Seeds of the creativity

By Sun Shuangjie Source:Global Times Published: 2014-7-15 17:58:01

US artist takes the lotus flower as his main theme through extended China residency

It's the season when the lotus can be seen blossoming all across the city, but what is the flower's significance?

This is the question US artist Brian Michael Reed is asking, while creatively using different parts of the plant in his artworks, which are being showcased at Zendai Zhujiajiao Art Museum in Qingpu district until July 29.

Entitled Pictorial Anthropology: Brian Michael Reed's Residency at Zhujiajiao, the exhibition provides an overall view of the art Reed has been creating during his stay in the ancient water town, where he first came to live in April 2013.

Lotus and lobsters make up the two themes of the exhibition that ranges from watercolor paintings to 3D mixed-media works and a variety of installations, all of which take inspiration from local life in Zhujiajiao.

In the painting Zhujiajiao Harvest, a couple of lobsters are in a boat, fishing on the river. The scene was inspired  by local fisherman. In the installation Lobster Spirit Ancestors, a series of neon lights shaped like lobsters hang beneath the eaves of the museum, echoing the way locals dry fish in the air.

In the installation Wind Lotus, rice paper folded into the shape of lotus seedpods with long stems hang upside down, creating an imaginary, inverted lotus pond of poetic beauty.

Brian Michael Reed in his studio Photos: Courtesy of the artist

Crawfish invasion

"My first impressions were influenced by the restaurant and food culture in the town. I saw many small crawfish in large washing containers and cooking bowls alongside the small narrow stone streets. I got the idea and impression that Zhujiajiao had been invaded by the crawfish," said the 29-year-old artist, who was invited by Shanghai Himalayas Museum to Shanghai after he completed a residency in Songzhuang artist community in Beijing.

Lotus flowers are regarded as a symbol of purity and perfection in China. Reed chose the flower as his main theme for his works during his stay in Songzhuang. "I thought the crawfish could create a great counter balance to the idea of the lotus, it's like yin and yang in Chinese culture," said the artist, who graduated with a master's degree from the history of art department at Yale. "The lotus being on the top of the water represents purity, in contrast with the crawfish, which is on the bottom under the water in the mud and not pure."

Reed ate his first lotus seeds in Zhujiajiao, and a story about lotus flowers and lobsters began evolving in his mind. In the story, lobsters eat too many lotus seeds, disrupt the balance of the ecosystem, and transform into dragonflies, which live both underwater and above water during their lifetimes. This transformation is captured in his works. Reed said the story is also a reflection of his own attempts to create a balance in his life. The lobsters may stand for the dark and evil side of one's personality, while lotus is the purity and innocence.

"You can see the way that people are, sometimes they are lobster, sometimes they are lotus, and hopefully some people become a dragonfly," said Reed.

Mixed-media piece Harvest Lotus Ink Omelet

From China to the universe

Reed calls the series of art he has created during his residency in Zhujiajiao Lotus Waters. He aims to complete three Lotus series in his overarching China project, called From China to the Universe. In Songzhuang, he created Lotus Desert, which metaphorically records people living in bad conditions pursuing the meaning of lotus. Next, he is looking forward to experiencing Southwest China to create his Lotus Mountains series.

Although the China project seems well planned, it is actually an improvised project that he came up with after his arrival. Reed had intended to make artworks with organic materials or recycled materials, but he found it difficult to find such materials and had to start with oil painting in Beijing.

In his previous artworks created during stays in India, Mexico and Africa, he used materials such as bottles, wood, honeycombs and beads.

Each of the residency series feature distinctive elements derived from local mythologies and ceremonies.

"The connection between all those series is that I'm trying to do a self-portrait of myself in my work through cultures and the desire to understand what life is about," said Reed. "It's universalism. We all face death, face violence, we all deal with love, sexuality, giving birth, all people cross all time always do it, so I think I can find these ideas everywhere."

China has been the fifth project for Reed so far, but it's the first time that he has spent so long on one project.

As for what the lotus means to the artist, Reed said that it lies in constant change, as China always changes. For him, it's the investigation during which he learns something new and understands more meanings.

Watercolor painting Zhujiajiao Harvest


Date: Until July 29, 10 am to 6 pm (closed on Mondays)

Venue: Zendai Zhujiajiao Art Museum


Address: 222 North Street, Zhujiajiao Ancient Town


Admission: Free

Call 5924-3133 for details

Posted in: Metro Shanghai, Culture

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