Study Abroad: Exploring Art in China

CVPA students travelled to Beijing, Shanghai, and Wuzhen this summer.

Great Wall
Top: touring the Great Wall. Bottom: "Wangjin River," watercolor and ink, by Samantha Carell. Used with permission. Samantha plans to incorporate this study into a larger work.

‌Seeking new cultural experiences and fresh artistic influences, a group of student artists from the College of Visual & Performing Arts (CVPA) traveled to China this summer, visiting Beijing, Shanghai, and Wuzhen.

In gaining a new perspective on another culture, the students are preparing to make their own way as artists in a world that is increasingly international. They toured ancient sites such as the Great Wall and learned about centuries-old traditions of hand looming—but also explored the innovative architecture of the "Birds’ Nest" Olympic stadium and experimented with new approaches to digital and traditional arts.

Envisioning success on the world stage

Bryan McFarlane, professor of painting and drawing, directs the CVPA China program and arranged for the students to meet artists, writers, curators, and art historians both in formal seminars and in visits to a number of artists’ studios.

"The energy, influence, and potential represented by China cannot be ignored and should be seen as offering opportunities for fresh interchanges and shared endeavors," McFarlane said.

"We want to offer exchange programs that prepare our students for the new internationalism of the future. We want our students to be able to succeed on the world stage."

Finding inspiration in new experiences

The group represented a wide range of artistic practices, from painting and drawing to ceramics, metals, mixed media, printmaking, and textiles. Throughout the month-long program, they documented their experiences in digital media, drawings, paintings, and mixed media.

Adrian Poole of Newark, DE, who is pursuing an MFA in drawing, sought a "first-hand experience of China beyond Google, travel books, or postcard images.

"I ended up reinventing myself as an artist through many hours of sketching using a vellum sketch pad and about 200 markers I purchased while abroad," he said. "I've started a new body of work based on the images I took and the sketches I made."

Adrian plans to return to China. "With the significant amount of attention that the Chinese are paying towards contemporary art, I believe my work will find an audience there," he said.

Translating new influences into works of art

Watercolor scene of China, study by Samantha CarrellA student in CVPA's MFA in Artisanry program, Jessica Benzaquen wanted to experience the culture and art of a country "that is not totally influenced by the west." While in China, Jessica completed a series of abstract drawings based on Chinese calligraphy.

"I took a collection of photographs of details of the cities we visited and the effects time has on the urban architecture. Throughout the trip to China, I also gathered plastic, metal, and paper refuse that could be saved, and I plan to create a series of wearable jewelry out of the refuse."‌

Of her study abroad experience, Jessica said, "It's difficult to choose one specific thing that was the most memorable. I loved having the opportunity to go to Wuzhen, an old village with water canals. One evening at sunset, we went to the sunflower fields to take pictures near a temple. The light there was amazing and inspiring."

Design major Samantha Carell '12 also traveled with the group.

"The experience tweaked my vision and refined my artistic eye. I felt a certain freedom in China, and as a traveler, I became anonymous, not belonging to any one place, and without any attachments. My visual perspective became heightened, and I started to notice the simplest and most minute details. I began to see and feel more conscious of the world around me."

In the coming year, the students will continue to reflect on their experiences and incorporate them into their work, as they prepare for a local art show at the Star Store and a spring show at the Laconia Gallery in Boston's SoWa art district.

More information

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