Charles Hecht



Beijing: On multiples artists...
By Charles J. Hecht

Charles Hecht, Flag Series, 2005

To Read Beijing: On multiples artists... - Part II - Click Here -->

This This is my third trip to Beijing to participate in the exchange program sponsored by the Pickled Arts Centre. I was met at the airport by Xiao Chen, one of Li Gang's secretaries, and we took a cab back to the arts center. Li Gang was watching a calligrapher from Taiwan, Yang Tze Yung, create some scrolls. Tze Yung had participated in the recent Beijing art exhibit, and sold all of his paintings at the show to one collector and was awaiting payment. He and his friend were each purchasing a unit at the new arts complex being built approximately two miles away. I had seen the land for the complex on my last visit. Li Gang and he were discussing his participation in a joint show in Berlin. I just enjoyed watching the calligraphy. After he left, Li Gang and I had a chance to catch up with each other and I gave him a book of the recent Ruebens drawings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I also gave him my old Jackson ESQ welding helmet so he could do more intricate and accurate welds, while relieving the neck and head pains caused by the constant up-and-down motion of a helmet that is not equipped with a computerized light-sensing device. He had asked me to bring him one prior to this visit, but did not have the money for a new helmet, which lists for approximately $400 before shipping to China.

Since all the rooms in the complex were full, I was assigned a couch for the first night with the understanding that once Brad moved out of his room the next day I would have that room for the rest of my visit. After a brief nap, I went down to visit with Li Gang'92s parents and then a large group of us went to dinner at a new Beijing duck restaurant in the neighborhood. On the way we stopped off at another of Li Gang'92s studios to visit Rich, a sculptor from Australia who was working in wood. He brought all of his carving tools and was just starting on a wood maquette for a much larger sculpture. We also looked at some casting molds of Tracy Heneberger, a sculptor from Brooklyn, that would be the basis for a bronze pouring within next few days. The castings were to be used to make a smaller version of Shan Shui, a sculpture commissioned for a New York City patent law firm last year.

We visited with the owner of the Imagine Gallery and then our large group went to dinner. Among the diners were Brian Wallace, an Australian who was the proprietor of the Red Gate Gallery, Tong, a sculptor from Luxembourg, two French agents for a Paris art dealer, who were trying to get Li Gang to exhibit some of the works of the artists that they represent, and some Chinese artists represented by Red Gate and other friends. There was lots of food and beer. The main area of discussion was the recent Beijing art fair. The consensus of the people and dealers who participated was that it was a success. It had far greater attendance and broader participation than the prior year'92s fair, and was especially good for Chinese artists.

Brian Wallace noted that the success of the Beijing Art Fair was demonstrated by the higher prices realized at a very recent Hong Kong auction. One Chinese painter who came in with Brian announced that he had sold everything he brought to the show and that dinner was on him, as this was a celebration dinner. John Sundvquist and Tracy discussed how much the artist should participate in arranging his art at a gallery show. Some artists felt that the gallery owners were in a better position to hang the exhibit. John felt that his paintings were so personal that he had to be intimately involved and control the process of arranging and hanging all of his pictures. Tze Yung , who was apparently trained as an opera singer, intermittently decided to entertain us and everyone else in the restaurant with Puccini and Verdi opera arias. We concluded the meal by singing happy birthday to Li Gang'92s five-year-old daughter, Wendy. Then 15 of us piled into Li Gang'92s van, and Tze Yung started singing more arias as if performing on the stage of La Scala. It was a bit over the top. After reviewing some excerpts in the Xu Bing book and some of my drawings, I went to sleep at approximately 10 o'clock. I was so tired that the couch was no obstacle to a long sound sleep.

Since I did not have a chance to do any grocery shopping at Annie Lu's, Ming and Gang invited me to join them for a breakfast of Chinese crullers, cold cooked cod fish, tea, vegetables and hot noodle soup. Gang advised me that the metal fabricator that worked with me in the past was too busy. He introduced me to Chou Fong and explained to me that he used to work as a supervisor with the other metal fabricator, now had his own shop and would be just as good. I was a little concerned because I was used to working with the other metal fabricators, and they were able understand my sign language, drawings and what I was looking for.

