Botan­i­cal gar­den forms in­spi­ra­tion for art dis­play

China Daily (USA) - - LIFE - By LIN QI in Xishuang­banna, Yun­nan prov­ince

The dis­tinc­tive trop­i­cal land­scapes of Xishuang­banna, in south­west­ern Yun­nan prov­ince, has been at­tract­ing es­tab­lished painters like Zhu Da­nian and Yao Zhonghua since the late 1950s. Many of them spend weeks sketching and painting at the Xishuang­banna Trop­i­cal Botan­i­cal Gar­den, where a great va­ri­ety of plants and birds in­spire artists from across the coun­try.

Es­tab­lished by the famed botanist Cai Xi­tao in 1959, the gar­den, now man­aged by the Chi­nese Academy of Sci­ences, is not only a sci­en­tific base for trop­i­cal bi­ol­o­gists, but is also “a site of artis­tic pil­grim­age” es­pe­cially for painters who spe­cial­ize in the tra­di­tional Chi­nese art of painting flow­ers and birds.

When Art Meets Sci­ence, an on­go­ing ex­hi­bi­tion be­ing held at the gar­den’s Wan­glian Ho­tel, show­cases 128 ink paint­ings and 10 wood­cuts, which pro­vide novel per­spec­tives to vis­i­tors want­ing to learn about na­ture and sci­en­tists try­ing to un­der­stand art.

The gar­den cov­ers an area of 11.25 square kilo­me­ters, and in­cludes a trop­i­cal rain for­est, which is home to more than 12,000 species of plants. It is also a shel­ter for birds and has be­come an at­trac­tion for bird watch­ers, par­tic­u­larly dur­ing the bird mi­gra­tion sea­son.

The paint­ings fea­ture some of the gar­den’s most eye-catch­ing at­trac­tions, such as flow­ers of the hairy fruit musella, or­chids, torch lilies and pea­cocks.

Shi Lan, an art pro­fes­sor from An­hui prov­ince, whose paint­ings are dis­played, has been a fre­quent vis­i­tor to the gar­den for the past decade.

“There is no way that I lower my head when walk­ing through the for­est, be­cause I just can­not keep my eyes away from the flow­ers.

“The mo­ment I see the red blos­soms high up in the trees I’m car­ried away by the rhodo­den­drons in the lower bushes and the rows of trav­el­ers’ palms. Then, I spot fallen red jum­ble-beads scat­tered in the grass. I don’t know what I should set my eyes on.”

She says that be­ing in the for­est has taught her many lessons. “The flow­ers I see in a full bloom a day ear­lier wither away the fol­low­ing day. The fleet­ing beauty some­times makes me feel sad, but I mar­vel at the cir­cle of life.”

Sun Lin, a painter from Shan­dong prov­ince, has sketched at the gar­den for a few years now. She says that na­ture has grad­u­ally changed her painting style. She says at first she drew the flow­ers and leaves pre­cisely. “But as I stayed longer in the county where the gar­den is lo­cated, I learned from lo­cal peo­ple to live sim­ply and to ob­serve the world qui­etly. And now, I skip many de­tails, but I try to grab the essence of the sub­ject I am painting.”

The rich colors of the gar­den are what many painters come for. But for some, the green plants have a lin­ger­ing charm.

In his ink painting, Bei­jing­based Pang Cong­cong por­trays a gi­ant taro whose huge leaves leave him feel­ing re­freshed. “It doesn’t have col­or­ful blos­soms or plump fruits. Still, it ex­hales a breath of warmth and vigor.”

Af­ter viewing the ex­hi­bi­tion, Tang Hong, from Qing­dao, Shan­dong prov­ince, who works on the gar­den’s land­scape, says the paint­ings not only in­tro­duce species to peo­ple, but also tells them that it is these small plants and an­i­mals, not hu­mans, that are the real res­i­dents of the for­est.

Chen Jin, the gar­den’s di­rec­tor, says the ex­hi­bi­tion is a trib­ute to the di­verse beauty of Xishuang­banna’s rain forests.

“Gen­er­a­tions of painters have come here to sketch over sev­eral decades. Some have even vis­ited 26 times. It has be­come a unique cul­tural phe­nom­e­non in Yun­nan.”

He says both painters and sci­en­tists hope the ex­hi­bi­tion leads to a cross-dis­ci­plinary ex­change and he hopes to de­velop the ex­hi­bi­tion into a bi­en­nial event.


Tra­di­tional Chi­nese flower-and-bird paint­ings by Zhu Yan (left) and Guo Zil­iang (right) are among the pieces on show at the ex­hi­bi­tion at Wan­glian Ho­tel in­side the Xishuang­banna Trop­i­cal Botan­i­cal Gar­den.

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