Tradition and modernity in Chinese art

Jing Liu holding her art outside of Welcome Swallow Gallery, where it will be displayed.

Jing Liu has been practising Chinese calligraphy since she was a little girl, when her dad passed the art on to her.

“I always saw him practising calligraphy at home. He didn’t talk much, all he did was his calligraphy. One day he gave me a piece of paper with some characters on it, and he asked me to use a brush to trace the characters.

“I didn’t even recognise some of them because I was so young, but he taught me how to hold the brush and do it properly.”

Since her dad taught her the art, it’s become a lifelong passion. She’s now preparing to display her art alongside the art of her father, Yong Ming Liu, in the Welcome Swallow Gallery for an exhibition called A Journey in Chinese Art.

She said she feels New Zealand is a great place to share her culture and art.

“New Zealand is such a multicultural country, and every time I talk to people about their cultures it’s always so interesting,” Liu said.

“I love seeing the connections between cultures. It’s interesting because I think Māori culture is quite similar to my culture.

“Māori people and Chinese people really value family, we often have big connected families. And when I see those similarities, they immediately bring connection for me.”

Jing Liu

Liu practises watercolour painting as well as calligraphy. Her art is often a combination of Chinese tradition, and New Zealand culture. She paints native New Zealand birds in the traditional Chinese watercolour styles.

“I was lucky because traditionally Chinese paintings have the same painting subjects that New Zealand art does. I thought, well I love Chinese painting, and New Zealanders love their native birds, so I thought why not?”

Although Liu said calligraphy was a chore to her childhood self, it has become a lifelong passion to her.

“Now that I’m older I feel so grateful that Mum and Dad made me practise it. It’s a lifetime hobby now,” Liu said.

“It’s interesting, because now that I have kids myself I keep wondering if I should make them learn a hobby like that. Part of me thinks it would be best to do that, but another part of me wonders if I should let them follow their own paths.”

Family and tradition are highly valued in Chinese culture, Liu said. Although she loves seeing people put modern twists on Chinese watercolour painting, doing things the traditional way is ceremonial for her.

“I hear people say they don’t like the old ways, but personally, when I do it the traditional way, it almost feels like I’m communicating with my ancestors. Because this is the way that they would do it thousands of years ago, It almost feels like I’m talking to them,” Liu said.

“It is time consuming and complicated, but it’s a ceremony for me. It shows my respect to my ancestors, and to this kind of art.

“But I also love doing something new. For example in this exhibition, we have a painting that’s painted on both sides. And I’ve never seen that before so I really wanted to give it a try.”

Liu’s art will be on display at the Welcome Swallow Gallery from Friday February 9 (Chinese New year) to March 31, along with works from Auckland artist Yu Ting Li, and Liu’s father Yong Ming Liu.

– Waikato Times

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