Charles Hecht



CHINA DIARY #4 - April 2006
By Charles J. Hecht

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Day 7

The Koreans had locked the door to the upper level kitchen and studio, so there was no access to the stove to cook oatmeal. I had cold muesli and soy milk. I then went off to the studio on a bike. On the way the chain fell off the rear sprocket and jammed. I walked the bike to the local bike store and asked for a wrench so I could loosen the wheel to fix the chain. The owner did it himself and refused to charge me. At the studio I worked a little on redesigning the small steel sculptures so that a mold could be made. It was decided to cut off the legs and make a separate mold for the legs, which would then be welded on after casting. The Stingray/Fluke looked very good and appeared to me to be the most suitable for casting in bronze. That required no additional work and whatever imperfections there were in the steel sculpture I could remedy in the wax stage of the wax process. They were still working on the large sculpture and would have to come back on Sunday to complete that phase of the large sculpture.

The small sculpture was done, but the base bothered me for purposes of casting. Li Gang took pictures of the small sculpture on a white pedestal to submit for the art competition. I had lunch with Dave and the three Norwegian women artists/art teacher, who had rented one of Li Gang's studios at the Beijing International Arts Camp at Dave's studio. Whatever sculptors were mentioned by the Norwegians, Dave expressed disdain for. David's work is interesting. The sculptures come out from the wall in smooth curves of stainless steel or lead, combined with wood. They have no or very little color, and I thought color to the wood or steel would help them immensely, but did not offer suggestions. David is very nice but an opinionated cynic. Far be it from me to offer any suggestions. The lunch was a lot of fun, but after drinking beer all I wanted to do was take a nap.

On the way to lunch we ran into Brad who had the exhibit at F2. Brad said to me that he and this wife did everything in three weeks, and we should try to get together at his home at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, since he knows I work at Pratt. At lunch David mentioned that what Brad did was very controversial. Apparently he and his wife asked a large number of local artists to paint the picture portion of the piece from photographs. They then had these people also paint the open weave screens that also mimicked the photograph that were put directly in front of the photo/painting. David felt that this smacked of colonialism. David was born of English parents, but in the Southern part of China. His family then migrated back to England, where he went to school. He was in China because he met Li Gang four years ago and was one of the first purchasers of a leasehold interest at SAC. I felt that as an American artist showing at a major new gallery, such as F2, should take advantage of the situation. This was a blown opportunity.

After a nap and some more watching what was going on, I peddled back to the Pickled Art Center. It was kind of up in the air whether or not I would get together with Abe Lubelski on his last night in Beijing. Li Gang was going to have dinner with his family and although I was invited to join the Norwegian women artists and some other Norwegians for dinner, I was very tired and wanted to read and reflect. I was unhappy with the base for the small bronze sculpture and I wanted to give some thought of whether or not it should be redone. After listening to some more Wagner, drinking some tea and reading some more of my book I was ready to go to sleep at 8:00. After a big lunch, I did not need any supper.

Day 8

I went to the sculpture studio to rework the base of the small Long and Slender. After finishing it, a group of the Norwegian women were going to the antique market. Since I didn't know how to get there I asked if I could leave my bike and I-Pod, book, etc. at their place, which they had rented from Li Gang, to join them. The flea market was even bigger than I had remembered it. Last time I picked up some beautiful antique style cut jade for Leslie. This time all that I saw was new jade made to look old, which was very uninteresting. I did find a heart-shaped small calligraphy brush holder for Leslie, which was beautifully carved. It had a small fault, but I bought it anyway because I liked the way it was shaped and I liked the carving. I also bought a larger brush cup made with wood and inlaid bond with Chinese figures and calligraphy. We met at the gate of the flea market at a predetermined time to go to lunch at a restaurant around the corner.

After a good lunch and a 40 minute drive back to the studio, I worked some more with the guys on the molds for not only the smaller Long and Slender, but the large Long and Slender, which they were still working on. What we thought would take two days to make the basic molds for the wax stage of the large Long and Slender would now be at least five. They were also working on the molds of the four small sea creatures, and by the end of the day had finished the mold for Stingray/Flounder/Fish.

