pain Academy who beats up the sissy kids and shakes them down for their lunch money. And the people supporting them are even worse. There's the dozen or so plutocrats bankrolling them, and the mobs baying for blood who upstaged the candidates at every Republican debate.

No, I'm not completely happy with this guy as I've said in past posts. I remain deeply unhappy and disturbed over his continued expansion of the National Security State inherited from the Bush/ Cheney regime. I'm not at all happy about the completely lawless way Bin Laden and others were taken out. I think he handled the mortgage crisis very badly. He hired some of the very people responsible for the financial crisis to try to fix the problem they created. He caved and was humiliated during budget negotiations this summer, negotiations in which he offered to turn back the clock on Social Security and Medicare. Stopping progress temporarily in the name of political expediency I can tolerate, but not rolling it back. He very nearly lost my support completely over that. I understand his decision to accept PAC money, but I'm not at all happy about it. The Republicans have their patrons, and so do the Dems, and the rest of us are shut out.

On the other hand, he's the best President on gay issues ever. We saw the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell, something I thought might never happen. He's been out front on gay civil rights issues, especially on the international level. Hillary Clinton's speech on gay rights at the UN in Geneva was historic and wouldn't have happened without his initiative or support.

The healthcare reform is far less than the Medicare For Everybody that I'd like to see. On the other hand, it is several big steps in the right direction finally putting the health insurance industry under regulatory control and ending their practice of terminating coverage for arbitrary reasons. This is the biggest piece of progressive legislation on healthcare since the Medicare Act of 1965.

Unheralded are Obama's reforms to the student loan program, taking it out of the hands of private insurers and making the situation for borrowers much more predictable and a lot less lawless.

Also for my students, Obama means a lot. For the first time, they have a President who looks like them. They now feel fully a part of the United States.

Is Obama a socialist? Seriously? He's to the right of Eisenhower and Nixon in his policies, even his foreign policy. The only reason he looks in any way "radical" is because the political center in the USA has lurched so far to the right after 40 years of Republican domination of the political debate with timid Democratic compliance. The platform of the John Birch Society which once looked "extreme" to no less a dirty lefty hippy than William F. Buckley is now mainstream and respectable, discussed with serious solemnity by overpaid pundits on the Washington dinner party circuit who really should know better.

And there's another reason for my endorsement. Here's a bright and clear a view into the dark minds that would throw him out and take over the world. This illustrates so plainly the fear and resentment out there that would turn all the clocks back 150 years. But, time only moves in one direction and it doesn't stop. Obama personifies the inevitable demographic change that's coming, and the cultural changes that happened over the past 50 years and are accomplished facts. Those accustomed to always being charge and to taking their supremacy for granted are deeply terrified; "I want my America back!" ("Tell it to Sitting Bull!" replied one comedian). This sticker is so offensive it's hard to know where to even begin. It's already appearing on car bumpers.*

What else would you expect from an ideology built entirely on spite? But of course, it's not about race (can anyone still say that and still keep a straight face?).

Obama, like gays and lesbians, is fortunate in his enemies.

*Please Note: The authenticity of the above bumper sticker is in doubt. Snopes lists it as "undetermined." If it does indeed prove to be fake, then it and all references to it on this post are coming down.

UPDATE on the sticker. Huffpost seems to think it's genuine, tracing it to a website called "Stumpy's Stickers" that sold a lot of similar very racist anti-Obama stuff. That site is now down.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Fu Baoshi

Fu Baoshi, Autumn Landscape From The Four Seasons, 1950

After a doctor's appointment today, I decided to play hooky from the piles of work I always have to do, and went to the Metropolitan Museum. I went to see three shows, all of which I thoroughly enjoyed, but one was a real discovery. I saw the show of the Stein collections with major works by Matisse and Picasso that are always a pleasure to see in the original. Another was a second trip through the show of Renaissance portraiture which was more than worth a repeat visit. The discovery was a large show in the Chinese painting gallery of the work of a 20th century artist Fu Baoshi. I visited the show after reading an article about him by Jonathan Spence in The New York Review of Books. I've never heard of this artist before and his work is a revelation to me. I just loved it.