Chou and I then went to a steel yard to look for and buy the steel needed for my planned sculptures. Because I only had seven full days in Beijing and wanted to spend some time making marketing contacts and finishing the sculptures that I had started on my last visit, I decided to limit myself to 3 new sculptures, one for the entrance way to an office, another Chinese flag with new calligraphy spelling out English words in the inscription, and a variation of the Harmony series utilizing a Confucian saying about how the ocean takes care of all of the waves until they reach shore. Chou and I went to his metal fabricating facility so he could show me that he had the people and the equipment to do the job. We went over how to cut the pieces of steel for each of the sculptures.

I then went back to the Pickled Arts Centre so I could work on putting the polyurethane on the sculptures that were almost completed from my last visit. Four of us when off for lunch, John, Peter, an architect from Norway, Tracy and myself. Tong joined us halfway through lunch. The restaurant is located on a side street near the arts center. If you did not know of this restaurant, there is no way that you could locate it or identify it. It seats approximately 20 people in the open room and there are two small rooms for private parties. The food was very good and lunch for five including tip was approximately $3.50. I was told that my large flag sculptures had been moved to another art complex, SAC, where I could finish them. I picked up the special polyurethane that Li Gang had stored for me and along with one of his helpers we biked to SAC, about two miles away.

Since we could not locate the paintbrush that I previously used, we stopped at a local hardware store on the way. Rather than using a traditional brush I opted for two bamboo brushes. Basically the handle was various strips of bamboo glued together and the handle was the same length as the bristles. I thought that this type of brush would be easier to use for the large surfaces of my to 13 ft. by 5 ft. sculptures of the American flag, Chinese flag and appropriate calligraphy.

When we got to Gang'92s studio at the SAC artist complex, which I previously described in China Diary 2, there was a group of young Chinese artists working on a large oil canvas of vines. They were doing this as background for an American painter, and then that American painter would add the figures. They were helpful in moving the large flags so I could apply the polyurethane on a flat surface to prevent drip marks. Li Gang'92s helper and I worked together as a team and put on two coats. We then bicycled back to the Pickled Arts Centre and I went in to visit John's exhibit before the opening later that day.

John's paintings are square and rectangular shapes of different colors, which are very susceptible to meditation and contemplation. They have a nice quiet way about them. The art show was to begin shortly. After cleaning up and changing into clean clothes, I went down and looked at the various other art being exhibited at the show. There was an Argentinian photographer whose pictures were very strong but somehow disturbing. Also, Zhan Fangbai, a favorite of Li Gang'92s, had three large paintings.

There was another artist, whose name I did not note, who used an almost erased out picture which was then painted over leaving an outline of the previously painted images, similar to what a beginning of a de Kooning painting must have looked like. There were also two Chinese ink paintings on rice paper by Zhang Hao, one of which, '93 Paris,'94 I liked. There were also two very interesting paintings by Mo Xiong. These reminded me of careful viewing of a reef, as the more you look the more you see. There was also a Chinese rock and roll band. Their instrumentation was quite unique, an electric cello, three different types of electric guitars and a drummer. They were quite good and the viewers seemed to enjoy their music. Although the music was entertaining I felt that it clashed with John Sundvquist's quiet contemplative small geometric oil paintings.

Then approximately 40 of us went off for a celebration dinner sponsored by Li Gang at the same Beijing duck restaurant where we had dined the night before. After another excellent meal, I returned to the compound and went to sleep in my new quarters. I slept for 12 hours Breakfast was left over Peking duck and other portions of the prior nights feast. John joined us for breakfast and we discussed a recent TV film concerning the Japanese atrocities perpetrated on the Chinese. Li Gang and John both felt that the Germans had paid substantial reparations and apologized profusely for the conduct in World War II, while Japan by comparison had paid only nominal reparations and had not apologized appropriately.