Later that night I went to a party thrown by the Norwegians. Li Gang built a large fire outside the unit they rented at SAC. I do not know where they got the wood, because I know it is precious in China. It was a cold night and since the studio was small the people gathered around the fire. Bord cooked backalau, which is a Norwegian dish with fish, potatoes, olives, vegetables and a delicious broth. They were also drinking shots of vodka along with wine and beer. There was no way that I could keep up with the drinking of the Norwegians. Although the Norwegians were artists, there wasn't much talk about art, but a lot of stories about Norwegian lore. Letitia from Imagine Gallery was there to celebrate Tung-Wen's 47th birthday. She was very happy with the Beijing Art Fair. She said she only focused on her gallery and on the last day they were able to get significant publicity from a local TV station. She also sold some things at the fair. I caught a cab home and was asleep within five minutes.

Day 9

Monday, April 17. I went to the sculpture studio at the Beijing International Artists Camp. One of the workers showed me that the signature portion of the clay base needed some repair. I spent about an hour redoing the base for the large Long and Slender. Li Gang stopped by and said that he was picking up his partner in the 2 Lines Gallery, Lennart, at the airport. Lennart was originally from Sweden and now lives in Paris and Beijing. He has a unit in the Beijing International Artists camp, also known as SAC compound. He seems very bright, if opinionated, but apparently has been a successful art dealer in Paris for a number of years, and prior to that was a journalist in Japan. He recently completed the sale of his gallery in Paris so he could focus on the gallery in Beijing with Li Gang. He brought over some interesting materials from Swedish artists that he had successfully shown in Paris and wanted to show in Beijing. He felt it was important that the gallery, 2 Lines, have lines of communication between other art centers and Beijing.

Chao Kong, the artist next door Lennart who did the underground stone cities, and his assistant joined us for lunch. We went to a restaurant in the new mini city near Li Gang's flat. Although it was a large restaurant and had no tablecloths, it was extremely busy. The food was very good and the beers made me want to take a nap after work. We drove back to the compound. Li Gang and Lennart wanted to go to the gallery. I decided to stay behind and start working on some woodcuts. I found some scraps of wood and drew a design and figured I would make my mistakes on the scrap wood before I started trying to do something on good wood. I have always enjoyed working with wood, but I have never tried to do a wood cut before. Since I was helping Li Gang do the prints at his gallery of his woodcuts, the medium interested me. I made a number of mistakes in trying to be too clever and precise with my drawings and cuttings. Rather than starting on a serious woodcut, I thought I needed more practice.

I rode back to the Pickled Arts compound. On the way the bike chain fell off three times. The fourth time I couldn't fix it, so I walked the bike back to the bike shop. They recommended a new chain, and twenty minutes later I was back on the road to the Pickled Arts Center. As I arrived Lennart and Li Gang arrived. We then looked at Li's prints. Li Gang said he wanted to give me one as a present. I thanked him.

We then took a cab back to Lennart's unit at SAC to have some Aquavit. While at Lennart's he discussed his philosophy on what artists he chooses and why. He is looking for artists who will continue to develop and he used the example of an artist who I met who does very fine work, but has been doing the same work since she graduated from the Central Academy. Although the Paris museums liked her work, they decided not to buy it because they felt that she would not develop. We then had a talk about what makes for the development of an artist. He gave me examples like Picasso, but that did not satisfy me and that is something that I thought about quietly to myself. We also discussed, if an artist becomes successful doing a certain type of project, how easy it is for an artist to continue to produce that type of work so long as it is selling well. There are also risks in leaving that comfort zone. In the example that Lennart used, this woman artist started at the Central Academy when she was 15 and, although she was always perceived as extremely gifted and sells regularly, he feels that she needs a teacher to get her to the next level. Lennart had wanted to be her teacher, but it had not worked out. Lennart is very convinced of his opinions and appears to be quite bright. I believe he will make a good partner for Li Gang in the 2 Lines Gallery.