Fu Baoshi lived through the most turbulent period of modern Chinese history. He was born in 1904 in the last days of the Qing Dynasty and died in 1965 on the eve of the Cultural Revolution. He was born the son of very poor Chinese peasants. He was the youngest of seven children, but the only one to survive to maturity. The family moved to Nanchang where his father worked in an umbrella factory. His father died when Fu was 11. Fu went to work as a child in a ceramics factory where he became fascinated with the pictures and inscriptions added to the wares. He spent time in a neighboring shop that made stone seals for marking paintings and formal inscriptions. He learned how to make stone seals, how to write calligraphy, and how to paint on his own. His prodigious talents soon attracted the attention of local officials and notables who sponsored his formal education in China, and among Chinese exiles in Japan. It was in Japan among Japanese scholars that he learned about the long distinguished history of Chinese painting and calligraphy, the richest and most varied in the world together with the West. He began by copying the works of famous Chinese masters from the past. Many of them would have a lasting influence upon his own work, especially the dense and turbulent compositions of Wang Meng, and the expressive and bold use of ink and color in the work of Shitao. Fu also wrote a lot of scholarly literature on Chinese painting and calligraphy still read and studied today.

Fu Baoshi continued to make stone seals all of his life and became celebrated for the amazing skill of his carving. He wrote an authoritative history of seal carving in 1930.

Fu Baoshi, stone seal carved for Chairman Mao Zedong

Impression from Fu Baoshi's own personal seal

Fu Baoshi wanted to preserve Chinese artistic traditions at a time when all sides in China's conflicts wanted to discard them. Chinese artists went abroad to learn Western painting forms and techniques in oil painting. Whole shops full of artists worked in factories in major port cities like Shanghai cranking out cheap oil paintings on canvas for sale in Western markets. Political and military leaders saw Western art as embodying progress and success. The native art of China looked to them to be backward and parochial.

Fu Baoshi worked to preserve this painting by breathing fresh life into it. While in Japan, he absorbed the influences of Japanese art, and Western art and adapted them both into Chinese modes of painting. He incorporates the perspective depth found in both later Japanese painting and in Western art, together with something like Western chiaroscuro.

He had to make much of this art while on the move in the warfare that wracked China at the time. He made some of his finest work while in exile in Sichuan province during World War II. He painted striking visions of the great river gorges and soaring mountain ranges of that province.

Fu Baoshi, Xiling Gorge, 1964

Fu Baoshi, "The Far Snows of Minshan Only Make Us Happy," 1951

Fu Baoshi, "On a Lake, I Listen to the Sound of Rain"

Fu liked to paint on rough handmade paper made out of mulberry leaves with stiff bristle brushes. He painted in a wet into wet technique combined with a very rough crackling dry brushwork to create a striking range of tones and effects enlivened with bold calligraphic strokes.

Fu Baoshi, Sightseeing Around Mount Taihua

Fu Baoshi, Crows in a Willow, 1944

In Chinese painting, the line between text and image is a very blurry one. The same means used to write down words and concepts are used to turn them into images. Chinese writing, the oldest system of writing still used anywhere in the world, began as pictograms. In the West, the line between text and image is clear and absolute. The screen you are looking at now is a perfect example. In China, image and text harmonize with each other. The reading of poetic inscriptions written directly upon the image is part of the experience of the painting, and inaccessible to those of us who are not literate in Mandarin Chinese. What is accessible to us is the pleasure of seeing calligraphic writing forms morph into imagery.
Chinese landscape painting rarely if ever shows literal views of actual places. It is not topographical landscape. A landscape painting creates the vicarious experience of walking through nature, of gazing at mountain heights or over distant vistas through all kinds of weather. The point is not to render a specific view, but to recreate the experience of moving through the landscape in ink and colors on paper and silk.