After breakfast I biked 21/2 miles to the SAC complex to put another coat of polyurethane on the two large flag sculptures. While I was waiting for the third coat to dry, I tried to contact Li Long Ling, who lived in the complex with her sculptor husband. Previously, I had noted a very large sculpture in their artists studio/home from the outside that looked like a 20 ft. high angry Chinese soldier. Since I did not have access to a phone I was hesitant to knock on their doo. I then biked back to the Pickled Arts Centre and spent some time meditating before John's paintings and viewing the paintings of Mo Xiong in more detail. I then met with Xiao Chang, a calligrapher who Gang thought would be good for me a work with, since Lao Dhong was apparently not available or could not be reached. We worked for approximately one-hour on the calligraphy for the office sculpture, and it was slow going as it was difficult to communicate to him the style and feeling that I wanted. I had the same initial experience with Lao Dhong. We decided to take a break and went off to the local restaurant where I had previously lunched with non-Chinese artists. On the way Chang insisted that I follow him on a detour, which led to the room in which he lived and worked. He showed some of his recent calligraphy paintings and through sign language I understood that the large table he used to do his calligraphy also served as his bed, living room, etc.

There was one small window and an area for a hot plate. Obtaining a better understanding of his calligraphy was very helpful in completing this phase of the three sculptures I had started. As we left Chang's residence/studio a number of young Chinese children started to follow me. They love to say and hear the sounds of them saying "Hello." Each time I responded, they would say hello more frequently and louder. By the time we got to the restaurant there were approximately 10 children ranging in age from two to five following us chanting "Hello." Even after we went into the restaurant, four of them watched us through the window next to the table where we were sitting and the open door way. I let Chang do the ordering and we had much too much to eat. I insisted that he take the leftovers. After about 20 minutes, two of the children came inside and camped out next to our table just to get closer. Then, they seemed to want something and Chang chased them off.

After dropping the leftovers off at his studio/residence, we then went back to the Pickled Arts Centre to work on completing the calligraphy. For some reason everything started to click and the calligraphy for all three new sculptures was done by 10:00. We then had some tea and decided to call it a night as he was exhausted from working on this project. I read a little and was off to sleep before 11:30.

Throughout my stay in Beijing the weather was very good; the mornings and evenings were brisk, ranging from 45 degrees to 55 degrees Fahrenheit but the days were sunny and the temperature went up to the high '70s. There were a few isolated rain showers. I still had not gone to the grocery store and during my trip over my traveling alarm clock fell apart. So I slept until approximately 11:00 and wandered down to the arts center. Li Gang offered me some cereal with yogurt, which I gladly accepted. I was told to wait for one of his secretaries to accompany me to the computer store so they could scan the images and prepare a disc for a sign maker to do the etching of the letters in the steel. When she finally showed up at 12:00 she said she had to have lunch first and then after lunch told me the she had too much work. I made arrangements with Heying, Gang's wife, that I would go to the computer place on my own and if I had a problem, I could call her. I then biked off to the computer store that I had used on two previous occasions for this type of work. I walked into the wrong computer store and through sign language they led me to a store that was 40 feet away. That was the right store as they greeted me as an old friend. Three different sets of calligraphy were seamlessly scanned, cleaned up, organized and laid out on Adobe Acrobat in just over an hour. Previously, it took us almost a full day to accomplish this. The store had saved the prior work and the sub folder containing my work was labeled "friend." That was a really good feeling. The only problem was that the equipment needed to make a disc was broken and they were not getting the replacement part until the next day. They told me that my disc would not be ready until 3:00 in the afternoon. I called Heying and she suggested that I take pictures with my digital camera and she would download the pictures on her computer to generate a disc that could possibly be used by the sign shop for the etching of the calligraphy. I took the pictures and then biked back to the arts center where they were downloaded into one of its computers and we printed out a disc.

After that was done, I biked over to Gang's other studio at SAC to put on a fourth coat of polyurethane to the two very large sculptures and returned to the complex by 6:15. On the way to leaving the compound for dinner Li Gang wanted to talk and we ended up eating leftovers for a light dinner. Chang stopped by to visit and wanted to paint a scroll as a way to say thank you for an enjoyable dinner and completion of our joint portion of the project. Gang picked out a Chinese poem about a soldier who was working up courage to do battle in the desert. Chang was not happy with his first three renditions, but he was happy with the fourth and presented it to me as a present. The calligraphy portion of the scroll is approximately eight feet long by two feet across and we left it hanging over the couch so it could dry.

To Read Beijing: On multiples artists... - Part II - Click Here -->

-> NY Arts Magazine, September/October, 2005 

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Charles Hecht