The past few days have been incredible and all leading up to this evening's opening. We had a number of local artists and other residents attend to view the various works produced during our stay in Beijing. It was really nice to witness the reactions of the local Chinese artists since our work is extremely different from the contemporary Chinese art we've seen over the past few weeks.
Tong (captured to the left with his portrait) seemed particularly pleased with the art on display. I can't help but wonder how it must feel to have Western foreigners visit your culture and create reaction pieces to what you consider ordinary or even mundane but very personal.
The show "Caste into the Light," is composed of 12 of my individual paintings created during the two and a half weeks I have been in China. The works are directly related to people I have encountered and attempt to capture my immediate perception of these various characters. Similar to my thesis during my residency in Estonia- I intend my immediate reactions will be superficial in nature to mimic the action of "snap judgements" or passing judgement on a person or a group of people based on superficial factors. I propose these snap judgements merely reiterate the caricature-like preconceived notions we possess on certain ethnic and racial groups. The purpose of these works are to question the validity of these preconceived notions and determine if they actually hold true or if they perpetuate racial tensions as a result of ignorance.
This evening's opening was a great success. It is hard to believe that in a mere 48 hours I will be on a plane back to London. I've had such a wonderful experience in Beijing I am excited to see how these experiences translate into my work produced in the UK.
Today was a wonderfully simple day. After fixing breakfast and straightening up the studio I began working on this piece. It was inspired by the previous evening's events. Since the evenings are very hot and sometimes even more humid than the days many of the men here opt to go shirtless. Even Ian has willingly adopted this tradition. The "portrait" below captures this but also examines how this featureless allows it to represent the hundreds of men throughout the city.
After finishing the painting Daisy and I headed off to CAFA (Central Academy of Fine Art) to pick up more art supplies as well as take a look at the campus. I couldn't help grinning like a child as we entered the three storey art supply store. Everything an artist could want was sold in this complex and the prices were 80- 90% less than that in London. Meaning, I bought about 20 new paint brushes, tons of paper and other supplies.
Afterwards we grabbed some street food and went to CAFA's courtyard. The campus was composed of massive, sleek, charcoal colored buildings. If passing by you'd assume it was a government building or possibly even a prison rather than an art academy. Though we didn't have a chance to go inside, Daisy described how incredibly talented the students and the faculty are. I really want to visit again soon.
Motivated by new art purchases I began working on another painting as soon as we returned to the studio.
Since I have been in Beijing I have noticed there is a sense of playfulness in the people. Irrespective of the "western" views we have of the East, the people I have spoken to appear to be content. Admittedly, I realize this may be my own projection or a result of my limited exposure to the culture and the country. However, the images of oppression, poverty and censorship what we are all too familiar with are not the topics broached in conversations with the local artists and people within the village (at least not discussed in front of foreigners). Instead we are told stories of the record number of beers consumed in one evening (150 bottles), or the times they attempted to ride a motorbike for the first time. This bit of comedy contrasts the underlying "state" of the country. It is this lightheartedness that I wanted to capture in Tong's portrait.
Today was probably one of the most productive days so far. To maximize my time here I've decided to continue with my strategy of splitting the day between art and site seeing. Today was no exception. It began early with a 7:30 wake up to leave the studio at 8 to head to the Great Wall of China. Daisy organized transportation with the one of the Red Gate Gallery's staff to drive us. The area of the wall we went to was apparently one of the quietest which excited all of us. As we drove through the countryside it surprised me how Mediterranean the landscape appeared and how clear the skies were. It reminded me of the Italian countryside with quaint houses tucked away from the road and beautiful trees everywhere. It's easy to see how this landscape has inspired Chinese artists for thousands of years. We arrived to the section of the wall we'd tour an hour and a half after departure. Mr. Zheng, our driver, told us to meet him after 2 hours. I naively thought that was too little time but he knew better. We skirted around a confused looking pair of other tourists and grabbed our admission and lift tickets. Apparently some brave souls opt out of the lift (looks like a ski lift) to the top of the mountain before walking/climbing on the wall. We knew our limits.
As the lift slowly climbed higher and higher the view became more and more impressive and you noticed the wall snaking toward the horizon along the peaks of the rolling hills. It was then that I realized how beautiful of a day it was. There wasn't a cloud (of precipitation or pollution) in sight and the sky was Carolina blue.
When we reached the top and walked up the stairs to the "starting point" the view was breathtaking. The lush mountains highlighted with the stone wall looked like something of fairytales. No matter how many times you see it in pictures, no picture can communicated the expansive nature of this structure and the vastness of the landscape. The mountains seemed to climb one another reaching upwards.
