Sunday, March 14, 2010

Ni Hao Shanghai!

Russian Woman - 127 x 127 cm.

The 14-hour flight from Chicago to Shanghai was very comfortable, and the difference between the USA and China couldn’t have been more extreme than the contrast between O’Hare and the remarkable Pudong airport. You can almost eat off the gleaming floors of the parking garage of Pudong, and the whole place just sparkles. Everybody very courteous and efficient. I was met by two impeccably-dressed young gentlemen who drove me the 1 1/2 hour trip through incredible traffic to the Royal Tulip Garden Hotel in the Zhujiajiao district. I was surprised to learn they already knew much about me, my art, and my music. I was getting a feel for the treatment we would receive while in Shanghai, and it was very nice, indeed.

The hotel is beautiful, and there I met Xidan Chen, the man who conceived this exhibition, and his daughter Jo Jo, who did a marvelous job of organizing the daily itinerary, tours, and translating. There was a reception that evening for artists and top art officials who arrived from all over China, and I also then met David Taylor, renowned Australian artist, David Paskett, President of the Royal Watercolour Society in England, and the great international master, Ong Kim Seng. We were treated to a spectacular dinner in a private dining room of the hotel (see pics).

The next day was spent doing the selection of paintings at the Quanhua Watercolour Art Gallery, a 1300+ square meter traditional building set on a Zhujiajiao canal, and recently the subject of a 10M yuan renovation. I've never seen an exhibition space like it, a maze of rooms and galleries on two levels, all of which will be climate controlled and highly secured. 2.5 million visitors are expected in this gallery during the World Expo. They received over 2500 entries, which were reduced to several hundred, from which we made selections from two groups: the Chinese, and the international entries. Among the international group were 35 invited artists. We were seated at what looked like an altar, as young Chinese girls wearing white gloves brought out paintings (unframed) from the international entries for us to vote on. This took a long time, and we then inspected the paintings from the invited artists. We were guests at a special luncheon courtesy of the Governor of the Qingpu District of Shanghai, Mr. Zhang Guo Hong. This was precipitated by a reception in a very formal chamber of the Shanghai Zhujiajiao Investment & Development Co.,Ltd. as guests of the CEO, Mr. Lu. This corporation is one of the important sponsors of the exhibition. We were treated to gourmet dishes prepared in our honor, and many toasts were made to the success of the event and its bright future as the preeminent international watercolor exhibition.

Jury of the Shanghai Zhujiajiao International Watercolor Biennale

Back at the gallery, we then selected works from hundreds of the Chinese entries, which was a very demanding task. Here I saw the best watercolor work imaginable, it was astonishing. The vast majority of these artists are completely unknown in the west, though that will begin to change, I'm quite sure. (it's tempting to post photos of many of the paintings, but there will be a book published, and they will also be posted on the exhibition website) After that long and arduous process, we began selecting the fifteen equal awards. This was difficult for many reasons, not the least of which was that I felt awards could have gone to 25 or 30 paintings. There was much discussion, voting, re-voting, etc and several walks around the many rooms where the paintings were distributed on the floors and hung on walls. I am posting a photo here of several paintings on one wall from the international group, since we are all presumably familiar with their work: Alvaro Castagnet, Janine Gallizia, David Poxon, and Joseph Zbukvic. I won't discuss awards here, but some people are already aware of winners.

The judges were also asked to display work, and I contributed the new painting above, Russian Woman, which I believe is the largest piece in the show.

The next few days were spent on tours of the fascinating ancient water towns of Zhujiajiao, Zhou Zhuang and Xi Tang. Some of these areas are over 6000 years old, and the villages themselves over 1000 years old. People still live here much as they did generations ago, and we spent all day exploring the tiny alleyways and bridges. Everyone shot tons of photographs, many of which I imagine will end up as painting material. Luckily, it was raining the whole time, which made for even more atmosphere and color. One of the most beautiful moments was walking through a narrow passage next to a school (see pic at left) in Xi Tang while children were singing Ode to Motherland. I have always loved this song, and it was very moving.

