Harbour Art Centre
Elaine Woo MacGregor: Guizhou Paintings
24 April to 14 June, 2009
The solo exhibition in the Harbour Art Centre is based on ideas and work developed from my one month residency in the Academy of Fine Art in Guiyang, China in March 2008.
During the residency, I lectured in the Art School and worked in settlements of different Chinese ethnic minority groups in Guizhou province, a mountainous region in the South-West of the country.
The new paintings, developed back in the Studio in Glasgow, are a reflection on my experiences of China, resurfacing aspects of my Chinese heritage and dealing with cross-cultural concerns.
In the work I am interested in looking at the contrast between the new and old China; the relationship between the superstitions, nature and man-made structures.
Whilst in Guizhou, I was intrigued by the atmosphere of the countryside, the colourful culture and traditions of the Miao people (one of the largest ethnic minority groups in Guizhou). Their ways of agriculture and housing, dating back to around two thousand years, seems idyllic and romantic in comparison to the west. Animals become a source of heating in the wooden houses. Farmers in the hills and mountains rely on basic tools and physical strength of their own bodies and animals to carry heavy tools and crops. Physical stamina drives productivity and life. Feng Shui is incorporated in the layout of farmland and housing in many Miao villages; these landscapes exude a feeling of harmony and timelessness, filled with peculiar patterns and sinuous lines. These visuals are uniquely found in the countryside.
On the contrary, the city of Guiyang is an industrial conurbation with a high density of population. Signs of ‘old’ China – traditions of Feng Shui and superstitions – are subdued by the city’s concrete and steel architecture. Large multi-national businesses like Wall Mart are present and popular. Increasingly more young people move from the countryside to find work in the city, where convenience culture and capitalist style of life seems to be a driving attraction. Although Guiyang was subject to massive development and expansion in the 80’s, the growth of the city is limited by the mountainous landscape.
I feel there is an interesting relationship between nature and human habitation in Guizhou. There is a growing divide between the tradition of agriculture and the capitalist style of living. I am interested in bringing to the work these complex experiences and observations.
My work has moved away from representation. The process I have adopted is much more expressive and abstract, albeit with certain residual elements of figuration. Largely inspired by Chinese calligraphy, I have transferred the skills of traditional Chinese brush and ink painting to the oil paintings. Cao Shu ‘grass writing’ calligraphy has showed me how to work in a volatile and expressive manner, studying shape, line and form in its true value. At times the painted image is resolved very quickly, other times the image could be worked over days, weeks, into months.
Literal representation in my work is not important; I am interested in using my recent experiences of China to drive the process of painting. To me, a resolved image can be figurative and abstract intertwined.