East Meets West

By Judee Fong

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Andy Shutse Lou, internationally renowned Chinese landscape artist, chips flakes off his inkstone, adds water and mixes it slowly and gently. Traditional Chinese artists use an inkstone because the act of making ink calms the mind, encouraging the flow of creative energy. "Just relax and let your brush flow," Andy encourages his students. Picturing a scene clearly in his mind, he dips his brush into the pot of freshly made ink, painting strokes on the rice paper to produce a few fir trees added in front of the Rocky Mountains. Andy is not your typical Oriental brush and ink artist.

Born in Beijing during the Cultural Revolution, when art and education was suppressed, Andy was fortunate to learn the techniques of Chinese brush painting from his father, Lou Shi Bai, a famous 20th Century Chinese artist. "At that time, there were no schools and, of course, nothing in the arts, and I wanted to learn something, so my father showed me," Andy remembers. "At first, I watched and, later, I tried it myself."

After the Cultural Revolution, when education and the arts were encouraged, Andy took the opportunity to develop his talent by attending a Beijing art school for two years. In 1981, China opened its borders and allowed its young people to travel, and for its art students to be exposed to different styles. Andy went to the California College of Arts in Oakland, California.

"I remembered there were other Chinese students from Taiwan and Hong Kong, but I was the first to come from Mainland China," says Andy. Laughing, he adds, "At first, the lifestyle and differences in education were a big cultural shock for me!" He later received a scholarship to the University of North Texas working on his master's degree in fine arts and teaching drawing as an assistant. After graduation, Andy realized art graduate jobs were scarce. "At that time, not many people could teach Chinese brush painting. Very few understood the philosophy and thinking behind it," Andy recalls. "My students were in the right time and place to learn. They approached Chinese brush painting with a totally different angle and they asked me many questions - always 'Why?'" Shaking his head, he chuckles, "In China, we just do it. We don't ask our teacher 'Why?' We learn by copying the brush strokes; constantly watching and practising." Andy says it was an exciting revelation seeing his students' approach to Chinese painting as another medium. "I discovered I could use my techniques and apply it to something new." Today, Andy is known for his unique rendering of Chinese brush strokes, depicting the dynamic British Columbia scenery and nature in a perfect marriage of East meets West.

A warm, friendly personality, Andy believes an artist is constantly learning and open to new ideas. In traditional Chinese brush painting, the colours are pale and the picture often lacks a background. "I apply acrylics and watercolour pigments to the conventional brush and ink," Andy explains. "The results are stronger colours, which suits my subject matter better. When painted on rice paper, the results are quite exciting especially when I add some background for depth."

Andy recalls the earlier classes he taught. "My students didn't recognize the Chinese mountains and trees because they had never seen them, but when I did the Rocky Mountains with the snow and the fir trees, they knew these. In art, you have to do something that is your own and in your own language."

Andy's paintings have been exhibited in Canada, the United States and China. He is also a respected teacher and author of several books on Chinese brush painting. His latest book is *Selected Paintings by Andy Shutse Lou*, featuring 54 incredible prints of his work. The composition of brush strokes painted on rice paper - vibrant acrylics paired with the use of watercolours - shows Andy's Chinese roots coupled successfully with his admiration of Western scenery and nature.

In August, Andy and his wife Alice will take their annual group of eight to 10 seniors to visit China, introducing them to Chinese culture and art. "If you see the country, hear some history, enjoy the culture and talk to the people, you come back with a different outlook, a different understanding," Andy says with an impish grin that lights up his face. "I took a group of Canadians to visit a Chinese artist's studio. A Canadian asked the Chinese artist if his paints had any chemicals mixed with the colours. The Chinese artist replies, 'I don't know. I don't care.' When told that the paint may fade from the painting, the Chinese artist replied, 'Well, nothing is permanent.' 'But your art is wonderful and, after a 100 years, the colours will disappear,' pointed out the Canadian. And the Chinese artist replied, 'I'm not going to be here in a 100 years, so that won't be my problem!' Another Canadian asked if the rice paper was 100 per cent acid-free. When the Canadian heard the rice paper was not acid-free, he was horrified and told the Chinese artist that over many years the paint will react with the rice paper turning the paper yellow. 'But that's the beauty of aging,' replied the Chinese artist.'" Andy laughs with delight at the differences in Western and Eastern attitudes.

Embracing his life with enthusiasm and joy, Andy continues producing his visually appealing landscapes. Thoughtfully, Andy says, "When I paint, I try to keep it loose and spontaneous. I tell my students relax, just paint and enjoy. There is no right or wrong way. Just go with the flow and see what happens."

For more information on Andy's China tour in August or the A & A Gallery, call 250-658-9381 or e-mail Andy at aalou@shaw.ca


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