Fu Baoshi brought this tradition into modern experience. He brought Japanese and Western topographical landscape into Chinese painting, emphasizing the personal re-creation of the experience and their vicarious pleasure to the viewer so central to traditional Chinese painting. In his later life, his painting incorporates specifically modern subject matter alongside more traditional subject matter.

Fu Baoshi, Electric Power Lines, 1954

Fu Baoshi, Gotwaldov, Czechoslovakia 1957. Fu Baoshi made trips to Romania and to Czechoslovakia in the 1950s. He painted European landscapes and subject matter (including St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague) in a Chinese idiom. Fu also incorporates the very unChinese concept of topographical landscape, recording specific views of literal scenes, into his work.

In his last years, Fu begins using more red pigment and the titles and subjects of his work become more stridently political. I think this reflects less his own convictions than the increasingly difficult political position of his work as the Cultural Revolution approached. Fu had very powerful friends and admirers in the top ranks of the Communist hierarchy. He made a large and important painting for the central entrance lobby of The Great Hall of the People in Beizhing. There were those in the Party sympathetic to his desire to bring traditional Chinese culture into the 20th century. Mao Zedong himself was a gifted poet and calligrapher.
Fu also had powerful enemies. The radical faction of the Communist hierarchy saw his work as a throwback to the old long vanquished feudal culture of dynastic China. The radicals valued political utility and ideological purity above all else in matters of culture. They wanted to replace China's native painting traditions with Socialist Realism, a type of propaganda poster art pioneered in the Soviet Union intended to compel public opinion.

Fu died in 1965, possibly of a heart attack. In retrospect, his untimely death was a mercy. It is not at all likely that he would have survived the terrible calamity of the Cultural Revolution. His final work reflects his increasingly desperate efforts to stay afloat in the constantly shifting tides of Communist China on the eve of the Cultural Revolution.

Fu Baoshi, Ya'nan, 1964, one of a series of paintings of sites in China sacred to the Communist regime. Ya'nan was Mao's headquarters in his war against Chiang Kai Shek and the Nationalists.

Fu Baoshi, Heaven and Earth Glowing Red, 1964

These paintings below I think show us where Fu's heart really lay. They are both his own personal versions of very traditional Chinese subject matter.

Fu Baoshi, The Poet Qu Yuan

Fu Baoshi revered Qu Yuan, the earliest recorded Chinese poet, all his life. Successive 20th century Chinese regimes from the Nationalists to the Communists sought to claim Qu Yuan as a paragon of patriotism. Qu committed suicide by drowning himself in a river rather than submit to the service of the King of Qin in his effort to unify all of China under his rule. Qu's first loyalty was to his home and to his own king. I would imagine that for Fu, the great ancient poet personified the flinty integrity of the old Chinese literati class at its best.

Fu Baoshi, The Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove

The Seven Sages in the Bamboo Grove is an old and very common subject in Chinese art. It represents a group of scholars employed in the imperial civil service who retired and withdrew together into a bamboo grove rather than serve what they saw as one of the corrupt and illegitimate contenders for power during the Three Kingdoms period in the 3rd century CE. They traded in the rewards of wealth and power for the gratifications of friendship in the common pursuit of virtue and natural harmony. The Sages composed poetry together, painted, practiced Taoist medicine and divination, enjoyed the pleasures of nature, and they drank together.
All of the Sages are actual historic figures. Some of them returned to the civil service under the rule of the very same Jin Dynasty that they all despised. Apparently, they all remained friends.

Qu Yuan and the Seven Sages represented for Fu those enduring values of integrity and of finding pleasure in virtuous companionship and common purpose. The beautiful landscapes of China are home to the cosmic harmonies that will always outlast whoever claims sovereignty over them.


Fu Baoshi and Guan Shanyue, This Land is So Rich in Beauty

This is the painting Fu made for the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, a huge painting (5.5 by 9 meters) based on a poem by Mao Zedong.

Fu's enormous painting makes a cameo appearance in the opening scenes of the famous propaganda spectacle commissioned by Zhou En Lai in 1966, The East is Red. It hangs at the top of the grand staircase of the Great Hall of the People.