Columbia artist maintains Beijing ties

Monday, August 4, 2008 | 4:13 p.m. CDT; updated 4:26 p.m. CDT, Monday, August 4, 2008
Lampo Leong: Magnificence (ink on rice paper)

COLUMBIA — Columbia artist and chairman of MU's art department Lampo Leong has ties to Beijing's booming art scene with a gallery exhibit there.

Leong has half a dozen mixed-media paintings in "Conflicts in Culture? - No Thanks!" at the Raab Galerie in Beijing through Friday, when the 2008 Olympics begin.

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Leong said that Roman Song, curator of the gallery, selected his work for inclusion.Other artists with works in the gallery include Karoline Kroiss, from Germany, and Renate Minarz and Eva Riebler, who are both from Austria.

The philosophy behind "Conflicts" is that cultural fusion of idea, medium and technique in this postmodern age creates harmony and innovations instead of conflicts in art, Leong said.

His six paintings combine cursive Chinese calligraphy with the bold color of abstract expressionism to create the grandeur and the sublime feelings of Western art in a postmodern, synergistic way, he said. He thinks this pulls together cultural symbols that represent his Chinese background and his dual identity as a contemporary American artist.

Leong left Beijing 20 years ago and said he never envisioned the amazing developments that have occurred there since. Back then, 798 Road was a factory district. Today, the old industrial space is reinvented into a postmodern art center with buildings converted into glistening art galleries, such as the Raab Galerie, Leong said. Beijing's more than 800 galleries dwarf those of New York, Paris and Tokyo, he said, and on a given day, there are hundreds of exhibits to view.

"The economic growth in China has been great for the art market," said Leong, who has returned to the country many times. "Chinese artists are doing very interesting work. People are discovering and collecting at all levels, as the art scene is more fluid, open and more supported than in the West. Most importantly, artists are being well respected in China."

He said he thinks this difference stems from the ancient imperial examination system for government offices. The exams tested the humanities and the arts - writing, philosophy, poetry, music and calligraphy - more so than math and science. Fine art is a natural extension of this, he said.

Art training in China is also different from that in the West, he said. For calligraphy, the way to learn is to copy the ancient masterpieces repeatedly before one starts to develop a personal style.

"There are a lot of regulations and rigorous training involved to make something look ‘natural,' and there is a lot of interest in Chinese calligraphy right now," he said.

He said he thinks there are two main reasons for Western interest in Chinese calligraphy. First, as both a written language and an art form, calligraphy is an energetic gesture that allows the viewer to participate in the flow of the strokes from start to finish. The second reason is the visual beauty of the words. Their abstract shapes make them look like figures with gestures and expressions of their own.

"Viewing Chinese calligraphy is like listening and dancing to music - it gives it a sense of time, movement and progression, a four-dimensional element in art," Leong said. "The challenge for calligraphers, however, is heading into and out of the ancient masters without losing a sense the self and the modern world."

Leong's calligraphy was selected for another show in Beijing, "Award Winning Artists," that runs from Friday through Sept. 9 at the Macao Center.

In Missouri, Leong's work will be on display this month at the "19th Annual Missouri Top 50 Exhibition" at the Missouri State Fair in Sedalia and at MU.

Leong's presence in the Beijing exhibits is another mid-Missouri connection there. About 50 students from the MU School of Journalism are covering the Olympics, and Pictures of the Year International, a program of the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute at MU, will display photographs dating from the 1956 Olympics.



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