Painting Makes the Soul Visible (excerpt)
Essay on Bai Xuejuan’s Art
-By Luo Fei
On a number of palm sized notebooks, a great many variety of colorful patterns filled the pages. There appear to be some traces of natural growth. One of the covers reads: I’m afraid of waking up, for the dream would be gone. The one who didn’t want to wake up from her dream is Bai Xuejuan, a painter from Yunnan and is now living in Gejiu, a small city in southern China only about 200 kilometers away from Vietnam. She’s a high school teacher there. However, she’s been painting about Nordic islands in recent years: places where human beings are few, forests deep, and iced rivers flowing.
This is due to the residence program that Bai joined in the Nordic Watercolor Museum between February and April 2011 in Sweden. For this three months program on Tjörn, she witnessed how the ice melted in Scandinavia, and the rigid winter changed to the warm early spring. She spent these whole three months in her cabin next to the Pacific. Two diaries were jotted down and countless watercolors painted. And only a few new friends visited her occasionally. The minimalism manifested naturally around her in Northern Europe began to fascinate her. Even back to the mountains of Yunnan, those images related to the Tjörn kept coming back to appear on her paintings. I can feel the characteristic transparency unique to the Nordic in both her watercolors and oil paintings, light and thin, loose and soft. The free-flowing in her paintings is reminiscent of Edvard Munch. Just that one doesn’t sense the desperate darkness, but the bright and poetic flowing.
For Bai Xuejuan, cultural collision and blending are external and concrete, and she does not study art as a cultural matter. When it comes to art, by following the experience deep inside of her heart, she’s been continuously recording like diaries the trajectory of her inner feedback on life, surroundings and her own feelings. She captured in her paintings those moments like cruising the sea, walking in the night or strolling aimlessly. Those are the times that the burden of reality was kept at a distance, and the ones for thoughts and drifting away. To drift is both for the soul to breathe and to escape.
Rather than delving into the texture of a particular piece of leaves or a stone on the ground, Bai does not regard the world as a stable substance, but a series of flowing, breathable and free forms. Going up and down, they are plain and simple, yet grow like a poetry. They are as free as if one falls into a trance. At this very moment, painting makes the soul visible.