Inspiration: Tilla, oh Tilla

Ernst Barlach: Tilla Durieux III (1912), (it's III because presumably Barlach made at least 3 portraits of Tilla)

I was at home in Mecklenburg, Germany in May. Somehow the landscape and everything just clicked. Of course, as it was home, I know much better how to see there than I do in Hong Kong, where learning to see is much more difficult. Anyway, my mum had this book about Ernst Barlach (1870-1938), the expressionist sculptor who lived and died in Mecklenburg.

And there she was: Tilla III! I am officially in love with Tilla. This portrait is of Tilla Durieux, at the time a well-known Austrian actress.

She conveys a feeling of “just being there” and contentedness, looking pleased and awake. The portrait is very linear and sharp – see the eyebrows, eyelids and the mouth. Despite this being linear marks that seem to be more on the surface – the whole head is about volume – solid, filled form. Beautiful.

Visit: Beijing Art Fair (May 2011)

Li Jin: Butterfly's love for the flowers, ink on paper, 2011

We’ve been to Beijing in early May and spend 2 mornings at the Art Fair. It was (compared to what I’ve seen in Hong Kong recently) pretty good.

Although I am not a watercolour/ink sort of person, my favourite was Li Jin’s work above. It seems like a perfect portrait with childlike ease and humour (note the almost popping jacket buttons of the woman or the tiniest tea cup next to the bulky figure of the man) in a veranda or garden setting.

September 1985, Beijing No. 171 High school classroom (artist in Chinese characters below)

This is such a delicate picture, and everything seems to underline the innocence of the schooldays – the colouring of the clothes and the light shining through the fabric. The composition is reminiscent of religious scenes with the triangle shape in the foreground. There are more figures in the background adding some depth, but they are admittedly hard to make out in my picture.

1987 Oil on Canvas, artist shown in picture below in Chinese characters

Zhou Chunya: Still Young, Oil on Canvas, 150*120 cm, 2005

The picture by Zhou Chunya is really quite striking. An older man looking at a younger man (himself?) in a blossoming orchard. It looks very melancholic and almost sore – probably emphasized of the bright pink colouring of the flesh.

Zhang Huan: Hometown sentiment, Ash on linen, 150*400cm, 2009

Next, a very formal picture by Zhang Huan – a bit like a photo negative showing a country road with ducks in the foreground and 2 figures on both sides of a dividing line of trees …

I looked at this picture for a long time as I just couldn’t decide whether I liked it or not. Its size is certainly very striking and so is the monochromatic landscape. The varied texture is beautiful too. Hmm. I am still not sure what disturbed me… maybe that the same artist made the kitsch bear sculptures standing in front of it?

I am pretty intrigued by this. It happens to me all the time… I like a picture and when I look at other things from the same artists I am often put off. Then I keep questioning myself whether I am being silly as a good picture is still a good picture even if the rest is crap. Why should one be devalued by the other? Or is an artwork something like a character judgment? Say a nasty person could be a really lovely dad for 2 hours a day – is that still lovely when you know the other sides? It seems to depend how black-and-white you are, how much grey tones you can cope with.

Pen Xiaojia: Wrath, from the series "7 deadly sins", 63*30cm, Colour on Bronze, 2007

In China/Hong Kong Fernando Botero-esque sculptures seem immensely popular.This series of women depicting the 7 deadly sins had a nice surface, although I couldn’t capture it properly in my picture.

On the other hand – compared to Ernst Barlach for example, who was a master in expressing universally valid and recognisable feelings in sculpture (look for his works after his trip to Russia somewhere past 1907), this is not really recognisable as “Wrath”. She looks rather pretty and cute than full of wrath.

I think it is difficult to depict ugliness (like wrath) if you are so drawn to beauty as an artist. But it is not consequent to depict all 7 deadly sins as rather pretty and cute. Should there not be more ugliness when you depict an ugly feeling? Otherwise it is all play-acting… like a little bit of wrath, some lust, a wee bit of greed…

%d bloggers like this: