Chinese brush painting allows no room for mistakes.
It’s something Bedford artist Sally Gordon Shea learned very quickly when she switched to the medium, the results of which will hang in her next show at East Colony Fine Art, “Eastern Influences.” It’s on view now through Feb. 22 — just in time for the Chinese New Year, which is Friday, Jan. 31.
The images she’s showing are quite different from what you might have previously seen from her at East Colony. She’s replaced her usual bright, popping florals and landscape paintings with nine very simple pieces, all of which were made with the Chinese brush painting method.
Shea, who studied art at the University of New Hampshire and who has a strong handle on the pastel medium, found transferring to Chinese brush painting difficult. It’s very different from what she was used to.
“It’s quite a challenge,” she said. “You can’t go back and fix things. One stroke, and it stays there. You go through a lot of paper.”
There’s less busy work, too. Each painting requires the utmost focus, which can be intriguing if you’ve never done it before.
“With pastels, you have literally hundreds of pastel sticks with magnificent colors. You work with your hands — there’s no brush, nothing between you and the color,” she said. “But here, you have to know exactly what you’re going to do. … Also, in Chinese brush painting, you don’t fill the whole space. There’s a lot of negative space, but the negative means something,” Shea said.
Included in the collection are the Four Gentlemen in Chinese art, which refers to four plants that depict the unfolding seasons through the year — orchid (which represents spring), bamboo (summer), chrysanthemum (autumn) and the plum blossom (winter).
Shea learned the medium last summer from Bruce Iverson in Portsmouth. One of the reasons she wanted to dabble with Chinese brush painting, she said, is because when she was young, her family lived in Guam; her father, who was in the military, was stationed in China. She was 5 at the time and doesn’t remember much, she said, but she grew up with traditional Chinese art and items in her home and has always had a solid appreciation for them.
She also loves the meditative element in the art.
“I wanted to explore another area of art that was totally different,” she said. “I wanted to work on a different side in my head. It’s not just about applying ink to paper. You sort of have to achieve a certain chi inside your body and have it flow out to your arm, to your hand. Even grinding the ink is a meditative process.”
The opening, she said, coincidentally fit in with the Chinese New Year (it’s the Year of the Horse), and so at the opening reception, on Saturday, Feb. 1, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., visitors will be able to enjoy themed treats like fortune cookies and Chinese tea.
You don’t see much Eastern-style art in New Hampshire, Shea said, and so she hopes the show will help viewers develop a new appreciation for this different style.
As seen in the January 30, 2014 issue of the Hippo.