An artis­tic mar­riage of great con­ve­nience

China Daily (Canada) - - EXPATS - Yan­dongjie@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Mark Cooper makes art by mar­ry­ing two cul­tures and var­i­ous me­dia, in­clud­ing rice pa­per, porce­lain, wood and wa­ter­col­ors, to cre­ate the fan­tas­ti­cal and the or­nate.

In a re­cent ex­hi­bi­tion in Bei­jing, the Amer­i­can sculp­tor played match­maker in a slightly dif­fer­ent way, unit­ing artis­tic in­flu­ences from two Chi­nese cities, Shang­hai and Jingdezhen, a city in Jiangxi prov­ince world fa­mous for its pot­tery. And as if that part­ner­ship of cities needed an ex­tra hand, Bos­ton was brought in on the act as well.

This all came to­gether un­der the in­trigu­ing ti­tle Yu Yu China Blue at the Yuan Art Mu­seum in the Chi­nese cap­i­tal on Jan 12, where vis­i­tors from many parts of the world mar­veled at Cooper’s abil­i­ties as artist and cul­tural am­bas­sador.

Just as the works on dis­play em­bod­ied the spirit of at least three cities, the ex­hi­bi­tion’s ti­tle echoed the foot­steps of Cooper’s artis­tic jour­ney.

Cooper, 65, a teacher of ce­ram­ics at Bos­ton Col­lege, vis­ited Yu Gar­den in the old part of Shang­hai two years ago, and what he saw on his stroll through its 2 hectares that day in­spired many of the works shown in Bei­jing this month.

The ex­hi­bi­tion’s ti­tle echoed names of pre­vi­ous shows of his, such as Yu Viet­nam Blue, held at the Na­tional Mu­seum of Art in Hanoi a few weeks ear­lier, Yu Yu Bos­ton Blue and Yu Yu Colum­bus Blue.

“Yu Yu is a vari­a­tion of Yu Gar­den, and the color blue re­minds peo­ple of na­ture, of sea and sky,” Cooper said.

As for Jingdezhen, all the more than 500 works on dis­play were made in col­lab­o­ra­tion with artists from there, Bei­jing, and the US, he said.

“I was in­spired by a ce­ram­ics ex­hi­bi­tion by John Singer Sar­gent (an Amer­i­can por­trait painter of the late 1800s and early 1900s) in Bos­ton, so I went to Jingdezhen, a town that boasts a long his­tory of ce­ram­ics and that has in­flu­enced the world for cen­turies.”

He stayed there for two weeks in June, dur­ing which time he worked with artists at Jingdezhen Univer­sity, and they pro­duced most of the works shown in Bei­jing.

They in­cluded wood sculp­tures with el­e­gant curves rem­i­nis­cent of ar­ti­fi­cial rock for­ma­tions and the in­te­rior of an­cient build­ings in Yu Gar­den.

Blue and white works came in all shapes and sizes, with some of the de­signs “as com­pli­cated as a woman’s body, and as sim­ple as three par­al­lel lines”, as one ob­server put it.

Yan Feng, an artist and as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor at the Cen­tral Academy of Fine Arts of China in Bei­jing, said el­e­ments of East and West had been as­sem­bled with artis­tic in­ge­nu­ity, seem­ing to in­spire a “con­ver­sa­tion” be­tween two greatly dif­fer­ent cul­tures and art forms.

Cooper said it was ex­actly this con­ver­sa­tion that he had worked so hard to achieve. In this ex­change, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, he said.

In the wood sculp­tures, Cooper used Western- style iron hinges rather than Chi­nese hinges to hold the pieces to­gether.

“He seems to have de­lib­er­ately pieced to­gether el­e­ments of dif­fer­ent cul­tures in a vi­o­lent way to cre­ate a con­ver­sa­tion,” Yan said.

Cooper said: “I al­ways en­gage my­self in this process of col­lab­o­ra­tion as I learn to do things. This is be­cause I firmly be­lieve we can cre­ate greater things to­gether than when we work alone.”

Cross-cul­tural col­lab­o­ra­tion was the high­light of the ex­hi­bi­tion, he said.

Alan Clark, as­sis­tant cul­tural affairs of­fi­cer of the US em­bassy in Bei­jing, said: “Many peo­ple talk about cross-cul­tural col­lab­o­ra­tion; I have had a deep and per­sonal sense of it as it has taken place.

“Through his work, I can see Mark’s deep ap­pre­ci­a­tion of Chi­nese art cul­ture.”

Jiang Shangyue, a Ja­panese col­lab­o­rat­ing artist who gave him­self a Chi­nese name, en­thused of his plea­sure in work­ing with Cooper.

“Through our col­lab­o­ra­tion I have de­vel­oped a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of gen­uine com­mu­ni­ca­tion. In Ja­panese, the word for blue and the word for love sound ex­actly the same. It makes me think that fate brought us to work to­gether.”

YAN DONGJIE / CHINA DAILY

Mark Cooper’s ex­hi­bi­tion in Bei­jing on Jan 12.

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