We spent another day in Shanghai checking out the World Expo district which is being worked on at a feverish pace 24/7 in preparation for 70+ million visitors, the downtown and Bund from the river, and exploring the jam-packed Yu Gardens. Kim Seng arranged for us to meet with Liu Yi, one of the very top watercolorists in China, a dashing and charming guy, and a major hero of mine for a few years. (one of his famous ballerina pieces is in the exhibition) This took place in the fashionable Luwan district, a blend of Eastern motifs and Western commerce. We visited a very chic café owned by a friend of Mr. Liu, and also saw the site of the first Communist Party meeting in China -- ironically located in the most capitalist section of town. He then arranged for us to have a meeting in the appropriately-named Richgate, the most expensive piece of real estate in Shanghai. No photographs allowed! That was quite an experience, and demonstrated the opulence that seems to pervade at least one segment of this city of 30 million people. That night we all had dinner in a revolving restaurant at the top of a tall building with breathtaking views of Shanghai, its lit highways and magical skyline providing some fantastic photos.

The last couple of days were devoted to lectures given by the two Davids, Kim, and myself. These took place at the auditorium of the Shanghai Zhujiajiao Investment building, and were attended by artists and officials from all over China. David Paskett lectured on his experiences living and painting in China; David Taylor did a fine painting demo; Kim gave an in-depth talk on the history of British and the California School of watercolor; and I gave a presentation, with music, of how and why I do what I do. The reception was quite enthusiastic for all, and the attendees were amazed that I gave away all my "secrets"! Looking out at the unbelievable talent present was a bit daunting, but I did my best. Afterwards I posed for countless photographs with everybody, and forged friendships that I expect to last a lifetime. I am returning to exhibit in Shanghai soon, and look forward to opening a new world of opportunity in China.

I can't describe the thrill and honor it has been to be chosen to represent the Americas as a judge and exhibitor in this landmark exhibition, the largest in the world. It is impossible not to speak in superlatives. After what I have seen in Shanghai, I believe the future of watercolor is there, thanks to these remarkable artists and the unprecedented respect and admiration extended to our medium by the Chinese. I actually felt like a celebrity there. Besides my boundless gratitude to Mr. Xidan Chen, I have to say a special thanks to Ong Kim Seng. I first discovered him in about 2004 after I got back into watercolor, and we struck up an internet friendship that has been as warm as it has been rewarding. Our meeting is all I had hoped for and more; he is one of he most brilliant men I have ever met, possessing a profound expertise in not just watercolor, but all art and all periods of art. His knowledge of cultures, politics, history, literature, and the most distant corners of the globe astounds me. He speaks eight languages fluently. I dearly love this man, and look forward to our reunion, which may be in Singapore (he is a celebrated artist in Malaysia), Beijing (to meet with Guan Wei Xing), or painting in the remote provinces of China, where he assures me I can escape the evils of MSG!

The exhibition opens April 15 and runs the duration of the World Expo through October. I'm very sorry to miss the opening as I'll be doing a workshop at Kanuga, but they are flying my wife Olga over in my place.

Update: thank you to Watercolor Artist magazine for the blog entry HERE, email notice HERE, and to Creative Catalyst Productions for another blog entry HERE.

(all photographs copyright Nicholas Simmons 2010)


RH Carpenter said...

Thanks so much for sharing your trip with us - the care of the white gloves holding/showing the paintings and the beauty of these works you photographed show me what watercolor/watermedia can be in the hands of masters and those who truly love the medium. Amazing future paintings to come from those photos - especially the alleyway with umbrella? Lovely. Now please do show us more work of the Chinese artists. And I don't think I even need to tell you what I think of Russian Woman but will be succinct: FANTASTIC! I know you were a fine ambassador for American artists and look forward to more info and photos to come. Now go get over your jetlag :)

Billie Crain said...

