Pastel East and West: 1st China (Suzhou) Biennial International Pastel Art Exhibition, Part 1

A delegation of 10 international pastel artists representing the United States, France, Spain, and Singapore have just returned from the 1st China (Suzhou) Biennial International Pastel Art Exhibition and Symposium. The city of Suzhou, in the Jiangsu Province of Eastern China, hosted the inaugural event. The city, which is near Shanghai, is referred to as the Venice of the East due to its numerous canals. The classic gardens of the city are listed among the UNESCO World Heritage Sites and are popular tourist attractions. An affluent city, Suzhou hosts many schools and universities as well as numerous art museums and facilities devoted to the arts. As Pastel Journal editor Anne Hevener recently commented, “And now Suzhou will also be known for its support and celebration of pastel art!”


The United States pastel delegation meeting with Master Hang and his artist wife at his University classroom in Suzhou.

An International Delegation: I was extremely honored and humbled to be included among the10 invited artists. Representing the United States were fellow pastelists Jimmy Wright, Alan Flattmann, Jason Chang, and Liz Haywood-Sullivan (who could not attend but whose paintings were exhibited). Representing France was pastelist Gwenneth Barth-White who also represented the United States. Representing Spain were pastelists: José del Riego, Aurelio Rodríguez López and Vicente Romero. Isabelle V. Lim, from Hong Kong, represented Singapore and was very influential in organizing the event. The exhibition and pastel symposium also included 10 Chinese master pastel artists including: Hang Mingshi, Wang Xiangzhen, Wu Lieyong, Li Tieshu, Du Guohao, Li Xiaolin, Gu Gang, Shi Tao, Pang Maokun and Zhou Gang. The exhibition is on display at the Hang Mingshi Pastel Art Museum in Suzhou and runs from October 25th through November 24th. After that, most of the artwork will be transferred to a recently completed museum and remain on display through 2015.

Seeing (and Painting) the Sights: Upon arrival on October 18th, the invited artists began a week of planned activities. The waterways, stone bridges, towering ancient pagodas, meticulously laid out gardens, and beautifully costumed Chinese opera characters provided visual and creative inspiration for the three days devoted to plein air painting. Each artist was assigned to an art student from the local University as an assistant as well as translator. These young assistants were a delight to interact with and were so attentive throughout our time painting. So much bonding occurred during our brief time together that emotions ran high when it was time to say farewell. Presentations were also given on the various represented pastel societies. Alan Flattmann and I gave pastel painting demonstrations to a packed auditorium of university students, artists, and local dignitaries. The attentiveness and respect afforded us was very touching. Tours included: historic villages, local gardens, an overnight stay and boat trip on the magnificent West Lake area of Hangzhou which concluded with an outdoor performance of the world renowned “Impressions West Lake,” a performance that includes hundreds of performers appearing to walk and dance across the waters of the lake in ancient Chinese costumes. It was a performance and light show that can only be witnessed and not described.


One of the picturesque canal scenes of Suzhou at night.


United in Art: The renowned Chinese artist and teacher Master Hang Mingshi summed things up well in his opening statement in the exhibition catalog: “We’ve invited 20 pastel artists to exhibit together. Their creations bring us a feast for the eyes and set our sights beyond our eastern shore in developing the art of pastel. I ardently believe the international pastel exhibition will be staged every other year and the international art communities will build a strong supporting network with the Chinese artists. Together, we will strive to explore all possibilities and become united though our art.”

Alan Flattmann upon returning home shared these thoughts: “It was very encouraging to participate in the enthusiasm for pastel in China. All in our American delegation and the other foreign artists were treated to wonderful hospitality by the Chinese organizers. We had a great time and hope to go back again.”



Gathering at the leaning pagoda on Tiger Hill Park for a day of plein air painting.



The Spanish delegation getting ready for a day of painting at Tiger Hill Park.

In conclusion, I add: “What an amazing pastel adventure. It was filled with exotic sights, artistic interaction, and cultural exchanges that were at times very intriguing. It’s a big world and it is good to know that pastel is being appreciated across its vastness. “Thank you” goes to the organizers and people of China that opened their arms to invite the pastelists of the world to witness the richness of their culture and pastel heritage.”

In next week’s post, I will share observations on the exhibition and final pastel symposium.






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