Chinese artists at Eisenhauer

Elegant Brow
"#5 Elegant Brow," a piece in the Guilin and Xi'an show. Photos courtesy of Eisenhauer Gallery

By Jacqueline Sexton - August 2, 2007

Seven Chinese artists working in a variety of styles are on exhibit at the Eisenhauer Gallery in Edgartown this week. They offer a rare opportunity to take the pulse of contemporary Chinese art. The work ranges from traditional Chinese landscapes to large pop-figure brush paintings.

Gallery owner Elizabeth Eisenhauer has brought the collection to the Vineyard with the help of Chinese historian and retired University of Connecticut professor Herman Mast and his wife, Linda, whom she met while operating a gallery on Block Island. During their extensive travels in China, the Masts met a group of master artists from the Guilin Painting Academy and have brought their work to the U.S. for several years. Ms. Eisenhauer visited China with the Masts last year and also made contact with the Guilin group, as well as Xi'an artists Zhou Zheng and his son Zhou Xiao.

Guilin is well known in China as a picturesque city along the Li River, surrounded by distinctive, craggy mountains. Xi'an played an important role in Chinese history as one of its ancient capital cities and is the home of the famous terra cotta warriors buried there by one of early China's emperors.

Zhou Zhang headed the Department of Fine Arts at Shaanxi Normal University, then helped found the Xi'an Fine Arts University. His work includes two lyrical brush paintings of animals, one of goats and another of deer. In addition, he hand-carried from China to the gallery a group of oil paintings that demonstrate the range of his talent. His portrait of an elderly man has the power and immediacy of a photograph. A lyrical painting of songbirds is more traditional, like his handsome still life of fish. Also on view is a rural village scene.

Calm Anchor
"Calm Anchor."

Mr. Zhou's son Xiao's Dragonfly Series eloquently combines the insects with more abstract and lyrical elements of the natural world. The medium he uses is Chinese watercolor, which relies less on the vegetable-based colors used by Westerners than on mineral-based ones. As a result, Chinese watercolors are less apt to fade. Painted on rice paper, the colors also interact differently than is the case with Western ones.

"People are so excited to see this kind of work in a resort destination like Martha's Vineyard," says gallery owner Ms. Eisenhauer. "It's like water in the desert." When the Masts first approached her about showing the Chinese artists, she was reluctant, but she says her mind was opened by the accomplishment of the work.

A native of Guilin, the artist Quan Handong now resides in Queens, N.Y. He has chosen oxen as the subject for his work, which is done in ink and gouache. He explains that he was inspired to focus on oxen as a way of conveying the human spirit through animals. The oxen that he paints have also become a means of paying tribute to his father's hard work in providing for his family. Mr. Quan's depictions of the traditional Chinese beast of burden range from abstractions to graphic-art designs and show considerable technical sophistication.

In a publication by the Queens Council on the Arts, Mr. Quan has written of his desire to continue his Ox series because of its special meaning to the everyday life of people living in Queens and the New York Metropolitan area after the events of 9/11. The ox, he says, is "the kind of animal (that is) gentle and kind by nature yet unyielding in front of challenges."

The work of Bao Xiaojun uses the conventions of traditional Chinese landscape to create evocative renderings of the mountains surrounding Guilin. On the other hand, Qin Fuming plunges the viewer directly into modern Chinese culture by concentrating on full-length portraits of young women. His work demonstrates a freedom of line that gives his work great spontaneity. Xiao Shunzhi's still-life floral arrangements also convey a more contemporary feel through the use of vivid reds and a variety of other sparkling colors. He brings a sense of vitality and re-invention to a very conventional artistic theme.

"When I started collecting in the 1980s, there were no galleries in China," Mr. Mast says. It took him and his wife two years to put together the work of the seven artists on exhibit.

This is the fourth time Ms. Eisenhauer has exhibited work from China. Selections from the current work will continue to be displayed on a rotating basis through the fall.

The Eisenhauer Gallery is located on 38 N. Water Street in Edgartown. The gallery is open every day, from 10 am to 10 pm.

Brooks Robards is a contributing writer to The Times.