Ode to Life - Cen Long: The constellations
Ode to Life
In the Ode to Life, a mother is pregnant with new life. A young brother-to-be gives his mother a present, a dainty flower he picked. Not a grand gesture—but she is touched by the tenderness and simple love it represents. In the painting, we see two things that are dear to peasants: the sheep and the cloak. The sheep is valuable livestock, but it is also a dear friend for the child. And the cloak, how important the cloak is to these people! It is an object at once simple and indispensable. It shelters from the cold and rain; it nestles them whenever they desire its warmth. Cen Long subtly infuses this scene with this warmth through the way the woman cradles herself within the cloak and the delicate gesture of her hands.
This painting stands out through Cen Long’s presentation of light. One sees a gentle halo enveloping the mother, the child, and the sheep from above. The light bounces off the ground, creating a shimmering reflection from below that exudes holiness and infuses the painting with divine warmth. Combined with the gesture of the mother, this painting seems to represent holy mother facing her children. And in the embrace of her cloak, how gently she appreciates the love, gratitude, and deference they show her!
Additionally, the Ode to Life is a great example of Cen Long’s unique use of color. In his recent works, gray, black, and white tones dominate, blended into a symphony of depth beneath the surface. His point of departure is the gray scheme, forming a foundation for the simpler and bolder black and white. These colors centralize the painting on the characters and create depth in the painting that is dynamic but nonetheless effortlessly focused.
Finally, Cen Long manages to bring the geometry of reality into the painting by alterations to his brushwork. He often uses hard bristle brushes and painting knifes to create surface textures, adding dimensional variation to the purely imagistic representations. For example—in this painting, the texture of the cloak, the pants of the mother, and the downy hair of the lamb all contribute to the geometry of the painting, allowing the painting to exist within a three-dimensional reality of depth and surface textures.
We have chosen to exhibit Cen Long’s art in the Church of Malta because in many ways it channels the solemn, holy, and divine atmosphere of the medieval church. We hope to lead audiences to contemplate the meaning of faith—what is faith? Consider the painting of the Virgin Mary at the moment of the Immaculate Conception. I placed Cen Long’s “Ode to Life” beside it to emphasize the resonance between the scenes. In the Mary we feel the power of religion to bring spiritual change, to induce metanoia, through the depiction of a biblical scene. “Ode to Life,” by contrast, represents the religious aspect of motherly love in a common man’s context, allowing audiences a path of relation to the transcendent event; the holy illumination that pervades the scene is tied as much to the love of Humanity as to the divine power of God. Cen Long hopes that his artwork will help the viewer feel closer to the ideals of truth, beauty, and kindness present in us all. I believe that religion is faith, and faith is an unshakable belief in kindness and love. Both allow people to return to a purer form of humanity. And this faith is an eternally critical cornerstone to the peace and stability of the world.