‘Beauty of Bei­jing’s al­leys akin to a wise, old per­son’

China Daily (Canada) - - EXPATS - By CHINA DAILY

Aurora Bewicke, an Amer­i­can lawyer and artist, fell in love with the rough beauty of Bei­jing’s an­cient al­ley­way neigh­bor­hoods when she first came to the city in 2001.

The cramped al­ley­ways are cre­ated by rows of court­yard homes, where fam­i­lies tra­di­tion­ally lived in a com­mu­nal style around a com­mon yard. The homes, with tile roofs and dark brick walls, of­ten are hun­dreds of years old and passed down through gen­er­a­tions.

Bewicke, whose por­tray­als of Bei­jing and it’s al­ley­way cul­ture are be­ing dis­played in a solo ex­hi­bi­tion at the Na­tional Art Mu­seum of China in Bei­jing, which opens on Sept 19 and lasts for one week, said her cre­ative process draws di­rectly from bits and pieces of lo­cal color. Her work is part col­lect­ing, part pa­pier-mache, and part paint­ing and draw­ing.

She said she cre­ates her ab­stract works with ma­te­ri­als such as mag­a­zines with col­or­ful pic­tures, news­pa­pers with con­tent about im­por­tant events, and fab­rics of China’s tra­di­tional styles. She hunts amid the nooks and cran­nies of the Chi­nese cap­i­tal to get the ma­te­ri­als she needs.

Bewicke, 36, is a New York state na­tive who has spent half of her life abroad, be­com­ing an ex­pat at age 18. She said she is at­tracted by a rough, un­var­nished type of beauty. In ad­di­tion to her eight years in China, she said she lived and thrived as a global no­mad in Italy, Scot­land, the Nether­lands, Eritrea, Egypt and Kosovo.

She said she works for In­ter­na­tional Bridges to Jus­tice, an in­ter­na­tional law NGO, deal­ing with fi­nan­cial cases, and all the clients she works with are Chi­nese.

“When I walk through the al­ley­ways, I may see holes filled with a bag or a bot­tle, some­thing tied to­gether, wires are hang­ing up ev­ery­where, the walls are quite dirty, and for me it evokes the sense of history.”

The beauty of the al­leys, she said, is like that of the beau­ti­ful peo­ple when they get older and wiser. She has been liv­ing in Juer Hu­tong, an an­cient al­ley­way near the cen­ter of Bei­jing, within the Sec­ond Ring Road.

Bewicke spoke at a re­cent lec­ture, Se­crets of Hu­tongs, hosted by the US em­bassy at the Bei­jing Amer­i­can Cen­ter.

She said when she cre­ates, “I pay more at­ten­tion to my feel­ings to­ward things, try­ing to broaden the ex­pres­sion, not just copy down what I see”. She also adds bright col­ors and rough lines in the back­ground.

“I do what comes into my mind at the mo­ment when I’m cre­at­ing. I just leave a cou­ple of ‘info points’ in the pic­ture so that peo­ple know what the pic­ture is about.”

She said the “se­crets” in her lec­ture had dif­fer­ent mean­ings. When peo­ple stand away from the paint­ings, they see the ab­stract pic­tures that re­flect Bewicke’s daily life in Bei­jing. When they come up close, they can read the printed text of ar­ti­cles to find out the lo­cal se­crets on a par­tic­u­lar day.

But as pic­turesque and evoca­tive of history as the court­yard houses fre­quently are to for­eign­ers, for many Chi­nese they are just old. It’s com­mon for them to lack in­door plumb­ing, and many have been bull­dozed to make way for shiny new build­ings.

Ren Hong, like many of the Chi­nese au­di­ence who had a look at Bewicke’s paint­ings, said that she couldn’t share Bewicke’s feel­ings and deep love for the al­ley­ways.

“See­ing many for­eign artists draw the same side of China or Bei­jing, which are mostly sim­i­lar, I don’t feel they are fresh or at­trac­tive. We might have got­ten used to the en­vi­ron­ment.” Ren said.

Bewicke ac­cepts neg­a­tive com­ments with­out de­fen­sive­ness.

“Artists nowa­days make things that they think the au­di­ence want to see, so that their works can be sold for a bet­ter price. But I think we should be true to our be­liefs,” she said.

But not all lo­cals are dis­mis­sive of her work. Wei Tao, also at Bewicke’s lec­ture, said he’s happy to know that for­eign­ers are liv­ing in the city, ap­pre­ci­at­ing the re­main­ing an­cient love­li­ness of the fast-mod­ern­iz­ing Bei­jing, and re­mind­ing lo­cal peo­ple of the beauty around them.

“The young gen­er­a­tion of Chi­nese may not show great in­ter­est in history or beauty, but they shouldn’t ig­nore the pre­cious wealth they are so lucky to have,” said Wei.

Bewicke said she is open to new tech­niques, and would demon­strate work­ing with el­e­ments like cof­fee at her ex­hi­bi­tion, a medium that has be­come pop­u­lar among artists in the US.

“If you come to the open­ing, I might draw you a por­trait with soy sauce.” Bewicke said, mak­ing the au­di­ence laugh.

Yan Dongjie con­trib­uted to this story.


US artist Aurora Bewicke wants to ex­plore se­crets of Bei­jing’s al­ley­ways through her works.

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