Discovering Zhou Gang

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What do you do on wet days when you are on vacation? We like to visit museums. So as today is very rainy, we went to Toulon this afternoon to visit the Museum of Asian Arts (Musée des arts asiatiques).

Located in a house with garden which once belonged to the son and later the grandson of author Jules Verne, the museum contains a small but interesting collection of art objects, many donated by naval officers from the time of the French colonization of Southeast Asia. It includes objects and paintings from India, China, Southeast Asia, Tibet and Japan. (Wikipedia)

Apart from the permanent exhibition, the museum hosts temporary exhibitions. At the moment it features Chinese painter Zhou Gang. Zhou Gang was born in Shangai in 1958. He graduated there before moving to Japan and then Paris to study fine art. He now resides in the French capital.

Zhou Gang uses traditional techniques: ink on rice paper and was influenced by Chinese old masters. Yet, after 20 years in France, his art has become a fine combination of Eastern and Western influences and his paintings are full of energy and vitality.

Taking photos was forbidden but you can see some of Zhou Gang’s paintings on the artist’s website.

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Color vs Black and White

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The son of a rabbi and fine Talmudist, Saul Leiter studied to become a rabbi himself but soon left Pittsburg to settle in New York once he felt the rabbinate was not his calling. Instead he wanted to be a painter.

After visiting a photography exhibition, Leiter took an interest in this form of art and purchased a Leica. Although he never quite gave up painting, he earned a living as a fashion photographer.

Leiter soon experimented with color photos, unlike most artisitic photographers of the time for whom colors was associated with magazines and adverts. He favored street scenes making them works of art through his unique play with angles, light, filters, reflections and colors of course.

I only knew his photos through a book I own, Early Color, but was lucky enough to visit an exhibition in a French town in Burgundy this weekend. It was well worth the visit. I was particularly amazed at the way Leiter highlights one or several colorful detail(s) in an ordinary background thus forcing us to reconsider the way we look at everyday scenes.

For a glimpse into Saul Leiter’s works click here.

Séraphine

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By the age of seven, Séraphine Louis Maillart (1864-1942) was already an orphan. She lived for six years with her older sister then, like most girls from poor families at the time, got a job as a servant. She worked in a convent then for different families in the town of Senlis.

One of the people she worked for was Wilhem Uhde, a German art dealer. In 1912 as he was visiting his neighbors he complimented them on a small painting they owned, only to learn that the artist was no other than his own servant Séraphine.

This woman had never opened an art book nor had she visited an art exhibition and yet her paintings were remarkable enough to surprise a connoisseur like Uhde. He encouraged Séraphine to paint but soon WWI broke out and Uhde went back to Germany.

When he came back to-France some years later, he saw three of Séraphine’s paintings in a local exhibition, bought them and went back to Senlist to see her. He regularly bought her production thus enabling her to buy paints and canvas. Meanwhile Séraphine had become popular in Parisian circles and she sold paintings to a variety of people, including visitors from abroad.

Yet she remained as solitary as when she was a child, had no friends and suffered from dementia. Uhde had been hit hard by the Great Depression and stopped buying her paintings. Séraphine was admitted to the psychiatric ward of a geriatric hospital where she died of starvation in 1942.

Creazone

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Creative workshops are extremely trendy here. People from all ages and all walks of life take up scrapbooking, painting, engraving, etc.

A young woman just a few yards from my house made advantage of this trend and set up an art workshop with a difference: she teaches art and English. Apparently her workshop is popular with young children as well as teenagers and adults.

She holds different courses: in some you learn art only, in others you learn English only but the most popular are those where you learn both art and English – or should I say art in English.

As there is a huge Japanese-owned factory in the area, a number of Japanese senior executives live in my hometown with their wives and children. I assume they don’t want to make France their permanent home so they welcome the oportunity for their kids to learn another foreign language they will be able to use in the future. These classes are also popular with teenagers preparing for an exam and adults who want to brush up their English in an unconventional environment.

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Collages: Kiek Jansen

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Collage: a form of art in which various materials such as photographs and pieces of paper or fabric are arranged and stuck to a backing.