Wow! What an experience! My head would've exploded if it were me.

Jane Freeman said...

How totally amazing Nick!!! I love the umbrellas with the bridge! have to live 3 lifetimes to paint all of this! Thank you for sharing...what an amazing can only dream of having this happen...and you are living it...How wonderful is that!!!

Anonymous said...

It's thrilling to share your experiences. You are quite a good story teller. I love all your work, but Russian Woman has leap frogged to the top.

Anonymous said...

Wow! what an amazing experience - thank you for sharing it with us. I volunteer to carry your bags next time...


Micah Neff said...

Oh my, lovely photography Nick!....what was in the leaf-sealed urns????

joel said...

Ni hao Nick and sheshe for all your good work! I am writing from a train so have to keep this short - cos it is bumpy! Looks like a great time all round. Xidan Chen strikes me as a great man with great vision. I am pleased to that I took the time to enter and I will enter again in 2012 all going to plan. Will write more when it is less bumpy!!!

Javier Ona said...

You are doing a marvellous work in China. It looks like all of you have been passing nice in the middle of so many amazing watercolors and fine chinese food.

Thanks a lot for giving such a good report about so nice place and staff people.

Can´t wait the moment to meet you there, Nick !.

Javier Oña


thanks so much for this insight nick ...must be such an honour to be exhibting and part of the judging panel ...there is alot of excitment and buzz from artists who have been selected..wondered whether the writing was russian ...wonderful photos

cardesin said...

I have read with great joy to the post of Shanghai. I am very glad that you have all your stay there.
It must have been incredible ...
A big hug my dear friend

Jean Burman said...

Totally terrific Tovarish!

Congratulations... and very well done!

Absolutely love Russian Woman... btw

Inspiring stuff :-)

Unknown said...

terrific experience Nick, cool report! amazing russian pic work!

lupus said...

Dear Nick: I'm astonished after have read your post and see the photos. I can imagine how much you vill enjoy there, between that kind people, so much watercolour masters, and think that the experience must have been something unforgotten....marvellous.
Im proud of you, and very content because the China way is now completely open for you ¡¡Congratulations!!

I send you a very big hug, my friend.


Janet Belich said...

Just incredible, Nick. What an adventure you've had ! AND you get to go back ! How many memory cards did you fill ? I love looking at the photos you published and am going back to reread the traveloque again and again. They were surprised that you shared your "secrets" ?? They didn't know you that well after all, did they ? You and your watercolors/music shall pick up where ping pong left off. Welcome home.

Karen Young said...

Thank you for sharing such a momentous time. I am amazed at the artwork and the artists that submitted works to this show. I am also impressed with the quality of the judges as I have been following several of them for many years. Again, thank you for your generosity in writing of your journey. I do believe these thoughts, experiences and photographs will open eyes around the globe.

Sandy Maudlin said...

You are the perfect person to take this marvelous adventure. I'm so so pleased for you and very much appreciate what an ambassador you are in the art world. Congratualtions. Your info about your trip was exciting and intriguing, so glad you are thriving. Your wife will have so much fun, too. Have a great time at Kanuga.

masmoulin said...

A wonderful story. Thank you for us to share your experience.
Congratulations and good continuation
Best Regards
Pierre alias masmoulin

Tonya Vollertsen said...

Well done! Big congratulations, what a wonderful experience! Thanks for all the beautiful photos, I love those houses on the water. Great to relive the experience through your through report.
The Russian woman painting is stellar.

Unknown said...

Nick, Superb Russian Woman! Superb write up of your China experience, Superb photos. Thank you so much for taking the time to update us, I very much appreciated it.

Unknown said...

Thank you for sharing your trip with us, for the pictures (beautiful, they could be a great source of inspiration) and the account of your stay in China.

Just love the work, the graphical lines and tension of your Russian Women.

Susan Liles said...

