Press Room Details
China Studies is a collection of drawings, prints and oil studies made during the artist’s Red Gate Residency in 2011. Lopes spent six months working in Feijiacun, Beijing. This body of work focuses on artistic interpretation and impressions of the small Bei Gao village in Feijiacun, north of Beijing, and its earmarked future as a growth section and extension of the encroaching metropolis. He produced over fifty works during his stay, recording the changing village life and its people. We asked the artist about the experience this exhibition.
Upon arrival, what were your first impressions of the Bei Gao village?
My first impressions were a combination of excitement and outright fear! The landscape, village area and amount of people were completely different to anything I had experienced before. Consequently from an artistic point of view I couldn’t wait to get going documenting the area and trying to interpret all these images in my own way. After settling in on the first morning I went for a walk and started to get my bearings and within the first half day I had set up painting and the first painting I did was of a simple persimmon tree and from then on my confidence grew and I started painting the people.
Your studies capture everyday moments in the life of the village. How did you, as a Western artist, immerse yourself in this new environment?
Well I was unsure of how I was going to approach it. I tried to keep my ideas simple and eventually I realized all I had to do was concentrate on the people around me and just capture their day-to-day activities. I wasn’t interested in conjuring up any visions or narrative work. By simply plonking myself in a quiet part of the town or park and setting up a few small boards, I would focus on the landscapes and village views and then quickly paint in the people. The locals didn’t seem to mind or really care that I was painting them. My limited Mandarin quickly put a stop to any long conversions so I was free to just paint amongst them.
The works in China Studies have a feeling of spontaneity. Does a residency require a different approach to your usual art making process?
Yes there is a different mentality required to residency work as opposed to working in the studio. I guess there is less pressure to do completed works and it’s more about investigating your subject or place. Documenting, keeping diaries, photographing areas and seeing different sights, museums and interaction with the people is really important and all that energy and experience finds its way into your work. The limited time of residency makes you work quickly so I guess a freshness comes into the work. Keeping that approach and bringing it back to your studio practice is the difficult part.
What did a typical day involve for you in Bei Gao?
Early breakfast and then some work in the studio as it was often too cold to go outside - some mornings it was -12 degrees as I was there during winter. I would then carry three or four panels and set up in a part of the village, outdoors or in the street and knock out a couple of works, then a walk to the supermarket and get a coffee or tea. Back to the studio and work on some recent work and then lunch. I would then do an afternoon session or go for a walk in the evening. Some days I would travel into Beijing itself and see exhibitions, museums, eat at a restaurant, buy materials and meet other artists, curators etc. but I would do a few works each day. I mostly work early in the morning or at night. I learnt to cook some interesting Chinese dishes from all the different ingredients available so most evenings I’d cook in the studio kitchen and then watch a cheap pirated DVD from the local store!
Will you continue with this subject matter now that you’re back in Australia?
Yes I’ve been back to China since the initial residency and I’m currently working on a big series of works called Exit Town based around my China experiences and hope to show them in 2014.
Steve Lopes China Studies continues until 16 November 2013 at Stella Downer Fine Art, 2 Danks St, Waterloo. If you would like to find out more about this artist, please visit his website at www.stevelopes.com.au or the Stella Downer Fine Art website.
To see article with images, please visit the Stella Downer Fine Art blog.