Friday, April 23, 2010

Kanuga - Go On, I Dare Ya!

James Toogood, Nicholas Simmons, Ted Nuttall, Mike Bailey

While Olga was in Shanghai, I was in Hendersonville, North Carolina for the Kanuga Watercolor/Watermedia Workshops. And what a week that was! About 250 people from all over the place enrolled in courses taught by eleven artists: Mike Bailey, Linda Baker, Mary Alice Braukman, Gerald Brommer, Jeanne Carbonetti, Lana Grow, Ted Nuttall, Beth Patterson, Pat San Soucie, James Toogood, and myself. Also there for presentations and independent study projects were Carrie Burns Brown, Joan Fullerton, Don Getz, Taylor Ikin, Carol Ann Sherman, Susan Webb Tregay, and some others I'm forgetting (sorry, send me the names!).

I drove down after spending a night at a friend's in Richmond.* Kanuga Conference Center is 1400 acres of gorgeous woods set on a lake in the Smoky Mountains. Guests stay in cottages and cabins, congregate in the lodge for meals, and fill the auditorium for large events. Several other buildings house studio spaces and classrooms, some of them converted for the purpose of workshops during this event. That's a lot of tables, chairs, and demonstration mirrors.

The first day everyone arrived, Sunday, there was an exhibition of the instructors' work and a meet & greet with enrollees. I was surprised to see a few people I know from my workshops in the DC area, and even more surprised to see some internet buddies there, including Myrna Wacknov. An introductory presentation took place in the auditorium, and then a concert by Barbara Bailey Hutchison (see above), Grammy-winning singer and songwriter. She was fabulous -- if you haven't heard her on one of her seventeen CDs, you've heard her on a number of commercials. Wonderful voice, can play the axe and keys, really entertains an audience, and is beautiful on top of it. What's more, she was in my workshop - yes, she tears it up with a paintbrush too!

The next four days were consumed by the workshops and a schedule of activities that kept the whole group of painters together and talking about art. There was a huge critique session, a night with five painters demonstrating at once, a studio walk, and enough after-hours fun to keep the creative party going non-stop. The studios remain open all night, and I was stunned to walk into mine one evening at about 10 PM to see almost everyone in there working - made me feel like a slacker! One night the instructors were invited to dinner at the fantastic aerie home of Stan Hubbard, president of Kanuga, which offers a breathtaking vista.

The whole class was great, really nice and interesting people who got a lot of new work accomplished. Special thanks go to my assistant, Karen Bell! (see pics below) I also met many from the other workshops and of course got to know the instructors. Most all of them are people I've been very aware of but had never met until Kanuga. Others were new to me, but I now feel we are friends, not just colleagues. I had lots of fun hanging out with Linda Baker and Joan Fullerton, a couple of spirited and mega-talented painters who added a lot of sparkle to the experience. The well-attended evenings in Cabin 3 and 8 won't be soon forgotten!

One of the best parts of the week for me was getting to know Mike Bailey and Ted Nuttall, two guys who are so high on my faves list it's not even funny. I bumped into Ted that first Saturday night in a dark hallway, a cool way to have it happen. Besides being a giant among the greatest watercolor portraitists, he is truly one of the kindest people I have met in this business, and I have a feeling we will be friends for a long, long time. Mike Bailey....hmmm, what can I say? A brilliantly imaginative artist who doesn't seem to have a clue how asskickin' dangerous he is (or does he?!), and one of the finest writers and educators I've encountered. Reading Mike's blog is like getting a masters in fine art - for free. He's also one of the most hilarious cats ever, and that night in Cabin 3 he had me on the floor gasping for breath. (please don't quote that out of context!) I'm happy he's the new president of the National Watercolor Society; of the two major organizations in this country, NWS is generally the more progressive and they couldn't have invented a better artist to lead the way. The last night the three of us and James Toogood stayed up into the wee hours solving the watercolor problems of the world over a bottle of Glenlivet, courtesy of Ted. Things should start looking up. :)

The Kanuga watercolor workshops would not be possible without the amazing Robbie Laird and her husband Will Rasmussen. How they put all this together and make it so successful year after year (this was the 25th anniversary) is beyond me, but I saw it all happen with my own eyes. Thank you Robbie, it was a marvelous and memorable week!

*Easy trip until I got to Asheville via I-40 West and needed to get on I-26. Detour. That was Slight Hitch #1. On the map I-26 goes south to Hendersonville, but it's actually 26 East. That's Significant Annoyance #2. Weird stuff going on with those two roads, exacerbated by what has to be the worst signage this side of the Khyber Pass. Headache #3. Two wrong turns taking me about 10 miles out of my way, and an elaborate set of defective directions from Asheville "native." Cussin' Like Stable Boy #4. Look at watch, realize I'm missing instructors' Saturday night dinner. Punch The Dashboard #5. Then....the sign. I mean the sign:

"Future I-26"

What???? Yes, I was driving on Future I-26. I had catapulted out of our space-time continuum and was on a highway system that exists only in crystal balls and the perverse fantasies of the North Carolina DOT. I needed I-26 Of The Present, and would have considered I-26 Of The Past a bargain. I'd tell you more about the Future, but I'd hate to ruin it for you - drive to Hendersonville yourself....go on, I dare ya.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Shanghai Exhibition Opening

Jin Xin, Alvaro Castagnet, Olga Simmons

Whew. As David Burge said the other day, we put a "global pincer movement" on the watercolor world last week: my wife Olga at the Shanghai Zhujiajiao International Watercolor Biennial Exhibition, and I was in Hendersonville, NC for the Kanuga Watercolor Workshop (Kanuga post to follow soon). See earlier post about judging the Shanghai exhibition HERE. More photos from the opening and links to artists will be added as I get them.

