U.Va. and the Chinese University of Hong Kong Inaugurate Exchange Program in Studio Art

Written by Jane Ford

February 9, 2009 - Zhou Jin dipped his brush in water then in ink and touched it to a five-foot-long piece of rice paper. He worked quickly. Sometimes he held the foot-long brush with two inches of bristles at the tip perpendicular to the paper and at other times pressed it parallel to carefully control the amount of ink and density and character of the line.

The drawing studio, packed with onlookers, was silent. Quickly the figure of the model took shape and filled the paper. When Zhou put down his brush the crowd broke into a round of applause.

He visited the University of Virginia to kick off an exchange in studio art between U.Va. and the Chinese University of Hong Kong. The exchange is the first tailored for studio art students.

Zhou, associate professor of fine arts at the Chinese University of Hong Kong traveled to U.Va. with graduate student Tang Kwok Hin. In addition to Zhou's demonstration of a traditional Chinese painting technique, Tang met with U.Va. students and introduced them to the artwork CUHK students are exploring, as well as life there. The two also brought with them work of CUHK faculty and graduate students that was exhibited for a month by the McIntire Department of Art.

"Chinese artists are beginning to take the art world by storm," Megan Marlatt, professor of studio art, said.

Marlatt and fourth-year studio art distinguished major Sarah Dylla reciprocated the exchange and traveled to Hong Kong in late May. Marlatt talked with students about the U.Va. studio art program, and Dylla met with students to introduce them to student work and what life is like at U.Va. They also brought artwork by each faculty member for an exhibit.

The timing was perfect, according to Marlatt. It was the end of their semester and "in addition to our faculty show, CUHK student work was exhibited. Their building was turned into one big exhibition space."

In a city that is known for the mix of many cultures, it was not surprising to Marlatt that the work produced was a blend of traditional and contemporary.

"They are doing very good quality work. It was obvious that the scholarship at CUHK is of high quality," Marlatt said. She added that she came away feeling "the exchange is a very good match."

In her presentation, Marlatt spoke about the Western tradition of painting and its roots in the Italian Renaissance.

Dylla was struck by the difference in traditions. "It was interesting to see their reaction as most of them had never heard of Giotto, and some of them had never heard of Michelangelo," she said. "They are taught about famous Chinese calligraphy artists or figurative painters that we mostly have never heard of.

"As an artist, it's interesting to see both takes on the teaching of art history."

All were laying the groundwork for the student exchange, which began last month.

On Jan. 1, Denise Kaw, a third-year student in the Curry School of Education’s five-year program, in which she will earn a bachelor's degree in studio art and a master's in special education, arrived in Hong Kong as the first exchange student. Marlatt is looking forward to welcoming the first CUHK exchange student in the fall.

Although academic demands in the Curry School did not provide an easy opportunity to study abroad, when Kaw learned about the new studio art exchange, she worked with her professors to make it a reality."I decided to go because the exchange would give me the chance to learn about a whole different art culture in a first-hand experience, one that I would not be able to replicate if I stayed in Charlottesville," she e-mailed from her dorm room in China.

Kaw said she views the experience as an opportunity to "gain new knowledge about East Asian Art, technically and historically. I want to gain a better understanding of how I think about art and how I create art."

Her classes have introduced her to two styles of Chinese art, Zieyi and Gongbi. Zieyi translates as expressive painting and traditionally the focus is on landscapes that are created using calligraphy ink and brushes in a free-hand brush style. Gongbi means delineative painting and uses different brushes to create outlines that are then filled in. It is characterized by close attention to detail and fine brushwork.

Classes in contemporary art history, Mandarin, gender in Asia in the anthropology department, and media, sex and violence in the communication department round out her course load.

The classes are not taught in English but that's not a problem, Kaw said. She has a student translator for all classes, and in the studio classes the teachers speak to her in English during individual critique sessions.

She is also taking advantage of the rich culture in Hong Kong and China. When she first arrived, U.Va. students from China, who were still visiting family in Hong Kong and are members of the Hong Kong Student Association on Grounds, made her feel welcome. They introduced her to their favorite restaurants and took her on a tour of the city.

With fellow CUHK fine arts students she spent two weekends experiencing "Fotanian," an annual art event in a former industrial city that now houses artists' studios and galleries in old warehouses. Kaw said she appreciated the opportunity to meet local artists and see their work.

To celebrate the Chinese New Year, Kaw's family visited and they traveled together to the southern part of China where she learned about the different ethnic groups in the region.

"This experience in Hong Kong has been excellent. The new environment, a different culture from the U.S., new people – it's just all so stimulating. I'm loving it here," Kaw said.

Let's make this a separate link in "additional resources" Kaw has been sending weekly blog entries and photographs chronicling her time in China to the UVA Today Blog.