Li Gang had to go home for dinner and Lennart and I rode his bikes through the town and over the rice paddies to a restaurant. Riding a bicycle after five Aquavits on strange roads which are crowded, and have no street lights, was a new experience. We made it safely to the restaurant, which happened to be the restaurant right around the corner from the Pickled Arts Center. At the restaurant were a bunch of people from the Pickled Arts Center, Ruben and his Swedish girlfriend, Jeremy who is a Chinese artist who lives above Jenny Lu's, Nathaniel the British architect who is looking to find a new path in life, and Josephine a Swedish ceramist. They invited us to join them, since they had just started. Since Lennart came from Sweden he had a lot in common with Ruben's significant other and Josephine. He also apparently knew Jeremy, whose Chinese name is Gao, very well. After dinner I rode Lennart's bike back to the Pickled Arts compound on the promise that I would return it the next morning.

Day 10

Tuesday, April 18. I took the bike through the back way through Sou Jia Cun to the studio at SAC. The Chinese village was totally different during the day. The road is narrow and twisty, but you really get to see what life is like in this part of Beijing. It is a thriving metropolis with a lot of old, low buildings, with a lot of activity.

I returned Lennart's bike and the Foundry crew was already at work at the studio. Today would be wax pouring. It would also be the day that they would finish the molds on the four small deep sea sculptures to be used for the glass project with Tsing Hua University. Basically, they pour the wax into the molds and shake the mold to make sure it is covered. They are able to get a wax mold with a very uniform thickness. It is fascinating to watch. Once the mold is done, the wax is taken out of the mold and given to me to make any last minute changes. This includes scraping off the mold lines, if any, and removing the plaster that may have gotten into the mold because of all of the undercuts I used in the sculpture. The wax molds came out looking terrific and once Li Gang showed me the technique, I spent the rest of the morning cleaning up some of the wax molds.

Li Gang, David, Chao Khan, his helper and I went to the noodle shop for lunch. It was bitterly cold and a bowl of noodles would warm us up. Beijing was covered in sand. Monday night there had been a sandstorm, which was followed by another sandstorm on Tuesday. Everything is covered in a light film of sand and the sky looks like it has been filtered through sand. It is difficult to breathe and everyone says that this is why Spring in Beijing is not a nice time to come.

After lunch I worked for another couple of hours and then went to meet Hao Li, Michael and Helen, three oil painters who wanted to take me to the sculpture exhibit at Tsing Hua University given by Wei Xiao Ming, their teacher and a famous sculptor in China. The arts building was difficult to find, as the new campus of the university is huge. I recognized the building from a drawing I had seen in Glass, a magazine published by Urban Glass and that is how we found the show.

The sculptures were exhibited in a courtyard in the building. There were basically two types of sculptures. The first were bronze and stone figures. The women were very graceful with elongated arms and legs but everything else was in perfect proportion. The men were very muscular and heroic looking. The second part of the exhibit was maquettes and pictures of the completed large sculptures. The former students of Xiao Ming then took me to his studio at the university. It is every sculptor's dream. It is extremely large, with a huge clay pit, lots of windows, various levels and every piece of equipment imaginable. From looking at the pictures and the equipment, Professor Wei has a large student crew working with him. They use the exact same procedures that Li Gang's foundry crew is using to make my sculptures, so I could instantly relate to the armature, the forms, the clay modeling on the armature, the plaster molds, etc.

Xiao Ming was giving a tour of the studio to various people and stopped and talked to me because he realized that I really appreciated the way it was set up and the equipment. He also said that he had a private studio that was much smaller that he used to make his maquettes, and he had his crew available to him to work at his small private studio, too. Light was very important to him to work by, and I could sympathize with him because the light at Li Gang's studio at SAC is essentially non-existent. Li Gang covered up the skylights because painters who used the studio complained that the light was too strong. But from a sculptor's point of view the strong light is a big help. He laughed when I told him that this studio is every sculptor's dream and he said he understood and it took him a long time to be in a position so that he could have such a studio and staff of students and it made his work easier and better.

Another former student, Melissa, joined us. She was also an oil painter. When we left Melissa went on her own way, and the four of us, who had started out together, went out for a hot pot dinner. We had the split hot pot, one-half not spicy and one-half spicy. About a quarter of the way through the dinner, I ordered beer. It went well with spicy food. We were supposed to go to Helen's apartment to look at her art, but she told us that her husband, who had taken the dog for stud services at a breeder, had taken the only key, so she could not get in and she was going to go shopping for an hour or two until he got home. Michael, Hao Li and I went back to Hao Li's apartment where we saw some more of her art, books published about her art and briefly got on the internet to look at my website. Something went wrong, so Hao Li immediately put on her disc so we could see more of her paintings again. At 10:00 I left, because it was time to get back to the compound and get a good night's sleep so I could work on the wax molds the next day.

