A First-Hand Experience of Chinese Art and Culture

February 6, 2021

“Visiting Hua Quan Village was the trip of a lifetime, I had the privilege of experiencing many facets of ancient and modern Chinese art and culture. A Shaolin Master guided us through the spiritual exercise of Kung Fu. I received lessons in both Chinese Calligraphy and Chinese painting. I had the opportunity to use ceramics which cannot be found anywhere else in the world. I gave back to the community by creating a mural for the local secondary school and donated paintings to their community. Visiting Hua Quan village inspired and enriched my art making practice far beyond the capacities of any traditional classroom experience.” — Lauren Bourguet, Long Island University, New York City

One of the first activities upon arrival was a guided Kung Fu lesson. This spiritual exercise was broken down step by step by a Shaolin Master Monk. This exercise which was new to me, focused on the breath and the spiritual energies called “chi”. As we exercised the Shaolin Master explained to us that each section of the body has the power to collect, and emit both good and bad chi. We learned routines that were meant to clear and let go of bad and bring in good chi.

Shaolin Kungfu lesson

I was particularly interested in learning Chinese painting, and the instructor was a well to do master painter. The master painter demonstrated in his studio how to paint utilizing a bamboo brush, Chinese ink, and rice paper. First the master artist rolled out large long pieces of rice paper from a long scroll. I had never used these materials before and was a little nervous but the patient instructor guided us very thoroughly. A painting technique the emphasized was to always hold the bamboo brush perpendicular to the page you are painting. This was tricky for me to get a hang of, I was not used to painting on a flat table top surface, working on an upright easel is how I have been taught. Working with such delicate materials was also a new experience; with just the slightest brush pressure too much ink could flow onto the rice paper and cause it to rip.

Chinese Calligraphy workshop 

Blossoming Trees, Chinese Painting workshop 

Chinese painting is a delicate dance, it is the relationship of how the ink flows onto the rice paper. The “glazing method” is a standard way of western painting, this involves many layers of paint sometimes with coarse brushes on a hardy substrate. Chinese painting is almost the opposite; it is a one-shot deal. If your bamboo brush was too saturated with ink or water it could cause irreparable damage. Rice paper is also not forgiving and very delicate, a mistake cannot be erased by layering paint.

The nature of the bamboo brush was very different than the western brushes I have become accustomed too. The bamboo brush hair is very long and flexible, the harder you push in to the paper the wider the line will be. The pro’s being that one bamboo brush could give the thickness of line of 4 western hard brushes. But the cons being that a bamboo brush loses its shape very easily. The master painter during his demonstration would sometimes put two colors on the brush at once. First dipping his brush in grey, (drying it) than double dipping in orange. In the western art world that would be considered a very postmodern method of painting.

Another special hands on art experience was working with a local ceramicist in the art village. The artist personally harvested the clay from the mountainside, and it had the most remarkable characteristics. This clay was unlike any other I have ever worked with and is not available anywhere else on the planet. Throwing on the wheel the clay was similar to the feeling of porcelain but its color was a very rich dark chocolate. Clay like porcelain is very difficult to throw on the potter’s wheel because the very fine grit collapses very easily. But this buttery brown special clay was very flexible and perfect for novice potters.

Throwing workshop

Another interesting facet to this clay was its saturation level. Normally while throwing on the wheel you need to be constantly dipping your hands in water. Water works as a lubricant, it makes it possible to shape the form without the clay catching on your fingers. Keeping your hands wet is similar to how a machine needs oil to ease friction and work smoothly. It is also standard practice to keep a sponge close by to keep your form hydrated, but this unique clay did not need any additional water at all!

On the art village grounds was a Chinese Porcelain Museum and a Chinese Cultural Museum. The Chinese Cultural museum provided information about Chinese religion and philosophy in addition to societal and literary traditions. I also visited the Chinese Porcelain Museum which enlightening me to the many modern and ancient uses of the medium. Porcelain originates in China and has been a staple in Chinese culture for centuries. Porcelain is a very versatile material and is used in our bathrooms and kitchens as tiles, the sides of buildings, and even in the medical field. I learned the body rejects plastic and metal but accepts porcelain, and it is often used to replace bones and teeth. These two museums gifted me a much greater appreciation of porcelain as a fine art medium, an important medical material, and the role it serves in the daily lives for people across the globe.

Chinese Cultural Museum

Chinese Porcelain Museum 

This artist retreat was also in exchange program with the local Hua Quan Village. We were told to prepare sketches for a collaborative mural with the high school students, they were to be painted on specific buildings on the school’s campus. We were given photographs of possible spaces for the mural such as the side of the school’s Cafeteria, outside play recess area, and where the students keep their bikes. Initially I had planned to create a mural of foods, “East Meets West” my favorite foods and combined with the student’s favorite foods. But the rainy weather restricted our abilities to paint on outdoor building walls and we had to adjust our plans. Instead we worked on a griddle tree mural and painted side-by-side with a local student.

Community Mural Painting Project

During the trip, it rained nearly every day and the misty atmosphere inspired me to make a dripping layered composition with structures that resembled buildings and houses.

Lauren Bourguet, 2019 A Town Like Rain (Acrylic Painting)

My confidence in my painting abilities grew in leaps and bounds after visiting Hua Quan Village. In the past I found oil paints very frustrating and I believed to be just plain no good at the medium. During my stay at the Hua Quan Art Village I was given free studio time with an array of paints and canvas. Learning these Chinese painting techniques had definitely affected me, face to face with the paint and canvas a new attitude of open and experimental confidence came over me. One of the many things I was able to bring home with me from this trip was a new love for painting.

About Lauren Bourguet

A conceptual artist, and educator from Port Washington, NY. In her studio practice, she works in photography, sculpture, installation, printmaking and performance. Bourguet draws inspiration from the Fluxus Movement, which expressed the importance of art as a creative process instead of commodity. Bourguet encourages viewers to consider “art” as way of conducting one’s life, in every realm of daily activity.

Website: https://www.laurenbourguet.com/    Instagram: LaurenBourguet_

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