The ongoing thoughts of an art teacher in China - and home in Sydney

A continuing diary about my travels in China, and thoughts about China and Chinese art from home and abroad

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Learning Chinese Makes My Brain Hurt!

Shi Zhiying, 'Rice', 2011, image courtesy of the artist
It's official - learning Chinese is impossibly difficult. My brain is still hurting from last night's class, where the teacher is very adept at pushing us outside of our comfort zone and forcing us to speak. She is lovely but also a master of that particular Chinese pedagogical style that makes you feel very, very stupid. I seem to have forgotten most of what I thought I knew earlier in the year, and am struggling to form simple sentences about food and drink, much less anything more complex. I did at least learn the word for 'chocolate', which falls into that useful category that I discovered in Beijing when I experienced a great sense of triumph at being able to order a cheeseburger and fries in Chinese. Ironic really, as in Sydney I would never even enter through those golden arches!

Shi Zhi Ying, whom I interviewed in Shanghai, sent me this picture of her completed 'Rice' painting because she knew how much I liked seeing the work in progress in her studio. I was fascinated by the shift from painting monochromatic waves on the ocean, to blades of grass, to the textured surfaces of rocks, to the facets of diamonds, and finally to individual grains of rice in a bowl. She told me that she was searching for a subject to paint when she went out to eat dinner with her husband, and when she saw the rice on the table she knew it related with her 'sea sutra' series in which everything in the universe is seen as connected with everything else. She says, " My painting is like meditation; a slow and peaceful process that takes a long time to develop. Buddhist scripture suggests eliminating all that is inessential to distil the essence. Simplicity is reality".  Xing Zhao said of her brush strokes that they echo  the recitation of the sutras over the ages. "Like the pathways of one’s life, the brush strokes can be seen, although their ultimate destination remains unknown.”

I have seen the 'Chinese Nexus' exhibition at Stella Downer Fine Art, where I loved the new works on paper by Hu Qinwu in particular. Much as I enjoyed his earlier works with their rich and pulsating reds and blues, this 'Buddhist Volume' series, in which all unnecessary colour and expressive mark has been stripped away, revealing a spare visual language of the characters from Buddhist sutras underlying layers of tempera in a grid of subtle grays, is particularly beautiful and meditative. I plan to take my senior students this week, and I hope they can appreciate the subtle moderation of mark and grid found in Hu's work - they have been studying Mark Rothko, so I hope so.

Hu Qinwu, Buddhist Volume, 2010, courtesy of China Art Projects