I think Megan and I were in a state of disbelief (Daisy has come a few times now).
We set off in the direction of the stairs to the highest point. Apparently it is the highest point along the entire wall. What I didn't ever think about before walking/climbing along the wall is that since if follows the contour of the mountain top it is quite a work out climbing and descending the stairs along the wall that compensates the peaks and troughs of the mountain range. Slowly we made our way to the base of the staircase that reaches the highest point. With approximately 500 stairs we started our mission, stopping along the way (only to admire the views of course).
By the time we began our way back towards the lift the sun was high and the temperature started to peak. It was perfectly timed as we met back up with Mr. Zheng and headed back to the galleries.
Feeling energized by our trip I began to work on the portrait of Zhanglin below. I met her the night before during our Mexican themed dinner. She is an artist who lives and works in the compound. She gave us a tour of her studio and explained how wonderful it is to devote yourself fully to your artwork. It is a bit strange to see such large paintings created by someone of her tiny stature. She creates these caricature oil painting portraits of herself as a child. They look more like paintings of dolls than portraits. There is something about her that is a bit childlike. In many ways she reminded me of Siiri who I met in Estonia. I asked if it were ok for me to do her portrait. A bit taken by my question she giggled covering her mouth with her tiny hand before nodding in agreement.
After working on the portrait into the evening Laetitia came into my studio to ask if I wanted to attend an artist performance by Matthieu Ha at Jiali Gallery. I immediately accepted, excited to see a local performance exhibition. The performance started at 7:30pm in central Beijing so Mike and I headed off with enough time to figure out exactly how to get there. We arrived to the quaint gallery a bit after the performance began . There were a good number of people as we manoeuvred our way into the space to find a seat. The performance was quirky and fun as Ha played the accordion and he obviously enjoyed performing for the live audience. After playing a series of songs he ended and the room filled with applause and cheers- the atmosphere was lighthearted and fun reflecting Ha's performance.
Today was the most incredible day! It started early since I wanted to go to the Panjiayuan Flea Market with Daisy and Megan in the afternoon but also wanted to finish the painting I started yesterday evening (below). It is also nice to work in the morning since my studio is flooded with natural light I wanted to take full advantage of it.
Last night I began working on the portrait of the man who takes care of gardens within the compound as well as guards the front gate. Given that he's probably well into his late 70's I doubt he takes note of the comings and goings of the compound. Every times I see him he states a polite "Nin Hao" and carries on with whatever he has at hand. Since arriving I've spotted him playing a solitary game of what appears to be a variation of dominos. Choosing to depict him in profile with an easy and apathetic expression I hoped to capture his polite disregard for the viewer.
After finishing the painting I began getting ready for the day and made a quick lunch. Daisy and Megan came into my studio promptly at 12:00pm and we headed out a few minutes later. Earlier Grace had popped in to check to see if everything was okay. When I explained that we'd be heading to the market later on that afternoon she suggested we take the bus (#988) there rather than try to take the subway. I agreed and she wrote down instructions in both English and Mandarin (in case we later opted for a taxi). I shared the instructions with Daisy and Megan and we all agreed taking the bus would be far less complicated. 45 minutes later we arrived at the outdoor market and I was extremely excited for the people we'd encounter. During my research I discovered this market drew in the most diverse sellers with vendors from all around China who travel to set up their merchandise.
We wandered around the market stalls for hours admiring the artists selling their works from painting, sculptures to hand beaded jewelry. I bought a porcelain Mao sculpture and two paintings inspired by
After exhaustion from heat and shopping we decided to return to the studios since Daisy and Ian were hosting an artist "Mexican BBQ" with the other residents and artists within our compound. When we returned to the studios we went directly to an artist's studio that is located next door to Imagine gallery. It turns out the studio belongs to Tong Zhengang! I was immediately dumbfounded as Zhengang is one of the most established Chinese Contemporary artists. He graciously welcomed us into his studio which was 10x the size of ours and into the kitchen/dining area. He was accompanied by several other Beijing based artists who live in the compound and all were very excited for our Mexican themed dinner. It was a wonderful evening filled with laughs, talks on art and much toasting as they assumed it was a custom we did during any lull in the conversation. I think we counted 17 toasts/cheers throughout dinner!
Once we finished we took a tour of the artists' respective studio, but not before Tong gave me, Daisy, Megan, Ian and Mike signed copies of catalogues of his works! We eventually called it quits after the third tour of studios. We have a long day ahead of us. Agenda: Great Wall of China