The fine art of fight­ing cancer

China Daily (Canada) - - PEOPLE - By FU JING in Brus­sels fu­jing@chi­nadai­ly­

Therese Zarem­baMartin is 71 but looks much younger. The Belgian puts this down, in part, to her fond­ness for paint­ing Chi­nese moun­tains and rivers, which she says has also helped her re­cover from treat­ment for cancer.

“Paint­ing has given me en­ergy and force, es­pe­cially when I was very ill last year,” she said from a stu­dio in Brus­sels where she is learn­ing paint­ing tech­niques from a Chi­nese mas­ter.

She and Zhang Wen­hai roll out a copy she made of the clas­sic mas­ter­piece Dwelling in Fuchun Moun­tain, the orig­i­nal of which was cre­ated by Huang Gong­wang six cen­turies ago.

Her ver­sion took three years to com­plete, roughly the same length of time that Huang spent on the orig­i­nal, which he painted in old age between 1347 and 1350.

Huang’s paint­ing, con­sid­ered to be among the 10 best ex­am­ples of an­cient Chi­nese art, cap­tures the mag­nif­i­cent early au­tumn view of the banks of Zhe­jiang province’s Fuchun River.

In June last year, when she had fin­ished three-quar­ters of her paint­ing, Zaremba-Martin was di­ag­nosed with breast cancer.

“Of course, it was de­press­ing, but I also started think­ing of life, the mean­ing of life, and the im­por­tance of peo­ple,” she said.

Her fam­ily and friends have been help­ful and sup­port­ive, and she is get­ting as close as she can to na­ture, fresh air and friends.

Af­ter tak­ing a break from paint­ing for three or four months last year while she was weak and un­der­go­ing treat­ment, she said her mind drifted back to fin­ish­ing her copy of the mas­ter­piece.

Her teacher Zhang, who is 35 and orig­i­nally from Shang­hai, is a grad­u­ate of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Brus­sels and of­fers pri­vate tu­ition in Chi­nese cal­lig­ra­phy and paint­ing.

He says he too thought paint­ing might help and sug­gested she use it as “part of the treat­ment for­mula”.

Zaremba-Martin, though still weak, picked up her brush. “Ev­ery time I fin­ished one part, I had to go back to see if I need more strokes. Then sud­denly, the brush, the ink and the en­ergy be­came dif­fer­ent,” she said. “I had the im­pres­sion I was no longer paint­ing, and it was my brush go­ing along the way. It was right, but very strange.”

Zaremba-Martin, who has worked as a free­lance in­ter­preter, mainly in Ger­man, French and English, since she was 26, is mar­ried to an in­ter­preter who she met in Germany in 1972. They have three chil­dren and five grand­chil­dren.

She has loved Ori­en­tal art since she was young but ini­tially could not tell the dif­fer­ence between Chi­nese and Ja­panese paint­ings.

“If I found a book with such paint­ings, I al­ways wanted to buy it and I told my rel­a­tives to buy such books for my birth­days,” she said.

She learned how to paint at school but has only re­ally fo­cused on her art in re­cent years.

“It was my daugh­ter who said, you have spo­ken about it enough and you need to start to do it,” she said.

At first, she started to learn cal­lig­ra­phy. Then, in 2008, she met Zhang, who ini­tially in­tro­duced her to tra­di­tional Chi­nese wood carv­ing.

She tried it for one week and liked it but told Zhang she re­ally wanted to learn about tra­di­tional Chi­nese paint­ing.

Zhang not only teaches her about art tech­nique but also about phi­los­o­phy, She said.

She has fin­ished read­ing two Chi­nese clas­sics, Water Mar­gin and Jour­ney to the West, which also help her bet­ter un­der­stand the mean­ing of the paint­ings.

Yao Yueyang con­trib­uted to this story.


Above: Part of the clas­sic mas­ter­piece Dwelling­inFuchun Moun­tain, by Huang Gong­wang of the Yuan Dy­nasty (1269-1354).

Left: Belgian artist Therese Zaremba-Martin and her Chi­nese mas­ter Zhang Wen­hai roll out a copy of the paint­ing.

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