Wow! So nice to read of your wonderful adventures in China. Wonderful new painting of Russian Woman! So, is watercolor on equal footing as oil paintings in China or do the watercolorists in China struggle to get their paintings recognized as "valuable art"? Just wondering if it is different in China?
Thanks for being an ambassador for the medium of watercolor!

Teresa Palomar Lois said...

Me estás poniendo los dientes largos! or in a more english expression I'm green with envy Nick, but in a good way, thank for sharing your trip, those photos look terrific, I'm sure you're coming back with plenty of experiences and ref material to paint for years to come, Shangai looks great, the show preparations too, lucky you man!

Carlos León said...

Ha Nicholas; great report; congratulations!!
Fantastic work!!!

David Burge said...

Congratulations on the photo of the waterway, bridge, umbrellas, trees etc. That is spectacular!

Nancy Lee Galloway said...

What a spectacular trip and experience! Your painting is gorgeous and so strong - watercolor has evolved so much from what it used to be. You are such a great ambassador and, along with many of the newer artists, have so much to do with the new surge in interest by demonstrating the versatility and power of the medium! Good on 'ya! I Exhibiting in Shanghai?..Opportunities in China?....I just have to say "told you so"! :)

Nick said...

Rhonda - I'm not sure about posting the Chinese work, at least not until after the opening and the book comes out. Take my word for it, the paintings are beyond belief. Glad you like the Russkie, spasibo!

Billie - my head almost did explode - from MSG!

Jane - I really believe the future of watercolor is coming from there, the whole culture has a has very hight appreciation for watercolor, probably more than we see over here or in europe

Fookie - shehsheh! I was asked to produce something sort of wild for the event, and this definitely raised some eyebrows - got the Party ok! whew

Charo - maybe Juan Diego Flores will be touring China soon??? ;)

Micah - rice wine, 130 proof!

Joel - I made another great Aussie friend in David Taylor, another reason to come down and see you guys

Javier - I was happy to see your paintings there, and surprised at the size of the one in the show - mucho grande! Irene friended me on comment!!! :)

Jane - yes, Русская Женщина = Russian woman

Juan - I love the paintings you sent there, and I will be returning, not for the opening, but at a later date. Will see it framed and hanging, wish I can meet you there!

Jean - thank you, not "your father's watercolor"...but then I'm not your father! hahaha

Alex - I'm not surprised this one is up your alley, we think along the same lines amigo ;)

Enrique - I was thrilled also to see your work there, and very happy it will be displayed. You're one of my favorite watercolorists, and I still hope for the day we meet in San Sebastian over pisco sours and a good "cigar"

Janet - thanks,I've always been captivated by almost anything Asian, so it was a natural thing to finally make a real connection.

Karen - their determination in making this exhibition the centerpiece of of East-West artistic relations is impressive, and they have the talent, money, and people to make it happen

Sandy - I wish you had put a piece in this show!

Pierre - merci bon ami, thanks for stopping :)

Tonya - thanks very much, the whole thing has been like a dream, and I feel a good part of my future is there

Amanda - I'm very happy with the painting, hope they can find glass big enough to frame it...and hope it never needs to be shipped back! Great to see your work in person, it was a unique piece, and I hope your style becomes well-known everywhere, you have so much talent for watercolor.

Catherine - tension is good, thank you! Your painting with its exquisite detail was another unique addition to the show, I'm sure it will be studied closely by many many people. Hope you can make it to the Expo, and I'm still keeping my fingers crossed for the Tour!

Susan - watercolor will always be behind oil, but I'm doing what I can in my own way, and you should too. At least over there watercolor artists are treated with great respect, and they don't seem to care much about football or monster trucks, heheh.

Teresa - luck is my specialty, I recommend it over painting! ha

Carlos - gracias amigo, I appreciate it

Dake - as I said - luck! Loved seeing your Brides By Design painting, nothing else like it in the show, and I was also impressed by the size. My first IRL Burge!