More pics added today! (April 19) Six photos courtesy Kathy Salminen.

More pics added today! (April 23) Six photos courtesy Javier Oña -- see much more on Javier's blog HERE.

I was not able to make the opening, so Olga represented me and had a fabulous time. Before all of the events, she went into Shanghai with Alvaro Castagnet and his lovely wife Ana, accompanied by my friend (who is also a very good artist), Jin Xin. They checked out the Bund and historic Yu Gardens.

Jin Xin, Olga, Alvaro, Ana Castagnet

The other judges -- Ong Kim Seng, David Taylor, David Paskett, Changjiang Wu, Tieshan Huang, Weixin Wang, Jian Chen, and Xidan Chen -- reconvened, along with many of the award winners from the world over. I'm familiar with all from the international field, but I'm very sorry not to have had the chance to meet the Chinese artists, the majority of whom are unknown in the West. I think this will change as a result of the exhibition, and there are two or three dozen who are simply mindblowing. It's tempting to post some of their paintings (I took lots of photos while judging in March), but its best to see them reproduced so beautifully in the book (see below).

Alvaro, Ong Kim Seng, Olga, David Taylor

There was a dinner the night before the opening in a private dining room of the 5-star Royal Tulip Garden Hotel where many toasts and friendships were made amidst a gourmet feast of Chinese cuisine. Olga was overwhelmed by the hospitality and attention paid her, which comes as no surprise following my visit. These people not only embrace those of us from the West, they have a profound respect and admiration for watercolor. As an artist, it's a wonderful feeling that borders on celebrity and I'm sure we all could get used to that!

Royal Tulip Garden Hotel dinner

The next day, April 15, involved a tour of the Zhujiajiao district and another spectacular lunch before the opening. The hotel hosted a reception and press conference with the media, and many speeches were made for the exhibition and its future as the most important watercolor event in the world. 2.5 million visitors are expected in the Quanhua Gallery during the Expo. The Chinese government has officially committed to supporting it for a long time, based on the success of this inaugural show.

At the Quanhua Gallery, guests saw 244 paintings selected out of approximately 25oo entries from over 2000 artists, representing 19 countries. 15 equal awards of excellence were granted. The judges are also displaying work. Everything has been gorgeously framed at no cost to the artists. The winners, in addition to prize money and having their work inducted into the Quanhua permanent collection, were also flown to Shanghai and stayed at the Royal Tulip Garden. I'm quite sure there isn't another watercolor organization in the world that does this -- they spared no expense!

Russian Woman by Nicholas Simmons

International field award winners (6): Xiaochang Zhang, Alvaro Castagnet, Brian Stratton, John Salminen, Mark Mehaffey. Joseph Zbukvic was unable to attend.

Award winners from China (9)were Yongjin Chen, Wei Hou, Zhenwen Jiang, Changshou Wang, Weicai Wang, Yong Wang, Zhoutian Xue, Xiao Yang, Jitong Zhao. (unfortunately, I'm unsure of who's who in the photos)

A string quartet played at the gallery, and a dedication ceremony preceded the awards. Chinese girls in traditional costumes attended, and thousands of photographs were taken of the artists and judges. In this respect, it was probably better to have Olga there than yours truly, ha. A formal banquet followed at the hotel where more speeches were made, and endless toasts offered.

There is no way to adequately thank the people responsible for this huge shot in the arm that watercolor sorely needed, nor to thank all of them. However, the biennial would not have been possible without the organization and leadership of Liu Dawei, Chao Weilin, Gao Kang, Wu Changjiang, Zhang Guohong, Liu Jian, Huang Tieshan, Yang Jinsong, Sun Ping, Ding Jie, Wang Weixin, Liu Yaping, Liu Shouziang, Guan Weixing, Chen Jian, Zhou Gang, Qu Huimin, Tao Shihu, Gu Jun, Cao Weiming, Jiang Zhinan, and Ong Kim Seng.

Corporate sponsors include Artron, L' Art de L' Aquarelle, Canson, International Artist, and EMS.

Special thanks go to Zhang Guo Hong, Governor of the Qingpu District of Shanghai, and Qianlin Lu, CEO of Shanghai Zhujiajiao Investment & Development Co., Ltd. And the whole thing would never have happened if not dreamed up by Xidan Chen, esteemed Chinese watercolorist who lobbied for money and support. Last but certainly not least, I want to extend my gratitude to Xidan's daughter, JoJo, without whose tireless organizational efforts, liasion with the international field, and impressive translating talents, the exhibition would not have run so smoothly. Thank you Xidan and JoJo, I can't wait to return and see you again!

The exhibition book is incredible -- easily the most stunning collection of watercolor art I've ever seen in one place. This sets the standard for all other watercolor exhibitions and catalogs. 275 pages, printed on high quality paper, and very accurate color reproductions of every painting in the exhibition. There is also a small abridged version and a book of postcards. The book can be ordered from this link, and for a limited time, they are including the latest issue of The Art of Watercolor (English edition of l' Art de l' Aquarelle) which has a spread on the exhibition and also wonderful features on Shanghai exhibitors Janine Gallizia, David Poxon, and Guan Weixing.