Taiwanese artist's watercolors blend traditional scenes and modern techniques

Monday, August 1, 2011 | 12:00 p.m. CDT; updated 10:35 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, August 2, 2011
"Rice Paddy on Mountain Slope," a watercolor by Ran In-Ting, is on display at the MU Museum of Art and Archaeology.

COLUMBIA — When Mary Pixley discovered a series of watercolors by the late Taiwanese artist Ran In-Ting in the MU Museum of Art and Archaeology's collection, she was struck by their beauty.

"They were masterpieces, and I wanted to share them with our community,” said Pixley, associate curator of European and American art for the museum. 

If you go

What: "Ran In-Ting's Watercolors: East and West Mix in Images of Rural Taiwan," an exhibition of 13 paintings.

When: Through Aug. 14. Hours are from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays (open until 8 p.m. on Thursdays) and from noon to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.

Where: MU Museum of Art and Archaeology, Pickard Hall, north side of Francis Quadrangle

Cost: Admission is free.

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The result is "Ran In-Ting's Watercolors: East and West Mix in Images of Rural Taiwan," nine watercolors and four black-ink paintings on display through mid-August.

Ran, considered a national treasure of Taiwanese art, created works that blend traditional Eastern art and modern Western art. Born in 1903, he studied painting in the late 1920s with Japanese watercolorist Ishikawa Kinichiro. In 1959, the Chinese government awarded Ran the National Art Prize, the highest honor an artist could be given at that time in that country. Ran died in 1979.
This is the first time the museum has shown these paintings by Ran. They are part of 25 paintings donated to the museum by Howard Rusk Long, a lifelong Columbian who taught in the Missouri School of Journalism from 1940 to 1950, according to information from the museum. He probably discovered Ran's work when he traveled to Taiwan in the late 1950s, Pixley said.
Long, who died in 1988, donated the collection in 1981.
Pixley said feedback about the exhibition has been positive; viewers say they feel Ran’s desire for beauty and his passionate craftsmanship. "They see the extraordinary quality and expressive possibility of watercolors immediately," she said.
One of the watercolors, “Dragon Dance,” shows the exciting performance of a traditional Chinese dragon dance.
“(Ran) captures all the excitement through this watercolor,” Pixley explained during a walk through the exhibition. “You almost feel like you are part of the composition and the action.”
Another watercolor, “Market Place,” shows a traditional Taiwanese market. The influence of Western art can be seen in the composition of the work. The large, white tents reflect the influence of modern art as they express the beauty of blank space, Pixley said — instead of brushing in white paint in the spaces, Ran left the paper mostly untouched.
In "Moon-Gate," two women wearing modern urban clothes stand before a moon-gate in a wall. The moon-gate represents the separation of the human world from the natural world, or heaven, Pixley said. While nature is found on the other side of the moon-gate, a tree branch protrudes from the natural world into the human world, blurring the boundary between the two.
Ran often used a painting technique called layering, Pixley said. “Layering watercolors on top of each other is very hard to do," she said. 
“Village in the Bamboo Forest” shows Ran’s remarkable talent for watercolor, Pixley said. In this work, the artist combined both wet and dry brush strokes. Ran constantly varied the fluidity of the watercolor medium. At the same time, he altered the brush strokes, thus giving the works a great deal of diversity.
In “Beside the Temple Wall, a Good Market Place,” Ran showed his ability to apply modern Western perspective to the composition, Pixley said. Viewers can see a family of three in shadow in the right foreground, distinct from the doings of the market place. Painted in a different scale, the figures lend depth to the scene. A colored dragon, almost like latticework, curls along the temple wall — a nod to the beauty of old Taiwan.
“Rice Paddy on Mountain Slope” shows traditional Taiwanese agricultural practices. Several workers step into one section of the rice paddy as a farmer guides his water buffalo with a stick and ducks linger around the rice paddy. The curves of the rice paddies seem to harmonize with the curves of the mountains, and the painting is made more beautiful by the fluid variegation of color in the sky, Pixley said.
"Bus Stop" invites the viewer to be a part of its composition and explore the everyday sensations of waiting for the local bus. The people stand out thanks to the washed-out background. Each individual is depicted with a great amount of detail with different colors — a complex task for a watercolorist, Pixley said. 

She said the exhibition reveals why Ran is known as an exceptional watercolorist and one of Taiwan's most famous artists. The watercolors show his mastery of the fluid medium and his endless inventiveness, she said.

Ran is a complex artist, constantly moving between traditional Chinese painting and Western-style art and between wet and dry strokes, she said. His works uniquely capture the beauty of Taiwan.

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