In one of yeasterday’s post, I wrote about the house where Henri Matisse grew up. I mentioned his mother’s shop but did not mention that part of it is now a nice and colorful café and a place for temporary exhibitions.

The current exhibition features a Dutch artist Kiek Jansen. Kiek Jansen, who was educated at the Rijksacademie voor Beeldende Kunsten in Amsterdam (1980-1984), does drawings, oil paintings and paste-ups out of cloth glued onto paper – in other words collages.

At present she mainly makes collages and draws her inspiration from frequent visits to Asia and Africa. I assume the reason she exhibits her works in Matisse’s childhood home is her use of colourful fabrics in her works.

Matisse’s Family House

facade_matisse_fev_3.jpgHenri Matisse lived here. He was born in his grand mother’s house in 1869 before his parents moved to this house when he was still a baby. They owned a grain store. His father went round the local farms which he provided with grains and fodder while his mother ran the shop.

Matisse attended the local school and later the high school in my hometown. He had art lessons there which he did not enjoy much. His father would have liked him to take the business over but he had a weakly constitution and eventally studied law to work for a solicitor.

At the age of twenty he became very ill. During his convalescence, his mother gave him art supplies to keep him busy. He enjoyed them so much that he went to a different art school which taught design to the people that worked in the local textile factories. There he learned more modern techniques and this experience made such an impact on young Matisse that he decided to leave his family and go to Paris in order to become an artist.

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Five months ago his family house was open to the public. It is possible to visit the shop, the stables, the silos and the house. thanks to an audio guide you can walk around the small town while listening to an evocation of what life was like there when Matisse grew up.

Then Bohain was a small but active little town thanks to its prosperous textile industry. At one point there were more than 1,500 looms in the town factories as well as in the main rooms of private homes. It was so famous that Csar Nicholas II of Russia had his household linen made there when he married in 1894. Unfortunately all the factories have now closed down and Bohain is no longer the busy spot that Matisse knew.

Art and Older People

pic1.jpgOne of the nursing homes in my hometown is currently holding an exhibition. It is an exhibition with a difference as the artists are some of the residents themselves.

Mrs B. (a former art teacher) volunteers once a week at the old people’s home. She has two groups: the people who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease and more able people. All of them are women.

It’s the first year the Alzheimer’s patients have attended the art workshop. They can only work for about 20 minutes as they have difficulties concentrating on what they are doing. When she works with them, Mrs B. is helped by one of the caretakers. This year she chose to start with crumpled papers.

The old ladies crumple a sheet of white paper. They dip it in water. Then they unfold it and crumple it again before dipping it into diluted ink. Finally the sheet is unfolded and dried. Some of the works can be seen on the stand. Others have been used as covers for the booklets which explain what has been done during the year.

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The more able residents usually work for an hour each week. They started this workshop three years ago. As they age, Mrs B. has had to find new ideas and new techniques. One of the easiest for people who have difficulties holding objects is stenciling. They made stencils using foam and the first theme was lines and dots. So they each engraved their own pieces of foam, then used a rolling brush to put paint onto the foam before printing the paper with the stencils. At the top of the stand, there are red cards with black prints made with this technique. One of the ladies then made more pictures using the replica of a bird she had painted the previous year.

Finally, some of the residents took part in a local art competition between different nursing homes. The theme this year was “the four seasons.

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Art Project: Scandinavian Artists

180px-Hammershoi_sunlight.jpgThe end of the school year is great for projects. We now know more or less what classes we’ll teach and even sometimes with whom. So today I was approached by a History teacher who wil teach the Humanities section next year. He told me about an exhibition which will take place in Lille’s art gallery from October 2008 until January 2009. It wil feature a group of Scandinavian artists who went to France to improve their skills between 1870 and 1914.

Since we have an exchange with Sweden, my colleague thought it would be a good idea to take this class to this exhibition. Obviously I immediately agreed. Talking about art and paintings belongs to a language class and, although I am no expert, it is always enriching. Besides I love Scandinavian art. There was a beautiful exhibition about Finnish painting at the same museum a few years ago, a year or two later I visited a number of Danish museums during a summer vacation there and have been to Swedish museums during the exchange trips.