Thursday, 22 September 2016

ORIENTAL ORIGINS: Olympia Gallery’s “Conveying the Heart” blends traditional Chinese art, philosophy and history

MADE IN CHINA: Shaowen's work is a classic example of brush and ink making poetry on the canvas.

Li Shaowen’s “Nine Songs” series is best described as a visceral and provocative response to Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’ – a powerful artistic statement steeped in history and folkloric artistry.

Thanks to the UWI Mona-based Confucius Institute, seven pieces from this remarkable work are currently on view (through the end of September) at Hope Road’s Olympia Gallery (across the street from the UTech campus), and serve as the main highlight in a show dubbed “Conveying the Heart.” 

But don’t be fooled by the show’s mysterious title, the exhibition is a glorious fusion of traditional Chinese art and modern concepts that come together to create a spellbinding whole. You are simply awed by Shaowen’s expert hand and the details with which he imbues every single piece in the collection. Brush and ink making poetry on the canvas, while reflecting profound, lighthearted and simply fascinating aspects of the Chinese experience – the customs, the flora, the fauna and the people.

From the subtly Cubist realism of “The Lovers” to the lush palette that brings to life pieces like “Plum Blossom” (ink on xuan paper), Shaowen’s meticulous style consistently earns praise. But even so, it’s the Danté depictions you can’t forget – nightmarish scenes emblazoned on silk with the kind of haunting visual power that characterizes the finest artworks anywhere.

“His hands are like magic wands,” someone quips while perusing the pieces on opening night, referring, of course, to Shaowen’s masterful strokes. And you can’t help but agree. Above all, though, there’s rich historical and cultural significance in these works that transcend eras and geographical boundaries. In other words, they’re expressive and enlightening meditations on art and life, passion and pride of place.

> “Conveying the Heart”, a celebration of Li Shaowen’s mastery, remains on view at the Olympia Gallery, through September. Telephone: 927-1608.

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