Early morning, my favorite time in Beijing for a quiet walk, not too much traffic, shops still closed and time to look and think about this ever growing city.
“How are you today,” I was suddenly brought out of my dreamlike state from this remark by a young man, perhaps about 22. With my few Mandarin words, I answered “hello”. Funny how locals are taken aback in any strange city when they are greeted in their own language.
John, his English name ( in Chinese, Haiyan Zhang), said he liked to practice his English and was delighted that, as we walked along the designer shop street, he could speak with me. Naturally, I was curious to know what he was doing on this early Saturday morning. As it happened, as a student of the noted Beijing School of Art, he was on his way to help dismantle the 10 day annual exhibit of students that had been chosen by the school professors.
Oil Canvas by Ji Xiaofeng
Coincidentally, I was curious to learn more about the Chinese Art movement, considered perhaps the only new school of art in the world. In fact, I had gone the day before to one of the best and busiest galleries Beijing Central Art Gallery in the posh Kempinski Hotel. Prices in Chinese art are have been going up steadily and the paintings I had seen that day started at $10,000US. In fact, I was told that Charles Saatchi, the man with one of the greatest eye for new art, had purchased a piece and also that the auction houses were doing a roaring business.
The diversity and quality of works at the Beijing Central Art Gallery is made even more exciting by Robert Mason who runs the gallery and is more than willing to discuss and be informative about art from all over China and in some cases, from overseas.. He is profoundly proud about the reputation they have and displays a wide selection of oils, watercolors acrylic, mixed media, limited editions silkscreen/ woodblock prints and some extremely enticing sculptures..all from well known Chinese artists. So well regarded, that in 2009 the gallery was selected by the Chinese Ministry for Art and Culture as the lead gallery out of forty which represent Chinese contemporary art.
The art has taken the creative world by storm catching the attention of the media and getting record breaking prices at auctions,” he tells me. But since Beijing is the cultural and artistic center, there’s a great opportunity to visit several art gallery to acquaint oneself with these original and unusual Chinese art works.
The Red Gate Gallery is also popular with collectors and constantly discovering new talent. The Red Gate focuses on ways to stimulate talented artists with exhibitions and promotions of international artist residencies within China. Beijing and Shanghai have always been the art centre but that seemed to exclude talented artists who lived “out of the loop”. But now with their ‘artist in residence’ programs this is changing. In Beijing they now have time and space to work alongside local and international artists and have living quarters too. Keep an eye on these young artists….Chen Wenling, Chen Yufei, Den Yifu, Han Qing, Yang Liming, Yang Ziaofan and Zhou Jun.
“At One with Nature” by Pang Yongjie
Group of Sculptures by Pang Yongjie
It’s amazing to learn that Chinese artists are producing some tremendously exciting paintings which I saw hanging from the walls as Robert explained why China has become such an exciting and unexpected inclusion in the international art world. Always skilled and very technical with traditional paintings, these fine abilities are now more easy flowing and creative. And as with many fine artists, such as John, they either attended or graduated from the Central Academy of Fine Arts,
So when John asked if I’d like to see the show before it was taken down, and since it was just behind the hotel, Beijing Hotel where I was staying, it was a no brainer. Up the elevator to the third floor where there were four rooms filled with traditional , abstract and representative art that I hadn’t expected to see. Joshua, the professor who had chosen only 15 students to take part in this show was already there. As I looked around although still in the learning phase of knowing enough about this art form, I liked many of the canvases. Needless to say they were not as evocative or subtle as the paintings from the day before at the Beijing Central Art Gallery, but they were also only a small percentage of the cost. Most, were most interesting, the fact that this was a learning process for visitors and potential collectors of pricier pieces.
“Navy Officer” by Shen Jingdong
“Glorious Lady Soldier” by Shen Jingdong
Little Red Guard by Shen Jingdong
John’s main work at this point in his studies, was calligraphy with a difference – heavily enameled on finely colored oil painted background. Others on show were colorful such as the Mao in the background of the type of young Chinese young men -, aggressive, strident, strong. Some were folkloric but their faces and color made them forceful, while other works that were in black, gray and white showed young women smoking and drinking and others in the same tones were of very youthful faces, taking part in activities that would not have existed not so long ago..
Two larger canvases with deep blue background illustrated a man and a woman frolicking in different positions. In both these ‘twin’ paintings they were brightly clad ,also unexpected. Abstract art was not as dynamic here nor did I feel that the traditional paintings were different or new but what was exciting were the interpretations of strength, courage, Westernized styled lifestyle but never forgetting the Oriental aspect. However, I’m sure Confucius has a saying about fate . For instance, “Where ever you go, go with all your heart”
And this was one morning that I won’t forget the emphasis that the Chinese place on fate because I just happened to know a few Mandarin words, I went, I saw and it was beautiful .
Beijing Central Art Gallery
Kempinski Hotel Beijing,