John­son Su-sing Chow: Literati Painter, trav­eler

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE - By JUSTINE HUANG in Van­cou­ver For China Daily

For John­son Su-sing Chow, the renowned Chi­nese literati painter, there is an end to life, but there are no bound­aries in art.

The 92-year-old artist who lives in Van­cou­ver is widely known for his pas­sion in the clas­sics, po­etry, cal­lig­ra­phy, land­scape and bird-and-flower ink paint­ing.

“For me, paint­ing is equally im­por­tant as life. As long as I’m living, I will not stop work­ing for art,” said Chow in an in­ter­view with China Daily. “Since I moved to Canada 35 years ago, I have not given up con­tribut­ing to the world of Chi­nese art. I refuse to do any­thing else such as mak­ing a for­tune. My as­pi­ra­tion for life is to pro­mote the tra­di­tional Chi­nese art and cul­ture to the world.”

Born in Suzhou, China, Chow be­gan paint­ing at the age of 8 and even­tu­ally ex­celled in the fun­da­ments of Chi­nese art be­cause of his fam­ily. Thanks to sup­port from his fam­ily. His fa­ther, Zhou Chilu, en­cour­aged him to paint; his brother Zhou Yu­jing in­structed him in the skills of bamboo and seal carv­ing, and his un­cle Zhou Mu­tian taught him po­etry, verse, and the art of cal­lig­ra­phy.

The young artist was ac­cepted to study with Wu School masters at Suzhou Fine Arts Col­lege where he learned the paint­ing of flow­ers with Wu Si­lan, the de­tails of de­pict­ing fruit and veg­eta­bles with Liu Jun­ran, and birds and in­sects with Zhang Xingjie. Dur­ing those years of stud­ies, Chow loved to spend his spare time at his teacher Wu Si­lan’s stu­dio, which housed a rich col­lec­tion of paint­ings and books.

In 1944, Chow grad­u­ated from the arts col­lege, highly skilled at tra­di­tional Chi­nese ink and brush paint­ing, as well as knowl­edge of con­tem­po­rary and fine art from East and West.

To evade the Chi­nese civil war, Chow went to Hong Kong in June1949. He con­tin­ued paint­ing while he worked at a lo­cal book­store to earn a living. Even­tu­ally he taught Chi­nese paint­ing, and be­came ac­quainted with the Chi­nese art masters Wu Zishen and Zhang Daqian. Chow and Zhang be­came close friends, and Chow even pub­lished a book Dan­qian and I. The literati painter was also in­spired by Zhang to do an indepth study of the art of Bada Shan­ren, and freely paint land­scapes in splashed ink.

Tang Shixia, the niece of the Im­pe­rial Con­sort Zhen, con­cu­bine of Em­peror Guangxu of the Qing dy­nasty, and Yang Shiqiang, the grand­daugh­ter of Yang Hanxi from a dis­tin­guished fam­ily in Wuxi, Jiangsu prov­ince were some of Chow’s fa­mous stu­dents in Hong Kong. As the num­ber of his stu­dents in­creased, Chow be­came more in­flu­en­tial in the world of art.

When the Hong Kong Chi­nese Art Club was formed, Chow was elected vice -chair­man. He and many schol­ars fre­quently held gath­er­ings and put on cul­tural events where Chow formed a friend­ship with pain­ters of the Ning­nan School, in­clud­ing BaoShaoyou, Zhao Shao’ang, Deng Fen and Yang Shan­shen.

Dur­ing his 21 years in Hong Kong, Chow held many solo ex­hi­bi­tions, and had his works shipped to New York for ex­hi­bi­tion on the rec­om­men­da­tion of the Hong Kong branch of the World Chris­tian Coun­cil. Chow pub­lished his first al­bum with eighty paint­ings in 1968. He was also in­vited to lec­ture on bird-and-flower paint­ing and other top­ics at the New Asia Col­lege and the Chi­nese Uni­ver­sity of Hong Kong.

In 1971, Chow t left Hong Kong, which he called his sec­ond home­land, to begin his jour­ney to the United States and Canada with his fam­ily.

Af­ter mov­ing to Cal­i­for­nia, Chow taught ad­vanced stud­ies at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Los An­ge­les, and served as cu­ra­tor of Chi­nese art at the Asian Pa­cific Art Mu­seum un­til 1980. Then he moved to Van­cou­ver where he be­came a pro­fes­sor and men­tor at the Uni­ver­sity of Bri­tish Columbia, teach­ing clas­si­cal paint­ing.

“At that time the uni­ver­sity did not have a for­mal course on the sub­ject, and so it was only of­fered as an ex­ten­sion course. As it was the first of its kind, the course at­tracted a lot of stu­dents, and many of them were Cau­casians,” said Chow. “As to most of them, it was the first time they ever got in touch with Chi­nese paint­ings; their learn­ing spirit was high. They were amazed at how a brush could paint such beau­ti­ful ob­jects with such ease and clar­ity.”

Af­ter six years Chow left the uni­ver­sity to pur­sue other goals, but some of the stu­dents who en­joyed his teach­ing be­came his pri­vate stu­dents.

Be­sides teach­ing, Chow spent time with fa­mous Chi­nese artists in Canada, in­clud­ing F.C. Chan,Yuk­man Lai, S.F. Le­ung and K. Seto. They would hold monthly meet­ings, shar­ing their artis­tic tal­ents by paint­ing and dis­cussing their art­work and cal­ligra­phies at the Bud­dhist Tem­ple in Rich­mond.

In 1993, Chow founded the Chi­nese Canadian Artists Fed­er­a­tion in Van­cou­ver, which now has more than 400 mem­bers. Many of the mem­bers were ac­com­plished artist be­fore set­tling in Van­cou­ver.

“We of­ten have joint-ex­hi­bi­tions to dis­play our art for cul­tural ex­changes, not only be­tween mem­bers, but to the public as well. I also have quite a few stu­dents who over the years have be­come known artists in town,“Chow said.

Chow has do­nated many of his art­works to char­i­ta­ble or­ga­ni­za­tions, and sup­ported many lo­cal cul­tural events. Both the Canadian pro­vin­cial and mu­nic­i­pal gov­ern­ments have awarded him civil hon­ors for his con­tri­bu­tion to the artis­tic and cul­tural mo­saic of Bri­tish Columbia

In 2012, Chow founded the Wu School Art As­so­ci­a­tion with Linda Hu to fur­ther the tra­di­tional Chi­nese paint­ing style that was handed down from the Tang Dy­nasty to the present, and the mix of old and new styles he mas­tered in the Wu School. He hopes through this as­so­ci­a­tion that ,the mem­bers of the as­so­ci­a­tion and his stu­dents can pro­mote Chi­nese tra­di­tional paint­ing.


John­son Su-sing Chow with his pub­li­ca­tions in his Van­cou­ver home.


Age: 92 Ed­u­ca­tion: · Suzhou Fine Arts Col­lege Ca­reer: · Pres­i­dent, Chi­nese Canadian Artists Fed­er­a­tion (1993) · Pro­fes­sor, Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Los An­ge­les (19711980) · Pro­fes­sor, Uni­ver­sity of Bri­tish Columbia, Van­cou­ver (1981-1987) · Pro­fes­sor, Depart­ment of Fine Arts, New Asia Col­lege (1960s) · Pro­fes­sor, The Uni­ver­sity of Hong Kong (1993-1994) · Cu­ra­tor, Chi­nese Art, Asian Pa­cific Art Mu­seum, (1971)

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