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Artist returns with a gift from China

Chak Man Lei is showing his paintings done in ink at Vernon’s Headbones Gallery for the month of August. The artist is visiting from Beijing, China, where his studio is based, to give a talk about his work at the exhibition opening Aug. 1.  - Photo by Richard Fogarty
Chak Man Lei is showing his paintings done in ink at Vernon’s Headbones Gallery for the month of August. The artist is visiting from Beijing, China, where his studio is based, to give a talk about his work at the exhibition opening Aug. 1.
— image credit: Photo by Richard Fogarty

Julie Oakes and Richard Fogarty are about to share their experience of visiting China by welcoming a very special guest to their Vernon-based art gallery.

From April 2 until May 30, Oakes, an artist who owns Headbones Gallery with Fogarty, stayed at the Where Where International Art Residency in Beijing, China run by Canadian curator Gordon Laurin.

Based in a second-floor studio, the duo went a daily walk through the Project  Space Gallery on the residence’s main floor, where they encountered the exhibition, Surface Rising, by Chak Man Lei.

Both say they were smitten with Lei’s work, which is based on ink.

“In Chinese art, ink was used for elevated work with an intent to connect with the spiritual, seated in calligraphy and painting,” said Oakes.

“Traditionally, a landscape was not begun plein air, but by walking through the landscape. In solitude, from memory, the painting was created. Ink came from tung, derived from burning pine trees, so the essence was soot with added elements increasing longevity for image making.”

A visit to Lei’s studio sealed the resolve to bring his work to Canada, and on Aug. 1 Oakes and Fogarty will welcome both the artist and his work to Headbones.

“When we visited his studio, Chak Man Lei served tea, shaving the bowl-shaped pressed leaves, pouring boiling water over the purple sand clay pot so that it passed through the tea tray slats to a container below; we drank to it,” said Oakes, adding  Lei is looking forward to coming back to Canada, where he lived for many years.

Born in Hong Kong, Lei grew up in Macau, where the Cantonese language is spoken, until he was 12 when his family immigrated to Canada. He became a Canadian citizen, and attended the Ontario College of Art and Design in Toronto. After six years in Vancouver, dealing Chinese antiquities while maintaining his ink art practice, Lei bought a one-way ticket to Beijing.  He learned Mandarin, set up a studio in one of the new art districts, and now says, “I feel more Chinese than the Chinese.”

Oakes describes Lei’s large black ink paintings as a record of his immersion in the urban, hustle-bustle, fast-pace rush of China today.

“Blurry, with multiple components registering as interconnected mass in movement, Lei’s impressions are poignant for a glimpse of blue sky while living in the immensity of China’s progress is rare, replaced by a smoggy obliteration of distance,” she said.

Along with Lei’s paintings, Headbones is also introducing the work of Tian Xiaolei, a video artist working with themes of generation and alienation.

“His videos explore a gamut of changes from birth to death, serenity to confusion, ancient to contemporary, the myths of the country folk to the plight of the modern Chinese,” said Oakes. “Refined yet expressive, the imagery is beautiful.”

Small hand-made books and collages by street artist Ziran will also be displayed.

Billed as “councillor of discoveries”, one of “top 10 art celebrities in China” and a “contemporary artist innovating paper cuts” on his personal business card, Ziran’s work lives up to his name, said Oakes.

During their stay at the Where Where International Art Residency in Beijing, Oakes completed 28 gouaches reflecting the lunar cycle. One of them, entitled Day Here Night There, has been made into a tapestry, which took five months to complete, from Oakes’ original gouache painting to its arrival at Headbones from China where it was woven.

“It is a testament to the positive attributes of working with the Chinese, both in the quality of the craftsmanship and the expediency of the process,” she said.

Day Here Night There, along with the other paintings that make up the Lunar cycle work completed while on the residency, will be shown in Oakes’ studio at the Aug. 1 opening reception at Headbones, which starts at 7:30 p.m. Chak Man Lei will speak on his work at the event, and from 8 to 9 p.m., Oakes and Fogarty will give a visual presentation showing sights and art works seen during their stay in China.

The opening is open to the public free of charge and is for anyone with an interest or curiosity about contemporary life in China as seen from an art-oriented slant, said Oakes.

The exhibition will be up until Sept. 6. Headbones is located 6700 Old Kamloops Rd. and is open from Tuesday to Saturday from noon to 6 p.m., or by appointment. Call 250-542-8987 for info.

 

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