One thing leads to another…
David Paskett – Joining Up The Dots
Art college at seventeen, drawing every day, I couldn’t believe my luck. Then into the real world!
Painting, music and teaching went hand in hand in the U.K. for twenty years. I was re-thinking ‘still life’…
I found my new still life on the streets of Hong Kong, in markets, temples and waterways. Abundant equivalents of complex presentations that I had previously contrived to set up in my studio.
Then came the revelation of China.
Among the paraphernalia “exhibited’ on Chinese streets, I found living echoes of a fading past, no longer accessible to me in Britain, or even Hong Kong, except in museums.
I had stumbled on bell-ringing imagery for which I didn’t know I had been looking.
On a bridge overlooking China’s Grand Canal, in 1987, far from The River Thames, I found myself ‘standing in the shoes of Whistler!’
Hong Kong Vistas
Hong Kong vistas are often long and narrow. looked at, from or in between high rise buildings. With Chinese Scroll paintings in mind. Drawn on rolled and concertinaed paper from two hotel rooms at dawn, a side street on De Voeux Road West and with a coffee, watching trams chunking along Johnston Road from the balcony of the old Wo Cheong Pawn shop in Wanchai.
Smiling, pointing & painting
As a lone traveller in China, armed with phrase and guide book, and no Chinese to speak of, I engaged in a lot of smiling, pointing and painting. Walking, pedalling watching and waiting. Few people spoke any English but were curious and hospitable. Some thought I must have been lonely!
Taken on my first boat trip along The Grand Canal this photo of an oarswoman radiating such a spontaneous smile, brings back how welcoming people were to this stranger. Always intrigued by that characteristic rowing movement, pushing and stirring with the grace and energy of Tai Chi.
Smartly dressed in the local traditional blue costumes of country women, no doubt on their way to a waterside market to sell their produce.
These markets alongside old stone bridges were busy places where everybody would meet trade and hang around. Watching barges, boats, bodies and bikes. I loved these places. A few of the bridges are preserved in the water towns but these focal points for local communities have been replaced with wide roads and roundabouts, over and underpasses. It is called ‘development’.
Tiantan Park, Beijing
In Tiantan Park, Beijing, every morning, among the shrubbery, under trees, along pathways, in pavilions, next to the red walls people gather to exercise, play music and hang out. In 1987 on my first morning in Hangzhou I climbed Wu Hill, walking backwards with the ladies, to where elderly comrades in blue gathered with caged birds, clutching jam jars of warm tea. Since then, warmed by this early morning socialising and exercising I will search it out in those tranquil settings by water or in parks to start my day.
I can never anticipate what it is that will captivate me and lead to a drawing. Sometimes even invited to join in with the musicians, dancers or water calligraphers.
One thing leads to another, if I let it!
Huxinting Teahouse, Yuyuan Gardens, Shanghai
At the end of the zig zag path, across a golden carp filled pond, lights glimmer through the carved wooden shutters of the fairytale Huxinting Teahouse. The faint strains of erhu and dizi invite me up the rickety stairs for tunes, tea and quails eggs. Many a dusty day in Shanghai has ended here. Wrapped up in the music and my drawing I would outstay the other tea drinkers until the instruments returned to their cases and perhaps the flautist enhanced my drawing with a poem. One thing leads to another!
In Suzhou, an expensive cup of tea was often accompanied by a storytelling Pingtan duo or a matinee theatre performance with old comrades. Intrigued by this art form I spent a morning at The Suzhou Pingtan school for young Pingtan musicians and sat with them in their classrooms.
A subsequent series of paintings commissioned for Standard Chartered Bank’s 150th anniversary year in China depicted a pair of Pingtan musicians in front of my painting.
Watching music, hearing art
Trusted tools of a musician’s trade
companions on the road
struck plucked endlessly played
wood metal reed bones
where ears eyes and fingers meet
and maybe drone!
The Four Treasures
The four treasures of The Scholar’s Studio are the brush, inkstick, paper and inkstone. At the breakfast table my drawings are of several other Chinese treasures, juggled between bowl and fingers?
Fly on the wall
As a foreigner, an outsider, I am immediately noticeable but want to be an invisible onlooker. So I stick around, settle in with paints and paper and hope to become just another bit of the days entertainment. I can either charge around looking for things or sit still and wait for them to come to me. They do. Stay still, see it all, like a fly on the wall, wait for the buzz!
At the Lushan Watercolour Festival hundreds of Chinese art students mix with international artists for a few days to paint outside. I portray Ismail Kadir, a newly met artist friend from Malaysia, painting across the street, who like me is shielded from rain and sun by attentive students.
A group of men have gathered for a card game beneath the trees. I have a good vantage point from the wall above. Intrigued by my process, a group of students watch my pen plotting the props and dropping in people as they come and go. “We’ve never seen anyone draw like that!”