Nancy - there are a lot of watercolorists that would disapprove of this kind of work..which is fine with me.:) When it was shown there, everyone kept smiling and nodding and shaking my hand. I guess that's a good sign, and also fortunate that China and Russia are enjoying pretty good relations at the moment. Слава Богу!

Nancy Goldman said...

Nick, what a wonderful post about your trip to China. I'm glad you were given the honor of being a judge for this show. You are an incredibly creative artist. I love "Russian Woman". It has such a great graphic quality.
All of your photos make me want to travel to China. Thanks for taking the time to give us all of the details of your exciting trip.

Micah Neff said...

130 proof?! ow ow OW! LOL Russina Woman is abolutely gorgeous!....(sorry, was so enthralled by your trip pictures I forgot to say so first time around lol)

Charles Sluga said...

Hey Nick,
What a buzz it must have been. Was happy for you while reading your post and envious at the same time. Seems like a fascinating place and what I would give to be treated like a celebrity for a day :)
I am sure you have captured heaps of images for future paintings. Look forward to seeing them.
Congratulations again for being selected to judge.

Marvin Chew said...

Hi Nick, such a comprehensive write-up of your experience in Shanghai... glad you've finally met Ong Kim Seng. :)

Now I'm kicking myself for not entering this... next time then, 2012

Anonymous said...

Hi Nick,
I have to meet the organizers in April. As soon as I have an answer, I'll let you know ...
Keep your fingers crossed ;-)

William K. Moore said...

Overwhelming!... out of the parque on this escapade Mr. The painting kicks da booty with the drips and the letraset san serif kerning off ultra white on. Loving lady's pose on fire and she means business - don't take your eye(s) off for a minute .. and could you really manage it even if you wanted - to? I predict cover action here and some gold over there.. and a rapping on the door. And the travelogue? - Roll over Huell Howser you're out of the game!

Nick said...

Nancy - spasibo, I'm very happy with the painting, and thrilled to have it in that show. Looking forward to a return there.

Micah - I had one sip...that's all it took!

Charles - great to hear from you, and I love the painting you have there - those yellow stripes of the tent are mesmerizing! Yet another Aussie mate that I look forward to finally tipping a Foster's with, I hope we cross paths soon!

Marvin - let me help you with that kick! ha ha ha Maybe I'll meet you when I come to see Kim, I'm anxious to visit Singapore.

Catherine - fingers crossed, hope I can make it if it works out...just seeing Eddy Merckx from a mile away, I'd probably faint!

Bill - your posts are becoming something to etch in stone for the grandkids to read...another classic, heheh. Was tempted to call you to rescue me from O'Hare the other night, that was a rough one. Tell your beautiful wife I love her country!!

Noemí González said...

Ups I'am the last!
Congratulations Nick and thanks for sharing this wonderful exhibition with us!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this eyewitness account!! I am gonna re-read the whole thing now...amazing!!

perugina said...

NNG.. what a fabulous look-see into your time in Shanghai!

OH… and your Russian Woman – i really have no words except for some in italian..
che bellezza stupenda - stupendous beauty!

Nick said...

NoNo - si si, thanks for stopping by!

Frank - nice to meet you, I'll check out your blog asap

Patricia - you're back in action, happy to see that, and thanks for the visit!

sandra flood said...

How exciting was all of that! What an opportunity and a wonderful blog on your trip.

And being a Russian woman myself, I love that painting! I know Flood does not sound Russian but that's my husbands name. Much easier to pronounce then my maiden name!

Nick said...

Sandra - I didn't know you were a Russkie! Thank you very much for stopping and the positive response - that means a lot to me, you're one of the best painters out there, a giant that always blows my mind. Spasibo!

Anonymous said...

i very love all your posting kind, very helpful.
don't give up as well as keep writing for the simple reason that it just simply nicely to read it.
impatient to look at alot more of your own writing, enjoy your day!

Anonymous said...


