SHANGHAI EXPRESSIONISM: THE ARTIST'S VIEW
From the time when I was a young child in Shanghai, I have always had a lot of contact with art. Most people who visited our home were artists. At home I also had a lot of art materials and art books. At that time, only the papers I was using for my sketches were my real friends. I poured all my feelings onto the paper, rather than having contact with other children of my age. At the age of ten, my art proficiency got me selected from numerous candidates for the fine art section of the renowned Shanghai City Youth Palace. The time I spent there was the happiest time of my childhood. My class mates and fellow art students treated me with respect, unlike my time at primary school. I started wondering why there could be such a different world in the same city. My teacher continuously encouraged me, both for my art and for my personality, and may never have realised how important that was for me.
A few years later, I met the famous Chinese artist Professor Chen. He told me that if I would choose art for a career, I should be prepared to endure suffering the rest of my life. His own appearance, thin and short sighted, clearly supported his words. Then he asked me whether I was still planning to take that road. I thought about it, considering how bad my mathematics was - what choice did I have? I could not answer him at that moment, but in my heart I knew I would take the art path. Later, after I had already entered the Art University of Shanghai, Professor Chen looked once more at my work, and proposed that nature would be my best art teacher. Unfortunately, living in a 15 million people city without any nature made that somewhat difficult. So he gave me a list of masters to study, including Matisse, Cezanne, van Gogh, Monet, but also Chinese masters. I selected Lin Fong Mian, the teacher of grandmaster Zao Wou-Ki, as my main source of inspiration. His style and personality had a big impact on me, and it was a major contributor to me learning the art of coloured Chinese ink, which was not taught at the Shanghai University. At University, I spent all my time outside art classes in the library, still finding it difficult to make friends with people of my own age. My teacher Zhao took an interest in my paintings, but told me that Lin was a different generation, with different background and different problems - as a young student, I should try to find my own way and express my own feelings. I was happy that finally someone suggested that I should take my own path, and appreciate myself rather than following masters. Unfortunately, at that age I was not in control of my life and still had to listen to other people about what I was allowed to paint. A few years later, a drastic change happened at the Shanghai University,when it became clear that in the final years of the study the students would be groomed to find work as cartoon makers rather than as pure artists. I decided to leave and on recommendation of my University president, I entered the FineArt University of Beijing, where I specialized in traditional Chinese ink. However, following the traditional ways, with its inherent restrictions, I found that I could not express myself sufficiently. I decided to explore options outside China, and went first to Malaysia, then to Singapore. The merciless tropical sunshine in those countries made me paint indoors, with curtains closed, listening to jazz music. Often the subject of my paintings was based on Shanghai, which was still very much on my mind and in my heart. Whenever I used warm colours, I found that this was not really me, so I started to use more and more cold colours, undoubtedly also as a reaction to the hot climate. I was glad to have the opportunity to leave Singapore and move to Rouen (France), the cradle of impressionism. I finally started to explore nature in my art, in an impressionist fashion, capturing the Normandy skies on canvas. A holiday in the Provence and Tuscany proved a major turning point for me. The sunshine, strong blue skies and bright colours made me question whether impressionism, with its subtle light changes, was the way to go. It opened my eyes and my heart, and I understood the change that came over Vincent van Gogh when he settled there from the cold and grey North, and why this region had so much inspired other artists like Cezanne, Picasso and Matisse. One single experience in particular made a strong impression on me: in a small Provence town, I saw the mistral turn the poppy fields into waves of colour, and I decided that I wanted to capture effects like this in my art. My fascination with cold colours was finally gone that moment. Strong warm and bright colours would be my future, and I was very excited about it. When I returned home, I immediately started to turn these new feelings into a new series of paintings. I thought I had finally found my own style, but in the end, it turned out to be just one more important step on the way to the end. Half a year later, another holiday brought all the pieces together. I had always admired the Germane xpressionist masters that I knew from books, like Kandinsky, Macke and Marc, but seeing so many of the original masterpieces collected in the Munich museums had an immense effect on me. I had the feeling like a hunter must have when he finally catches the deer he has been chasing so long. This was it. This was the art style I had been looking for, this taught me so much about my own feelings. Only this style would allow me to fully express all my emotions. I had finally come to the point where I decided that it was not important what someone else thought about my art, only my own opinion counted. Not only in art, but in life as well. A clear break from the traditional Chinese way of thinking,where other people's opinions of you are paramount. As a Shanghainese in Europe, it was natural and part of myself, that my art would continue to have Shanghainese themes in it. Especially as the increased distance in time and space from the town where I grew up made me re-appreciate the beauty of Shanghai. When I lived there as a child, one of mystrongest impressions was walking through the elegant French area, looking at the European style buildings from the thirties, and wondering about the stories behind them. When I left Shanghai, the city was rapidly changing into just another modern metropole, and I thought my feelings for this city would diminish quickly. However, from the distance of Europe I found out that you can never forget the feelings for your home town, be they good or bad. I have the feeling I only now fully understand Shanghai, and that it will always be alive in me. In Europe, I was finally able to turn these strong inner feelings about Shanghai into my art. In the past, Shanghai was called the Paris of the Orient. For Paris, the important word here is Orient, for Shanghai the important word here is Paris. Both elegant cities, fashion capitals, with high lifestyle, always like being on astage. Both cities in which the people have to face the real life problems, still have their dreams, but have the typical large-city mentality of keeping a distance. Both cities in which people grow up in a city culture. They see pictures of the sea long before they actually see the sea, they read about love before experiencing love. The real experience always follows the imagined one. In this sense, there is very little difference between East and West. The last few years I have had the chance to contact people from different countries, different races and different backgrounds. This has considerably broadened my mind. I no longer assume that everybody would have to be thes ame as me, do the same things the same way. I can now focus on anything that interests me, I can finally choose for myself what I like and what I don't like, I love this freedom. This also makes me understand myself more. Every new travel destination is like a new chapter in the book of my life, I want to see everything with my Asian eyes and answer the questions they pose. In my current art style, all these influences and emotions come together. The bright colours that I experienced in the Provence. The expressionist style that I witnessed in the Munich musea. The emotions and memories of Shanghai, and the influences of movies and music.
The amalgation of all these influenceshas led to a very personal art style, which we call Shanghai expressionism. I do not want to give up the fine art of Chinese ink though. Not only do I have the right technique, based on long education, but I enjoy doing it. The influences are similar to the ones in my oil paintings, and therefore I consider these blacka nd white Chinese ink drawings to be part of the Shanghai Expressionism style as well. Returning to Shanghai frequently since 2008 has further stimulated my art and I look at the city I was born in with different eyes now. It also increased my interest in photography as an art form, a parallel development that I embarked upon in recent years. And I am currently experimenting in combining photography and painting into a new form of art. With one foot in Shanghai and the other in Europe, I am confident that my art will continue to reflect my unique background and situation.