A gallery exhibition by artist Shaomei Zhong Wan will usher in the Chinese New Year at Plainsboro Public Library later this week with a collection of watercolors and silk paintings that are influenced by both Eastern and Western traditions.
The Chinese New Year begins on January 31 and the animal associated with this year, which is not 2014 but 4712 according to the Chinese calendar, is the horse.
“I am very excited with the exhibit and very grateful for such a wonderful opportunity,” said Ms. Wan, who has featured in Plainsboro Public Library events in the last several years, regularly demonstrating the techniques of Chinese and watercolor painting.
Born in Guangzhou, China, Ms. Wan graduated from the South China University of Fine Arts there. She is a member of the Guangzhou City Artist Association and Chinese American Art Association and has lived in the United States for 11 years, at present residing in East Windsor.
After serving for many years in the creative arts and advertising design industries, Ms. Wan currently works as an independent artist and design consultant. She has entered and won prizes in various professional exhibitions, and her work was exhibited in Flushing, New York and in the Mercer County Artists Exhibition at the Mercer County Art Gallery every year for the past five years.
Of the current exhibition and its influences, Mrs. Wan said: “In my youth, I focused on watercolor, engraving, and oil painting. My education was in Western fine art, but my spirit remained in the East. After immigrating to the United States, I discovered that none of the various forms of Western fine art could provide a sufficient outlet for the emotions that I wished to articulate. Several years ago, through serendipitous chance, I was introduced to silk painting, and I have been enamored of it ever since.
“Silk-weaving is an ancient Chinese invention, and silk painting has been alive in China for millennia. However, the fine brushwork painting techniques used in the ancient periods required that the colors be added layer by layer due to limitations in pigment technologies in ancient times, making it a difficult medium for the freehand brushwork of traditional Chinese painting on paper. The use of modern Western dyes and watercolor techniques has helped me discover my own artistic language, enabling the expression of those emotions I feel while facing the conflict and confluence of Western and Eastern cultures.
“Ancient Chinese civilization made its way from East to West through the Silk Road. While I physically traveled from East to West, my creative inspiration moved in the opposite direction, from Western art forms back to my Eastern roots. This exhibition is my first step in a new artistic path, and I hope that my exploration can bring fresh sentiments and inspiration to my audience as well.”
Timed to coincide with the Chinese New Year, the longest and most important celebration in the Chinese calendar, the exhibition has allowed Ms. Wan the opportunity to explore some of her recollections of the celebration. In China, months are reckoned by the lunar calendar. New Year festivities traditionally start on the first day of the month and continue until the fifteenth, when the moon is brightest. In China, people may take weeks of holiday from work to prepare for and celebrate the New Year.
“In the city of Guangzhou, one major event of Chinese New Year celebration is the flower market and lantern festival,” Ms. Wan recalled. “It’s very much like carnival celebrations in other parts of the world and when I was little, the whole family used to go together. My father would put me on his shoulders so that I could see all the beautiful flowers and lanterns as well as the traditional firecrackers. I still remember the loud cracking sounds and the smells of the burning firework powders. The purpose of the firecrackers is to send off the old year and welcome the new year. At midnight, everybody lit them up at the same time. The noise was so loud that it seemed like the whole city was exploding. And the echoes seemed to vibrate in the air for a long time.”
Legend has it that in ancient times, Buddha asked all the animals to meet him on Chinese New Year. When twelve showed up, he named a year after each one and said that the people born in each year would have some of that animal’s personality. Those born in horse years are cheerful, skillful with money, perceptive, witty, and good with their hands. They include Rembrandt, Aretha Franklin, Chopin, and President Theodore Roosevelt.
As for Ms. Wan, she was born in the year of the snake, which puts her in possession of great wisdom, passion, and perception.
A reception for the artist will be held Saturday, February 8, from 1 to 3 p.m. to coincide with the library’s annual Chinese New Year celebration, which also features performances, crafts, and cooking demonstrations. The exhibition of Ms. Wan’s work will continue through February 26 at the Plainsboro Library, 9 Van Doren Street, Plainsboro. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Friday through Sunday; 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., Monday through Thursday. For more information call (609) 275-2897.