Saturday, June 25, 2011

Yangshuo, China

Every time I am in China, there comes the time to splurge on a 5-star hotel. On a four-day trip to Yangshuo, an hour's taxi from Guilin (see photo above, on approach) and three-hour flight from Beijing, I selected the Yangshuo Mountain Retreat. A western-style dining room, baked cookies served on arrival and spying a New Yorker jarred my Asian immersion, momentarily. Spacious quarters, ambling gardens and room lights that could only be activated by remote control corrected the disjunction: indeed, this is China.

Men rowing long bamboo rafts with chairs affixed floated past my balcony on the clear and gentle Yulong River. No greater luxury than a motorcycle taxi to purchase a ticket and be rowed gently downstream, mountains looming around. Have your photo taken here, eat some beer fish there, beckoned small, river-based business as our raft drifted past. Natural waterfalls puncutated the meandering pace of the raft, sometimes suddenly, drenching us, other times gently. It reminded me of the rocking pace of Disneyland rides as a child: Pirates of the Carribean, particularly. I wonder how many Disney designers traveled to Asia--seems so many of their ideas germinate here.

What I love about China, and for that matter Los Angeles, is the natural abundance in landscape. There does not seem to be any limits to what the land will do. Pine trees growing out of rock? No problem. Water, mountain and desert combined? Why not? In Yangshuo, the karst mountains loomed irregularly from the river, creating a Flintstones-like terrain I cannot wait to paint. Above, the views from my room are still beautiful, photographed on an iPhone in the raw, hot middle of the day. Yet, it was on a night motorcycle ride that the views were most amazing: the mountains' shapes reflected in the river, moonlight glowing, seen at a glimpse as we sped past, the engine of the motorcycle the only noise one heard.

Yuan Dynasty painters and their commitment to landscape as a mode of resistance to unwelcome political rule led to some of the greatest painting in China. Wandering was not simply a matter of spiritual seeking, but an active choice for freedom, to live as one wished beyond the confines of institutionalized demands. Yet, wandering is also practical in my experience of China. Each time I go, the landscape opens itself to deeper exploration, like chapters in a book. One place summons an association to another place, or demands more time spent than I have. There is never just one landscape and never just one reason to wander.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Beijing Travelogue: Land and Body at Today Museum + Goloudajie, Second Ring

Beautiful painting--sketchy and light, like an ink drawing, at Land and Body, Today Museum, Beijing (linked above)
A wall of these delicate paintings at Land and Body, Today Museum, Beijing

More from Land and Body, Today Museum, Beijing
Back from two weeks in Beijing. In two short years I forgot how magical China is, but was quickly reminded my first day back with the ornate and textured sidewalks that are such a pleasure to stroll. Having brought only an iPhone, brush pens and sketcbhook, images of the trip are few but there will be more posts on China forthcoming.

When there, I saw some wonderful shows. These include the rotating permanent collection at the Palace Museum in Forbidden City, where a seriesof Ma Yuan water paintings held sway. Dubbed "One Corner Ma" for his assymetrical compositions, Ma pursued studies of water idioms that are spellbinding in a group of 20 in the Palace Museum. With their intervals and overlaps, Ma's water studies invite a Taoist approach to composition.
Ma Yuan, The Waving Surface of the Autumn Flood, from a series of paintings of water
中文: 水圖卷﹝局部, ns 26.8 × 41.6 cm (10.6 × 16.4 in), ink on silk
Palace Museum, Beijing, China

The dazzling Land and Body exhibition at Today Museum (link and images above) opened the day we were there. We arrived late, so there was little chance to do more besides snap these pictures and hope the pure visual power of the work would somehow transmit. What a followup to the Grey Gallery's seminal 2009 exhibition, Icons of the Desert! While that show featured bark paintings, this show presented fabric substrates for the complex yet freely applied markings that notate pathways through the land.

In addition to the paintings the installation includes a hand-painted time line of events that contextualizes the journeys in them. Oh, for an extra day to spend reading the wall inscriptions! I hope the catalogue will be published, as it wasn't at the opening, and makes its way to the US. Also at Today: the Martell Prize Winners exhibition and a very strong, contemporary Permanent Collection that surveys work from the Beijing scene, including a painting by new friend Yang Qian ( I thought it would be great shown in tandem with New York painter Alyssa Monks, as they both consider wet surfaces as a veil between our gaze and the figures they paint.
Alyssa Monks (from her website)

Yang, in addition to having a most beautiful studio in Fejiacun where one views his oeuvre of black light paintings, water images and newer collage works, has impeccable taste in Chinese cuisine. Trained in the States and a native of China, he is a genial host and respected artist.

In Beijing hailing cabs is competitive sport, more so than New York. Renumeration is low so cabdrivers decline fares often, despite the fact it's illegal. Knowing this en route to Today from Sanlitun, I sat resolutely in the back of a cab while expatriates, local Chinese and the cabdriver argued in passionate Mandarin about the existence of a Today Museum, and what it would take to get a waiguoren there.After some contretemps he started the car, and off we went.

In the past, Feijiacun and Songzhuang were my local neighborhoods but this trip was pure Second Ring: Line 2, Goloudajie stop, Soluxe Courtyard Hotel. What aesthetic delight to experience the low-slung, humanly scaled hutongs and their nearby restaurants, plentiful public toilets, convenient subway system and beautifully planted trees, textures and colors. That said the best parts of the trip remain undocumented, as I suppose they always must: dusk-light rambles past generations of family members spoiling crowing babies in narrow alleys, motorbikes whizzing past and many drinking pijio, China's delicious, light beer. Or red lanterns hanging in "Ghost Street," creating a sense of celebration in front of the storefronts that by day are business as usual. The compression of places that are thousands of years old with new developments stimulate the senses at every turn. It's as if occupying the singular but dense spaces in the aboriginal journeys at Today Museum were layered with five more sheets of similar density.

The stunning textures and muted tones of a Beijing sidewalk

A rarity--untouched relic of the past in Beijing's lively Second Ring neighborhood