I am told by the villagers watching me paint that the writing on the farmhouse wall in the middle of my painting, says ‘Long Live Mao’. A remnant of the days when the Red Army were billeted there. I arrived in this village timewarp with a group of Beijing Artists, after a long ride to Longxi, Gansu Province from Lanzhou, where I had been lecturing in Art Academies. My host, Wang Ming Ji, set up a barbecue for the villagers in appreciation of their letting us overrun their farms with our painting gear! I took many photos and finished the painting later.
Then new pastures suggest I ditch my baggage, recapture some past innocence, go sit in the meadow and paint goats!
On seeing my paintings of China exhibited in London 1997 the writer, Sun Shuyun, having researched locations for the film “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon” put me on the trail of ancient towns in Yi and She Counties in Anhui Province. A few months later I had the now famous pond at Hong Cun to myself. Here, among the whitewashed Hui buildings, I made friends with the walls.
The flaking white walls in the narrow passageways of Xitang, engraved by the handlebars of bicycles, the canopies of trishaws, cracked and peeling render revealing bricks, layers of history , the side drop of people and life squeezing by.
Walls that I had rubbed shoulders with on the way to my shuttered room overlooking Shin Bone Alley re-surfaced in my Chinese ink and Ceramic Paintings. A jovial erhu player was happy to perform in front of a particularly melodic wall of bricks. I am with my drawing of the smartest Hui style restored building in Xitang – the public lavatories!
In Likeng while with art students and thieir professors, Mang Li and Zhang Peng, with whom I had been exhibiting previously in Shenyang, I took a break from painting the Huizhou architecture and wheelbarrows to make an ink rubbing of a crumbling back street wall.
Chinese wooden wheelbarrows are, to me, Working Sculpture. Taking a break from painting one, I picked my way through an overgrown nearby garden to inspect a climbing loofah plant, trailing tendril shadows across a sunlit wall. My sort of subject. I took several snaps and went back to the wheelbarrow.
Five years later, I painted the loofahs.
In 2017, with a group of artist professors and student from Shenyang, in 2017 I enjoyed what was for me a rare opportunity to use oil paints in China. From peaceful roof tops mapping the shape of Zhaji Ancient Village, in narrow back alleys against brick walls and alongside the brook with the ducks and women washing plates.
For a week the changing colours of a building facade backdrop, next to my hostel, fascinated me as I drew workers scaling the scaffolding to render and paint, as though demonstrating Tai Chi movements with their trowels and brushes.
I spent three mornings at another perfect location under cover overlooking a sort of piazza at a pathway junction, where two carpenters were adding an architrave to an old property. Curious locals watched them working, as I did, and my painting became a theatre stage set to which I added passing actors, including finally a three legged dog. My painting became a sort of diary of changing light and passing people. I enquired about the tools used in the building construction in particular a measuring device that I have often seen used by textile printers, masons and builders alike. The friendly carpenter told me that his was passed on to him by his father. When it started to rain I was invited up onto the roof to paint under cover.
One thing leads to another!
The wooden and metal winnowing machine is for me a sort of emblem of rural Chinese life along with the wooden wheelbarrow. Both an efficient piece of engineering and a statuesque sculptural object of beauty whether in action or parked up in the shadows.
Caoshan Temple, Jiangxe 2018 / 2019
My day at Caoshan started in the kitchen, drawing the nuns preparing breakfast. My young acupuncture student guide, and companion for the week, would then join me for breakfast with the nuns. Mornings shared between exploring the surrounding countryside and villages with my guide, occasionally meeting the locals, then back to drawing food preparation in the kitchen before 11.00 lunch. The nuns then fasted till breakfast.
Painting and exploring again in the afternoon light. One evening spent with nuns in their artroom I drew them in silence as they worked on copies of Buddhist paintings. One evening I joined the meditation group marching in circles and sitting cross legged. Another sitting, more comfortably on the temple steps with the some of the resident children singing in the moonlight!
Whilst President Of The Royal Watercolour Society between 2009 and 2012 I wrote creative ramblings for The Artists and Illustrators magazine based on my thoughts and topical activities as a working artist. They were called A Splash of Colour. In 2010/11, building up to an exhibition RWS members worked on paintings associated with musical events held at The Royal Albert Hall. One of my themes was the performance of Cinderella on Ice and the other The UK Brass Band Championships, when I spent time painting and drawing the assorted uniformed bandspeople with their instruments as they prepared to go on stage. Read some of the original articles in my blog here in the Artists and Illustrators category.
One thing leads to another
Paint is one thing.
The Ins and Outs’
Ups and Downs’
Using recycled paper and card I built “placescapes’.
Reflecting on contrasting places visited or imagined.
Citadels, piazzas, ziggurats, temples, tombs, silos, roadworks, rock faces, cliffs, gullies and standing stones. A trip across a Chinese scroll painting.
Rounding up influences on the way, the family of shapes grows.
An open-ended narrative of solid sentences and paper paragraphs……….where next?
My constructions, liberated from line,
share a similar journey.
They sit happily together