Day 11 April 19th, Wednesday

After a nice hot shower, I could not find an available bike, so I took a taxi to the art studio. I spent the morning trying to work on more of the wax molds. Nathaniel, the English architect, stopped by to show me his new bike purchase, a used mountain bike in good condition with gears. Then Karenna, one of the Norwegian artists, stopped by with her cup of coffee. After about 20 minutes of chit chat, I told everyone that I had to get back to work. Nathaniel came back to join me, David and David's assistant, Oxy, to try a new restaurant on the other side of the local town for lunch. Since I did not have a bike, David gave me the key to Lennart's place so that I could use one of Lennart's bikes. We went through some back roads and ended up at a place on the main road in the small town I had biked through that morning. We ordered too much, the food was excellent, and then we went back to the studio for more work.

That afternoon Alessandro decided to drop in for a talk. We had a nice visit of about an hour where we discussed art, strong women, living in Beijing, trying to do too many things with our lives, and his background. I did not get much work done. I then shared a cab with him back to the compound so I could clean up for a party later that night to wish David a safe trip back to Berlin. David lives most of the year as an art professor in Berlin, but has his own place at SAC. His last day was hectic, as Rose from the Art Channel Gallery was over to see him to plan a show in June and he was trying to finish a whole bunch of sculptures. But Oxy got a piece of metal in his eye so we took him to the local chemist to get an eyepatch and some medication. Lennart threw the party and it was a nice farewell, but by 11:30 I was ready to go home and go to sleep.

Day 12, Thursday, April 20

I got up extra early to make up for the hour or so I lost yesterday. There was no water in my bathroom. Finally I located Henry and explained the problem to him. Apparently, someone had turned off the water outside, but it was now OK. By 7:45 I was off to the studio on a bike. Two of Li Gang's workers wanted to join me for the ride. We stopped for the Chinese version of a doughnut shop in Sou Jia Cun, the small village between the Pickled Arts Center and the Beijing International Art Camp, where Li Gang's studio is located.

I spent the balance of the morning cleaning up the remaining wax molds. Li Gang's truck was loaded with all of my molds and sculptures to go to the foundry. They would do plaster and latex molds for the deep sea critters and do the plaster insert molds, as well as the outside molds for the two Long and Slender sculptures. One of the Norwegian artists took my bike because she needed a bike with a basket, since she was going shopping at Jenny Lu's. I could use one of the mountain bikes in their area.

Li Gang and I went to lunch at a Korean barbeque place near the Pickled Arts Center. It is a new restaurant. It is very large when you get upstairs and there were very few people for lunch. It was expensive by Bei Gao standards, approximately $12 for two people for lunch, and we did not have any beer. Li Gang thought it would be a good place to have a farewell party for the Norwegian women who are leaving on Saturday. We then went in to town to go shopping for the presents that I needed to buy for the grandchildren and Leslie. Bargaining in China is always an experience. The shopgirls grab your arms and don't let you go. Since I had a preconceived idea of what I thought each item should cost, that gave me an advantage. I had previously gone on these shopping trips, and knew approximately what I should end up paying for each item. However, an hour of bargaining is all I could take.

We then went to the Lido Bank because Li Gang needed cash to buy bronze, not only for my sculptures but for other sculptures. It was much more economical for him to buy it in a ton size, rather than smaller increments. Unfortunately, when I got to the bank with my traveler's checks, they required that I produce a passport. Li had a meeting at the Two Lines Gallery in the 798 District, and I ended up taking a cab back to the Pickled Arts compound to pick up my passport, come back to the bank, cash my traveler's checks and then deliver the cash to Li Gang at the gallery. At the gallery I met Wang Baoju, who was a curator as well as an editor in chief of the Art Today magazine. I had previously met her at the art opening for Tung Wen's exhibit, and she is a friend of Li and Oliver Zimmerman, the owner of Kunsthalle, a series of four German galleries in Koblenz, Ausstellung, etc. Oliver and I ended up discussing art, life in Germany, etc. He seemed like a nice guy and said he would visit us at the Pickled Arts Center on Saturday.

