The beginning of Auguries of Innocence by the 19th-century poet William Blake reads: “To see a world in a grain of sand, and a heaven in a wild flower.” Kathleen Wu’s (王昭琳) paintings of roses, irises and peonies embody the latter in a unique Zen way.
Lifting the Veil — Brilliance Re-emerging (揭開面紗—燦爛再現), currently on view at Chini Gallery (采泥藝術), consists of nearly 30 works dating from 2010, rendered on canvas in acrylic and oil, and in watercolor.
The paintings combine Wu’s extensive knowledge and experience in oil painting with a deep awareness of Chinese brush painting and calligraphy. She says that creating each of the works involves a process of uncovering, the act a struggle with, and an attempt to overcome, uncertainty.
Travelers Among Mountains and Streams, After Fan Kuan and Shi Tao (谿山行旅，范寬、石濤賞後) illustrates how Wu incorporates elements of Chinese landscape painting, such as layers of mountain ranges and flowing water, among the layers of rose petals.
The painting is based on Travelers Among Mountains and Streams (谿山行旅圖), a work by 11th century painter Fan Kuan (范寬), who established a tradition in Chinese monumental landscape painting.
The rose series features a range of bright, striking, sometimes contrasting colors, with orange juxtaposed with turquoise in Turquoise Rose, yellow in The Morning Sun and blue in Notre Dame.
Wu says she doesn’t think about roses when she paints, explaining that to be able to achieve a harmonious infusion of Eastern and Western elements, she has to master both traditions, but then disregarding the distinction between them during the act of painting. This explains why the marriage of different styles doesn’t seem contrived.
Bursting Forth (奔放) and Transcendence (昇華), with their muted corals, violets, beiges and yellows, evokes feelings of harmony and tranquility.
Wu says when she paints she needs to be completely focused. Her contemplative approach to art explains much about the balance found in her work.