Different cultures, different brush styles

Photo by Michael Lee.

For artist Winifred Lee, painting has always been an interest but she didn’t have the opportunity to pursue her dream in her native Taiwan.

Lee, who moved to Canada in 1977 with the intention of providing a better education for her three sons, says there weren’t many Chinese artists or painting clubs in Richmond at the time.

“I like Canada because the environment fits my style. In Taiwan, it’s become very busy and noisy but here in Canada, it’s very tranquil and peaceful and contributes to an environment that helps me paint what I want to paint,” says Lee, 83.

Lee’s Ode to Nature will be on display at the Dr Sun Yat Sen Gallery as part of Asian Month May 2–
June 29.

Lee was approached by the Garden because they were looking for an artist who paints a lot of birds. Lee is one of these artists.

“The audience will see a lot of birds at this exhibition,” says Lee.

She would like the audience to not only appreciate what they see but perhaps get a better understanding of how she feels about nature.

“I like the joy I get from nature and I want to share that with others, to express what nature means to me,” says Lee.

Chinese and Western Art, Gongbi and Xieyi

Cultural differences between Taiwan and Canada has influenced Lee`s paintings – they’ve changed because of these differences.

“The technique in Chinese painting and western painting is different so the painting looks different but I’m influenced by western art. For example, the use of colour – there is more use of colour in my painting. A lot of traditional Chinese painting don’t use as much colour…but in the last 30 years, there has been more colour in my painting,” says Lee.

Lee explains the Chinese painting style emphasizes brush strokes rather than colour.

“In Chinese painting, there are only five primary colours: red, brown, yellow, indigo and orange …we don’t use green. Any additions would be a mix of these colours,” she says.

There are two primary styles in Chinese painting: Gongbi and Xieyi.

Gongbi is a style where there are more fine and detailed brush strokes. This style can only work on certain type of rice paper and silk paper.

“It takes a lot of time, very labour-intensive,” she says.

In Xieyi where the character Xie means to write, to paint or draw and Yi means imagination, there is less detail and delicate brushstrokes but more imagination required.

“It is much faster than Gongbi but one can express more with less strokes. We usually use a type of rice paper where the water can flow nicely; imagine a brush with a lot of paper and the water runs…because of that, the painting has to be finished before the paper dries,” explains Lee.

Although she doesn’t prefer one over the other, there has been a noticeable difference.

“Because of my age, Xieyi is easier because Gongbi requires good eyesight and concentration. Having said that, Xieyi still requires a certain amount of technique,” Lee says.

In Ode to Nature, the audience will see both Gongbi and Xieyi styles. Although she didn’t have to paint anything new for the exhibition, Lee said choosing the roughly 20 pieces for a limited amount of wall space was the biggest challenge. Besides the paintings, Lee says the audience will also get an opportunity to view her painted fans stored inside a glass covered table.

“I didn’t know about this event (Asian Month/Explorasian) so when the Garden approached me, I was very happy to be involved,” says Lee.


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