A brush with fate that lasted seven years

Tra­di­tional ink paint­ing and a dif­fer­ent ap­proach to her work have helped US artist tap a new vein of in­spi­ra­tion, Li Jing re­ports.

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE -

For artist Patty Hu­dak, soak­ing up Bei­jing cul­ture for seven years has led to a shift in not only her art, but also in how she chan­nels it.

“I’m not paint­ing from the head any more but from the mind,” said the Amer­i­can, who has been im­mersed in the cap­i­tal’s art scene — ex­hibit­ing, cu­rat­ing and lec­tur­ing — since she ar­rived with her fam­ily in 2008.

Be­fore com­ing to Bei­jing she had fo­cused on pen­cil draw­ings with­out color and de­scribes the style as geo­met­ric, care­fully mea­sured and bal­anced, “a very con­crete math­e­mat­i­cal, the­o­ret­i­cal way of pro­duc­ing art”.

Yet that be­gan to change as she be­came familiar with Chi­nese ink paint­ing, which she be­gan to in­cor­po­rate into her work.

“Chi­nese brushes … are long with a very fine point, and they are very sen­si­tive to feel­ings,” Hu­dak said at her stu­dio in Huantie art zone in Chaoyang dis­trict.

“Any­thing I am feel­ing recorded in the brush.

“If you are mad, it comes out. You have to breathe, be­cause it is show­ing who you truly are, not just what your ideas are.”

The 53-year-old said it takes strength to be able to paint this way, and that it has been a strug­gle to let go of the idea of strong com­po­si­tion and sim­ply re­lease her emo­tions onto the can­vas.

“It is the dif­fer­ence be­tween paint­ing from the head and from the heart,” she said. “I’m still bat­tling with the two sides. But it might be a pos­i­tive feel­ing that bring­ing the East I un­der­stand to­gether with the West.”

A ret­ro­spec­tive of her work pro­duced in the past seven years is now on ex­hi­bi­tion at Be­ing 3 Gallery, in Bei­jing, from her early graphite draw­ings to the most re­cent oil paint­ings themed on the Chi­nese five el­e­ments — metal, wood, wa­ter, fire and earth.


As an out­sider in China, she said she has ob­served many lay­ers of cul­ture.

“I’m try­ing to get through one layer at a time with my own un­der­stand­ing.”

Cheng Guo­qin, the ex­hi­bi­tion cu­ra­tor, said Hu­dak’s jour­ney has had a re­mark­able ef­fect on the painter’s life and art.

“Her work has ex­tended from black and white to color, from pa­per and film to can­vas,” she said. “Th­ese works com­bine her mem­ory and emo­tions, while ab­sorb­ing the ori­en­tal ink spirit and dif­fer­ent styles of West­ern ab­strac­tion.”

At 15, Hu­dak stud­ied at the Cre­ative Arts Work­shop in Con­necti­cut. She later com­bined her in­ter­ests in bi­ol­ogy and art by study­ing bi­o­log­i­cal il­lus­tra­tion at the Uni­ver­sity of New Haven, and gained an art de­gree from Welles­ley Col­lege.

In the 1980s and 1990s she had a stu­dio in Brook­lyn, New York, where she was ob­sessed by a world made of dark lines against a white page, cre­at­ing vaguely bi­o­log­i­cal images based on sim­plic­ity and el­e­gance.

Com­ing to China was a child­hood dream, she said, ex­plain­ing that when she was young she en­joyed Chi­nese food and us­ing chop­sticks.

“She has found an in­ter­nal peace from Asian phi­los­o­phy,” said Dana Wal­rath, an Amer­i­can writer and one of Hu­dak’s close friends. “It might be be­cause that in the cities of the US we just have the city, we don’t have the philo­soph­i­cal ground­ings.”

Wang Yong­min, Hu­dak’s neigh­bor in the Huantie art com­mu­nity, said the soft colors, drip­ping paint and brush strokes in the Amer­i­can’s re­cent works are dis­tinctly Chi­nese, but he added there are also West­ern el­e­ments in the struc­ture, such as di­ag­o­nal lines and curves.

“The lines she used in her work re­flect the tech­nique in Chi­nese ink paint­ing,” he said. “In the West, paint, brushes are rough and flat, while Chi­nese brushes are soft and round. When ap­plied to the can­vas, the re­sults are dif­fer­ent.”

Wang is a Chi­nese tra­di­tional ink painter, and the artists have of­ten prac­ticed to­gether. “It’s also very new for me to see her con­tem­po­rary works, a style I had read about only in books,” he added.

A 25-me­ter-long painted in­stal­la­tion, Sail­ing to Byzan­tium, em­bod­ies Hu­dak’s com­bi­na­tion work, as she adopted cal­li­graphic brush­strokes on silk fab­ric to present an eter­nal aes­thetic in­spired by Ir­ish poet Wil­liam But­ler Yeats.

Although not her in­ten­tion, the large piece has a lot to do with bike rid­ing, an in­sep­a­ra­ble part of her Bei­jing life.

“The in­stal­la­tion has the same width as a bike lane,” she said. “I got a lot of my ideas from just rid­ing a bike. When I’m on my bike, I feel I can re­ally see and ex­pe­ri­ence Bei­jing — beau­ti­ful sun­light when it’s clear, peo­ple and their faces pass­ing me, chil­dren go­ing to school to­gether, and work­ers ex­er­cis­ing in front of their work build­ing.”

She said the most im­por­tant thing for an artist is some­thing peo­ple may or­di­nar­ily think would kill cre­ativ­ity — rou­tine.

Hu­dak leads a sim­ple life: She gets up early, sends her two chil­dren to school, ex­er­cises in Chaoyang Park and then rides a bi­cy­cle to her stu­dio, where she works for about five hours be­fore re­turn­ing home to cook din­ner for her fam­ily.

“I learned here not to rush around, just to stay and let images and emo­tions come. We have a lot of ma­te­rial hid­den in our heart, more than we re­al­ize, and you need to give your­self a way to process it.” Con­tact the writer at li­jing2009@ chi­nadaily.com.cn


Patty Hu­dak

The seven years spent in Bei­jing by Amer­i­can artist Patty Hu­dak, here with her painted in­stal­la­tion Sail­ing­toByzan­tium, are re­flected in her cur­rent ex­hi­bi­tion in the cap­i­tal.

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