Cap­tur­ing the color of spring in rapidly chang­ing Bei­jing

China Daily (Canada) - - EXPATS - By CHINA DAILY Yan Dongjie con­trib­uted to this story. Con­tact the writer at yan­dongjie@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Monique Rollins speaks through her col­ors. Her paint­ings are made up of bright reds, yel­lows, greens and blues, and the way she de­scribes her works, par­tic­u­larly those from her time in Bei­jing, match her vivid style.

Even her face turns red when­ever she’s asked a ques­tion.

“I’m bet­ter a pain­ter than a talker,” she said, blush­ing, at the open­ing of her latest solo ex­hi­bi­tion at the Bei­jing Amer­i­can Cen­ter on Aug 28. “With my works, I just want to de­liver my pic­ture of mo­ments, my ex­pe­ri­ence of the sit­u­a­tion to peo­ple, and to present it in my own lan­guage.”

Her show, Bei­jing Mem­ory, Nos­tal­gia Paint­ings, which runs un­til Nov 30 and is sup­ported by the US em­bassy, com­prises works painted by the Amer­i­can artist dur­ing an eight-week stay in the Chi­nese cap­i­tal.

Rollins, who is based in Wilm­ing­ton, Delaware, ar­rived in Bei­jing dur­ing this year’s Spring Fes­ti­val, the Chi­nese New Year hol­i­day, in Fe­bru­ary af­ter be­ing in­vited by the IU Artist Res­i­dence, a cen­ter for in­ter­na­tional artists to gather, cre­ate and com­mu­ni­cate.

“Spring is a time of new begin­nings and re­birth. It’s warm­ing with more sun. Girls are in their high heels rather than boots,” she said, ex­plain­ing that she wanted to cap­ture the dy­namism of spring in Bei­jing in her paint­ings.

The city was en­er­getic and pas­sion­ate, she re­mem­bered. “What struck me most were the young peo­ple. They have so much pas­sion to show the world who Chi­nese peo­ple are and what they can do. They are filled with po­ten­tial, and that had a re­ally big im­pres­sion on me.”

The 35-year-old artist said the bright col­ors in her paint­ings are her fin­ger­print, ex­plain­ing: “I don’t choose them, they know where to go. I just fol­low my heart while work­ing.”

Shingyuan Tsao, an art his­to­rian and deputy di­rec­tor of Qing­hai Mu­seum in north­west­ern China, spoke highly of Rollins’ work, re­mark­ing that the com­po­si­tion was sim­i­lar to some Chi­nese styles.

“Monique leaves the cen­ter of her pic­tures empty, re­lat­ing the free­dom and si­lence in your heart,” she ex­plained, com­par­ing the work to that of Bada Shan­ren, a Chi­nese artist of the 17th cen­tury. “There must be some kind of link be­tween them, be­tween their philoso­phies, and that is the re­la­tion Monique has in some way with Chi­nese cul­ture.”

Yuan Ting, a visi­tor at the ex­hi­bi­tion, de­scribed the blank ar­eas in the paint­ings as like the artist’s still heart at the cen­ter of a chaotic world. “It echoes the way she feels liv­ing in Bei­jing,” she added.

Rollins said the re­sponse to her Bei­jing paint­ings back in the United States had been in­cred­i­ble, with peo­ple call­ing them her best work. It was also good to be able to re­flect with friends and fans about her brief stay in the city, she said.

“My im­pres­sion of Bei­jing was very com­pli­cated,” she said, ex­plain­ing that in many ways the city was very old, such as the tra­di­tional court­yard homes and an­cient al­ley­ways, but in other ways very new, as the cityscape is con­stantly chang­ing at such a fast pace.

“It was a lot of op­po­sites,” she added. “A day in Bei­jing feels like five min­utes. It moves at such a pace. But I en­joyed it.”

Yue Xiaofei, a pro­fes­sor at the Bei­jing In­sti­tute of Cloth­ing Tech­nol­ogy, pointed out that “nos­tal­gia” was a key word in the ti­tle of the ex­hi­bi­tion, say­ing that in­deed Bei­jing had changed rapidly, while in con­trast New York looks al­most like it did a decade ago.

“The pace of change in Bei­jing must have inspired Monique when she worked on these paint­ings. I can feel that in this ex­hi­bi­tion,” she said.

Cui Xi­uwen, a con­tem­po­rary Chi­nese artist and founder of the IU Artist Res­i­dence, said the paint­ings pre­sented pos­i­tive energy, pass­ing en­light­en­ment and hap­pi­ness to all who see them.

This year, Rollins will hold fur­ther ex­hi­bi­tions, such as in Mi­ami, Bologna in Italy, and in Kiev, and will take her rep­re­sen­ta­tions of Bei­jing’s var­ied land­scape and emo­tional col­ors around the world.

Tsao said there are no bound­aries be­tween coun­tries in the world of art, as peo­ple’s souls share the same lan­guage of art, and urged more com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween in­ter­na­tional artists like Rollins.

“It’s our back­grounds that cause the dif­fer­ences in how artists from dif­fer­ent coun­tries ex­press their art,” she added.

PRI­V­IDED TO CHINA DAILY

Monique Rollins

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