Artistic harvest

By Zhang Zihan Source:Global Times Published: 2013-5-13 19:43:00


Painter Qin Kunying.
Painter Qin Kunying.


A painting from her Cabbage series. Photos: Courtesy of Qin Kunying
A painting from her Cabbage series. Photos: Courtesy of Qin Kunying


Since opening almost a year ago, the Czech-China Contemporary Art Gallery in Beijing's bohemian Songzhuang community has been a hub for promoting new art from both countries. However, sourcing homegrown works that fit this category has been a constant struggle for the gallery's curator Qin Kunying.

"Many Chinese contemporary artists are simply emulating the works of European artists from the 1950s. They don't realize this, and instead believe they are creating cutting-edge art," said Qin, a veteran painter.

Qin, wife of Czech artist Jiri Straka and mother of the couple's 12-year-old son Xique, is the driving force behind a push to build a cultural bridge between two countries with long, proud art histories influenced by different styles.

But it hasn't been an easy road, with Qin saying lack of sponsorship for the gallery has meant it is perpetually struggling to make ends meet.

"Chinese galleries, especially private ones, are always short of money. We can hardly find any local sponsors and have to rely on using our own money to run the gallery," she said. "I know some galleries provide their space to low-standard exhibitions for money, but we would never do that. I'd rather use my own money than lower the taste of the gallery."

Early influences

Born in 1969 in South China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Qin met Straka while the pair was studying ink painting at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing in 1995. While it may not have been love at first sight, Straka recalled he felt an undeniable attraction to Qin early on.

"My first impression of Qin was that she was so different," he said. "She wasn't talkative, but she was the best painter in our class and very independent; these were her most attractive aspects to me."

Like her husband, Qin's inspiration to pick up the paintbrush began at an early age.

"My hometown [Guiping] is a place of natural beauty with stunning landscapes. I was fascinated by these sceneries as a young girl," Qin said of her inspiration to become an artist.

In 1997, Qin joined Straka in relocating to the Czech Republic, where she worked on and off over a decade teaching Chinese culture and art at Charles University in Prague.

The Czech capital opened the door of an art nouveau world for Qin. She learned to fuse traditional Chinese artistic techniques with Western oil painting, fine-tuning her signature skills.

"Prague is such a precious place, where you can observe and feel a connection to European artistic masterpieces. I witnessed the merging, clashing and development of differing global art forms, and personally managed to melt what I learned to form my current style," Qin said.

A style unto her own

Qin's most famous work is nine-part series Cabbage, which was inspired during January 2008 when Guangxi endured a crippling winter.

"I was passing through a crop when I suddenly spotted a cabbage. I leaned down to observe it carefully, noticing veins on the leaves. I suddenly felt conquered," Qin recalled.

"I was moved by seeing all those veins stretching and growing on the leaves. They represented something vivid and full of energy."

 Cabbage is an East-West fusion, incorporating fine Japanese silk canvases with high-quality Western acrylic paints.

"Acrylic paints have sharp, strong colors. Even though silk doesn't allow these colors to merge, it was a combination that helped me capture all the cabbage's details," Qin noted.

Cross-cultural romance

The series was met with acclaim by foreign art critics, and also attracted strong demand among collectors.

Although coy about how much her paintings fetched, Qin acknowledged sales helped fund construction of the 10 million yuan ($1.63 million), three-story Czech-China Contemporary Art Gallery. 

Even though their relationship blossomed amid a shared love for art, Qin admits differences still inevitably arise between her and Straka due to their backgrounds.

"When we first returned to China [in 2005], Jiri insisted we live in a hutong because he thought it offered the 'pure' Chinese lifestyle. I listened to him and rented a siheyuan (courtyard) in Gulou. However, he had forgotten how cold Beijing gets in winter and didn't realize we'd have to live without a proper heating system," she recalled. "His legs can't tolerate the cold even today, which I believe is linked to our time back then."

The couple returned to Prague after less than a year in Beijing, before deciding to permanently resettle in the Chinese capital in 2007 in time for Xique to start primary school.

Ahead of the move, they browsed apartments for sale in downtown Guomao. Priced at roughly 10,000 yuan per square meter, Qin was eager to buy. Starak, on the other hand, was still apprehensive about embracing the CBD lifestyle.

"He was addicted to eating and drinking at small restaurants that weren't as abundant in Guomao, so he vetoed that motion. He later fell in love with a home with a backyard in Tongzhou district, so we moved there," Qin said, a hint of regret in her voice as she lamented how housing prices in Guomao have since more than doubled.   

But "love conquers all," as the adage goes.

"One day we had a serious quarrel, and I yelled at him to leave," recalled Qin. "He left, but within half an hour he returned and apologized to me. I realized that day no one else can love me the way he does."

For his part, Starak is grateful as an artist to have a spouse who encourages him to always put his passion before money.

"I'm creating a series of meter-long ink paintings at the moment. My Czech agent approached me several months ago and said even though my large paintings are highly praised among critics, I could sell more if I painted smaller ones," he said.

Rather than side with the agent on his sage financial advice, Qin told Starak to "follow my heart."

"She told me she wanted me to create art that has true and everlasting value, rather than painting to make a quick buck," Starak said. "I was really touched. Not every wife can encourage her husband to refuse the temptation of money."

Posted in: Metro Beijing

blog comments powered by Disqus