We then downloaded my resume so that Li Gang could submit that for the art competition for which he was submitting the smaller steel version of Long and Slender. I then reviewed the new catalogue for Zhang Fan Bei, the artist that Li Gang is always showing, and, in fact, was showing again at Two Line Gallery. Lennart said that he took eight of Mr. Zhang's paintings to Sweden and sold all eight, and in addition purchased what in his opinion were the three best for his own collection. The question I raised was how come they sold so easily and quickly in Sweden but were not selling at all in Beijing? Does it have to do with the actual market for contemporary art in Beijing versus the actual market for contemporary art in Europe? Or does it have to do with Lennart having the right contacts in Europe and Li Gang not having the right contacts in Beijing? I thought to myself it is one thing to have a nice group of friends to come to your openings; it is quite another to have real buyers come to look at the art in your gallery. Lennart appears very knowledgeable and should be a very good partner for Li Gang in running the art gallery.

Lennart was waiting for a group of visitors to come, so Li and I went to the Café, which is the in coffee house at 798. It looks like a sophisticated Greenwich Village coffee house, charging the same prices, but the tea at over $4 a serving was very good. Li Gang and I had a far ranging discussion about what makes for a classically beautiful Chinese woman, the comparison of the official school of art for the masses versus what the other school of contemporary art is trying to do in China, etc. On the way back to the Pickled Arts compound I stopped at Jenny Lu's to restock on groceries. I then went back to the compound and had a cup of noodles for dinner and then spent two hours doing calligraphy. I was not happy with the results and it was time to go to bed at 10:30. In the interim I received a call from Leslie and we spent a nice 15 minutes on the phone and then my phone signaled that I was about out of time. Apparently, China Mobile also charges for incoming calls, but at a lower rate than outgoing calls. I forgot to get a special card for calls to foreign countries, and I vowed that I would check into that promptly.

Day 13

Friday, April 21. In the early morning I did some more calligraphy. I then took a cab to the studio because the Norwegian women who had borrowed my bike and not returned it in time to get it home the night before. At the studio I saw the plastic castings for the sea critters and wandered over to Lennart's place to pick up the 60 cm. ruler they had acquired for me. At Lennart's place we had coffee. Oxy, David's assistant, stopped in to try coffee and Woenke stopped in. I then got a call from Li Gang. A photographer from an art newspaper had seen the sea critters and wanted to photograph them for his magazine. I walked back to the compound, helped the photographer set up the sea critters for photographing.

Charles Hecht,Sculpture, April 2006.

Charles Hecht,Sculpture, April 2006.

They asked me to write a hundred word description of the sea critters for their magazine. I was also told that there would be a show in 798 gallery beginning on May 11, which would include these sculptures.

Li had agreed to take out the Norwegian women for a farewell lunch. We waited for one of them, Karenna, for forty minutes, so we did not get to the Korean barbeque restaurant until approximately 1:30. Lots of food and lots and beer and it did not put me in the mood to do any work that afternoon. I rode the bike back to the compound through the small town between the Beijing International Arts Center and the Pickled Arts Center. As always, it was interesting. When I got back to the Pickled Arts Center I checked the computer for any messages and then went upstairs and did some more calligraphy. My calligraphy from the night before and the early morning was terrible. The more I practice calligraphy, the more I realize how difficult it is, but Li Gang's staff keeps coming up and looking at me working on the calligraphy.

After lunch at the Korean barbeque place saying farewell to the Norwegian women I purchased a special overseas phone card. I was supposed to go out with Li Gang, Lennart and others for dinner, and before I went I called Leslie. Li Gang wasn't feeling well and the two people we were supposed to have dinner with apparently had made other plans, so I wandered down to the Garden Restaurant, had a meal, read some more of my book, came back and did some calligraphy. That evening I worked on drafting a new design for a woodcut. Maybe I will get a chance to get the woodcut done before I leave China.

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©Copyright 2006
Charles Hecht