by Christy Rodriguez de Conte
Artist Nan Liu’s portraits, landscapes, and ink paintings cross culture and mediums to bring the beauty beholden by the eye to life. Liu’s plein air painting are on display through Aug. 15 at the Artport Gallery.
For centuries, calligraphy has reigned as a supreme visual art form in China and worldwide. The earliest forms date back to the Shang dynasty (ca.1600-ca.1100 B.C.E.), where calligraphy was found on animal bones, shells, and bronze vessels. Meaning “beautiful writing,” the calligrapher shapes every stroke, dot, line, or angle as a means of cultural self-expression akin to poetry that reflects the energy of life.
Modern calligraphy reverberates such energy at the hands of skilled, trained artists who value tradition. Professor and painter Nan Liu stands on the shoulders of such tradition and creates contemporary art that breathes his experiences to life on a canvas.
When inspiration struck in his grandmother’s house in China, Liu recalls, “At 9 years old, I picked up an ink brush. I saw on my grandmother’s wall a painting by Qi Baishi [a famous Chinese painter]. He was a neighbor of my great-grandfather. He sent an ink painting. When I was young, I imitated the painting on the wall.”
Luckily for Liu, the benefit of arts in early education is not lost on Chinese culture. By 3rd grade, he was learning not only about traditional Chinese ink paintings but was exposed to formal Western-style paintings, eventually shaping his professional artistry and adoration for drawing and painting. He credits his primary school teacher for encouraging him to be an artist.
“[We would do] Western style of painting. [We studied] Roman, Greek, [and looked at plaster sculptures] to start drawing,” reflects Liu. “After school, we went to the professor’s art office at 3 p.m. [to draw] a still life. He would leave, and 2 hours later, he’d come back to check who was the best. Not to grade. But after school, just to learn. It was a golden, pure time.”
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