Near the Thames, Chinese waterfalls cascade down

Updated: 2015-11-27 08:00

By Karen Kwok and Zhang Chunyan(China Daily Europe)

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British audiences given an insight into a Chinese way of seeing the world

Gardens have been a passion in China and Britain for centuries, so London was almost a natural choice for a display recently of paintings depicting Chinese gardens.

In the exhibition, Garden of Dreams, part of the China-UK Year of Cultural Exchange, 20 oil paintings by Liu Weidong reinterpreting landscapes of traditional Chinese gardens were displayed.

 Near the Thames, Chinese waterfalls cascade down

Liu Weidong brings to London his exhibition Garden of Dreams, composed of 20 oil paintings, which reinterprets traditional Chinese gardens. Provided to China Daily

"My work reflects what traditional gardens used to be like, and tells the stories that took place in them," says Liu, of Nanjing, Jiangsu provinFce.

"When words are not enough to express something, we must create instead."

In China, classical gardens, consisting of walls, ponds, rocks, trees, flower beds and winding paths, are imbued with thousands of years of tradition.

Liu grew up in Jiangnan, south of the lower reaches of the Yangtze River, where these private gardens were created for the literati and scholars to nurture and encourage poetry, relief, sanctuary, pure delight and harmony between man and nature.

Liu says the Classical Gardens of Suzhou, an icon of Jiangnan and a listed World Heritage Site, exemplify his style of art.

"Suzhou Gardens have a long history, are rich in meaning, and I am always able to find content to express and depict them."

Chinese landscape painting called shanshui usually depicts scenery such as mountains, waterfalls and rivers. Shanshui paintings are also rooted in Taoist ideology, with references to philosophy, nature and mysticism. Many of these traits can be identified in Liu's artwork.

The exhibition was held at the Royal College of Art from Nov 17 to 21.

The paintings give a "ghostly and haunting" image, combining "paradoxically, the feelings of calm and anxiety" with the use of color, college officials said.

"In both China and the UK the beautiful garden vistas attracted artists keen to record them," says Xiao Lang, curator of the exhibition and founding director of ARTouch Consulting, a London arts public relations consultancy.

"Fusing Liu's deep knowledge of both Eastern and Western art history, the Garden of Dreams series reflects this duality of source, using a Chinese theme but traditional Western materials," Xiao says.

Liu has an extensive knowledge of Western teachings in this domain, having studied at the Fine Art School in Kassel, Germany, in 1997 and at West Virginia University in 1998. His research comprised a comparative study of art education between China and the West.

Xiao says: "From traditional Chinese ink painting and its classical imagery, to the flattened planes and monochrome colors of 'synthetic cubism' and the psychological ambiguity of surrealism, Liu's work nevertheless has its own, unique pictorial language that pose universal and metaphysical questions about the meaning of our lives."

Eliza Bonham-Carter, head of the Royal College of Arts, says: "The layers or depth of the scene attracts one to keep exploring."

Liu says China and Britain have very different tastes in landscape painting.

"The Chinese are looking for a natural haven and ideal environment. However, the royal British gardens look for symmetry, by cutting and polishing plants according to their own wish."

Regarding audiences for his exhibitions, Liu says that those who have been to China and have knowledge of this particular art style can learn its history through his paintings. As for others, he is looking to attract their attention to Chinese art and culture.

Liu says he is keen to see an increase in the output of Chinese art throughout the world.

The effect of Chinese art and its cultural power in the world remains insignificant, he says, and needs to spread through academic exchanges and marketing.

"For example, Western culture has continuously marketed itself throughout the world. Europeans are a bit curious about Chinese art, but it doesn't have any impact on Western culture or lives."

Contact the writers throughzhangchunyan@chinadaily.com.cn

(China Daily European Weekly 11/27/2015 page26)