Thursday, 15 October 2015

After China

The three weeks since the Beijing International Art Biennale opened and I walked around the huge halls has passed in a blur of activity. I spent quite a long time writing a report about the event, describing being an invited artist and how this has impacted on my painting, and the artwork from 96 countries. This will be published in THE JACKDAW in the November/December edition. 

'Where Thoughts Go,' ink on rice paper
'Chinese Journey,' ink on rice paper
'Where Thoughts Go,' (2) ink on rice paper

'Chinese Journey,' ink on rice paper

In between my writing I began to use the Chinese art materials I bought in Beijing. Working on rice paper has been a journey because it is quite different to watercolour paper. It absorbs liquid paint quite greedily and is quite thin, so it requires a different approach. I have been playing with combining the structural elements of my previous artwork with fluid brushstrokes - also a component I value highly. As a child I copied Chinese paintings from library books and in particular admired the economical brushstrokes that captured animals, landscapes and people. In these new works I am hoping to extend my work and how I approach oil on canvas. I have always been interested in the directness of brushstrokes and their inner life. 

So far I've painted 12 ink paintings. Each time my brush touches the paper, I learn something new about ways to force space and mood onto the paper with different kinds of lines, wet-in-wet shapes, pools of dark ink and intuitive mark-making. It has opened up a new world!

I didn't want to look at any other art until I was well into my series of ink paintings. I didn't want to taint my response to the freshness of my accumulated memories of China - I wanted them to flow out of the end of the brushes. What surprised me was that it was the landscape seen on the trip to the Great Wall of China that forced its elements into the paintings. I'd expected the city to find its way in but the landscape and its configurations have pushed new ways of rendering land forms into my work.

 I have still to sort through 1,450 photos and then I will post them on here and write more about the amazing experience of being in China.

Monday, 5 October 2015


Me outside the National Art Museum of China, 24th September
Me outside the National Art Museum of China, 24th September - for the Opening Ceremony

It is almost a week since I arrived back from China! I've been struggling with jet lag but finally feel I have adjusted, and now I'm sorting through my photos and thinking about the new work that this trip will have inspired in many ways. It still all feels as if it was a dream that I went to China.

To actually be INVITED to go there was such an honour! It was such a last minute rush to get my Chinese visa and then I left Tunbridge Wells train station on the morning of 22nd September, full of excitement and nerves (nerves for the long flights!) I was in a daze because I could not believe I was actually going. When I made my application for the Biennale last December I never thought it would result in this trip.

I flew to Charles De Gaulle airport - an incredibly large and modern airport - and had about 4 hours to wait there. I boarded the Air France aircraft at around 10.40pm (L.T) and we took off at 11.20pm. It is the longest flight I have ever done, being around 10 hours. But as dawn streaked the sky in the early morning, I found a vast tundra below, and it gradually became even wider and flatter. I followed the flight tracker with much interest, and then Beijing came onto view. I took many photos as we came in to land.

There is nothing to match the feelings of amazement that flood through you on realising you are now in a place that is very far from home and somewhere that you have never laid eyes on before! I went into the arrivals hall full of happiness and anticipation. Soon I saw at the far end there were people holding large pink BIAB signs, and one of them came forward to greet me. A group of artists had already gathered and I learned that there had been several collections of artists from the airport, and I also saw a 3 page list of artists - and it struck me that there must be around 200 invited artists, much more than I had expected. Artists wanted to take photos with me but the organisers wanted us to go out to the bus.

On the bus we were given our schedules for the next 4 days and also much needed bottles of water. My husband called me and it was strange to realise that it was only in the UK! As we wound our way through the increasingly tall and modern buildings of Beijing, I felt more relaxed. I had not really known what to expect but it was clear that we were going to be very well looked after.

Taking part in the 6th Beijing International Art Biennale was an experience that artists can only dream of. It felt as if 2 weeks were crammed into the 5 days I was there. I will write much more very soon because this event deserves a huge report!

(Above photo - a selfie during the Opening ceremony and speeches, at the National Art Museum of China)