Welcome Back:0)!
The trip looks mesmerizing,and almost overwhelming I would have been tearing up at the beauty all around.
Fascinating and steller work, yours of course, and also the work of the other artist shown. Thanks for giving me a glimpse of this world event almost feels like the Olympics of Watercolors, Love to see the team figure painting event.

Thanks Nick.
Sincerely Paul.

P.S. talk to you soon.

Nick said...

Anonymous - you posted just in time, I was about to give up! heheh

Paul - wait until you see all the work in this show, especially those Chinese artists that haven't been seen yet in the will blow your mind!

agus said...

Hi Nick!
A grand entrance ... I stayed with my mouth open ... That site, spectacular, high-contrast ... saludos Nick!

Mary Sonya conti said...

Closest have ever gotten to China was Thailand in the 70s. Alas many of the photos were destroyed by fire. But looking at your images took me back. Believe you were the perfect selection to represent the Americas. Thank you for documenting the experience and sharing with us Nick.

V. Deshmukh said...

Very beautiful paiting. Thanks for sharing this with us. And after seeing all this outstanding work, I do agree that not every artist needs to be faithful to his subject in every way. What matters more is what comes from within.
Best wishes.

Unknown said...

great photo-log nick! almost as if we were there, too..well almost -) looks fantastic and thanks for all the time and work you put in! cheers - tom

Michelle Himes said...

Your trip sounds wonderful! I enjoyed seeing some of your photos. That street scene with the lanterns and banners HAS to become a painting.

Russian Woman is stunning!

Joan said...

What an honor!!! I enjoyed seeing your photos and reading your descriptions! Thanks for sharing your success with us,

Valerie Kent said...

Hi Nick
That is inspirational. I am so happy for you and the opportunity. Bravo. Valerie said...

Nick , Your pictures have me there!!!
This is the Most exciting venture , adventure yet . I am always So Pleased when you take us along All the way . Like being with Magellan. LOL
You are So generous
thanks , June

Anonymous said...

Hello Nick:
Thanks for sharing your experience from China with great photographs. I plan to attend the opening of the exhibition in Shanghai soon after I complete teaching a workshop in Dali and Lijiang in the Yunnan province, which ends on April 14. I am leaving the US on March 30. Since I have never been exposed to Chinese culture, perhaps you may give me some tips on protocol etc.Thanks
Ratindra Das

Nick said...

Agus - gracias amigo, I wish you would have had one of your spectacular paintings there!

Mary - I hope I did "us" right, I sure tried.

Vinayak - thanks re the painting, it is quite different from everything else there...for better or worse!

Tom - a great place for photography as you know. I enjoyed seeing your great painting there!

Michelle - Glad you like the painting! I got lots of good photos there, many of the lanterns - but I'll never paint that. I suppose some bit of it will come out somehow, eventually. I do have a few ideas cooking that I'm excited about getting into, hope I can pull them off. Nice to hear from you, thanks for stopping. :)

Joan - it was a total thrill, I just have to watch the msg next time

Valerie - nice to see you, been a long time.. the trip has inspired a lot of ideas, wish I had more time to paint

June - trying to catch up with you on the phone, no luck! I can't wait to go back, too bad I'm missing the opening

Ratindra - hello, thanks so much for stopping by. advice I have is to get good with chopsticks (if you aren't already), and to keep smiling. :)

vargamari said...

I'm amazed and very impressed - as usual - from all of your news...go, Nick, go! Congratulations!

Nick said...

Vargamari - nice to see you here and on FB, thanks!

Anonymous said...

coucou Nick!
sure you had great time there!!
wonderful photos and of course wonderful 'Russian girl'!!!!

Beyla Medina said...

Hi Nick, what a wonderful experience! I congratulate you belong to the jury in this difficult choice. Thank you for sharing the photos are beautiful hope to see them in watercolor. I liked the house with the reflection in the water and the umbrella.
Where can I get the link of the exhibition?
Greetings friend!