A Personal Statement

I cannot fully explain why I so enjoy guohua, Chinese painting. On a very basic level, I simply love the feeling, the space, and the subject matter: I love the landscapes. I love the flowers.

Painting and Chinese culture have both had special meaning to me for many years. Perhaps it was inevitable they would merge someday. I studied Western painting when young; I encountered Chinese aesthetics in a wonderful course on Asian poetry (in English) while an undergraduate at Columbia. Chinese interplay between the world of men and the world of nature has many moving aspects, sometimes emphasizing the one, sometimes, the other, but always both. Even in works that seem only to depict trees. In Chinese painting, trees can be men and women, friends, moralists, lovers, who can make emotional and even political statements.

In 1994, on a visit to Hong Kong, my wife and I bought an ink painting by Harold Wong, and it opened a new door for me. A few years later, after teaching in China for several months and meeting some Chinese painters, I realized I wanted to learn Chinese painting. Now, more than thirteen years of study have passed, and I am happy to show my works.

My first teacher was a young lady in the US who had studied at the Art Academy in Shanghai: Zhu Aihua. She kept me focused for several years on the basic calligraphy brushstrokes. On my own, I furthered my studies in Chinese aesthetics. I later took a painting class taught by Jin Guangyu at the China Institute in New York and then took private lessons with him. Last, I studied with the eminent Shandong-based painter Professor Shen Guangwei. It is Professor Shen who showed me the path from being student to being a painter. In 2006, Professor Shen pressed me to work on my own. I was forced to find my own solutions to whatever problems I encountered. “My own solutions” of course were found in the works of the many better Chinese painters that preceded me; I return to my sketches, photos, memories, and books of Chinese paintings as often as to my sketches, photos, and memories of actual trees and landscapes.

The buds and fragrant blossoms of the Chinese plum tree that dominate this show can be harmonious and beautiful, and the plum’s trunk and branches allow for coarse and dissonant lines. Such contrasts give much meaning to the tree, and allow for the play of such Chinese aesthetic elements as wet and dry, line and form, light and dark, color and no-color, object and empty space. Plum blossom – meihua – painting has a long tradition. The plum tree is a symbol of perseverance and even optimism: the plum is the first tree to bloom in spring, often even blooming in late winter. I have several times seen the hardy blossoms open and colorful amidst falling snow – very strange and beautiful.

I study as many Chinese paintings as possible, as often as possible. Much beautiful Chinese art passes through Hong Kong. I stop in to see the Chinese collections of museums in cities I visit. The New York Met Museum’s rotating collection is always inspiring. Other influences have come from Japan (which influenced such Chinese painters as Fu Baoshi and his amazing daughter Fu Yiyao) and also from the most Chinese of Western painters, Rembrandt and van Gogh, with their animated lines and powerful empty spaces. Has anyone else referred to these Dutch as Chinese?
Where next for me? So much more to learn and to do. And perhaps I will return as Chinese in my next life.

Allan Ermann
Autumn 2011, Hong Kong