Article by Barbara Hatley, Professor Emeritus Asian Studies, University of Tasmania.
Exhibition openings at the Pejean Gallery of Contemporary Art, on George Street, are normally very interesting events. They introduce and celebrating the work of a particular artist while also providing attendees with the opportunity to view, in a rear area, the diverse works of the many others represented by the gallery. But the opening of the current exhibition Life is Pure by Qing Yang (Jane) on November 17 sounded particularly intriguing. Was the artist, clearly Chinese, a Launceston local? What was her background, how had she come to be here? And how did it happen that the exhibition was to be opened by Michael Ferguson, Tasmanian government MP, Minister for Health, Police and Emergency Services, Science and Technology? Was there some political significance in the event?
Michael Ferguson had come to the gallery during the afternoon to familiarise himself with the art works. They were paintings of Tasmanian landscapes, familiar scenes of Tamar wetlands, Penny Royal park, and Cataract Gorge, together with images of birds, flowers etc, delicately rendered in a blending of Chinese style with new elements. In his opening speech Mr Ferguson highlighted particular examples — blue wrens in ‘conversation’ around a sheaf of yellow grass, a vision of the rocks at Maria Island with the little holes worn by the waves woven out of silken thread. He then went on to say how Jane’s love of the Tasmanian landscape and the distinctive and beautiful and way she depicted it enriched awareness and appreciation of their environment for viewers, as an artistic ‘gift’ to local people. Audience members applauded enthusiastically, endorsing his views.
Walking around, looking at the paintings, I noticed a set entitled ‘Village Life’ — Village Life I, Village Life II etc. There were townscapes and a single house, all with a Launceston/Tasmanian feel, but also one,Village Life IV, depicting buildings right on the edge of a river. Nowhere in Launceston looked quite like that. Could the reference be to a site in China, a comparable ‘village’ far away? Yet the buildings seemed familiar…. I went to find out, joining a group talking with the artist, diminutive and ‘cool’ in a black hat. Jane’s husband, Yue Dong (Donald) responded to my question, Jane herself preferring Donald or her son Andrew, both very fluent in English, to speak for her in such situations. He explained that the setting of the painting was Deloraine. Ah, yes, Deloraine, with church steeple and other buildings, envisioned differently, the familiar made unfamiliar.
Mention of Deloraine resonated intriguingly for me with the previous exhibition opening I’d attended at the Gallery Pejean, by Deloraine-based artist Keith Lane. His work showed human bodies inscribed with tattoo-like designs, some of them clearly Chinese in style. Keith explained that when he first came to Australia from the UK, settling in Sydney, many of the artists he met were Chinese. Connecting with them, influenced by their work, he had had the opportunity to exhibit his work in China. Chinese connections with Australia flowing in and out in the art world.
Talking with Donald I also learnt the background of Jane and her family, Jane and Donald met as art students in Shanghai; Jane went on to become a professional artist, exhibiting widely, while Donald moved into computer-generated design. Both lectured in their respective fields at university in Shanghai. Six years ago Donald came to Brisbane to study the use of virtual technology in the location and representation of sites of ancient civilisations. After 2 years he got job as a multi-media designer in Tasmania, which people said was a great place for artists with its beautiful landscapes and lively artistic activity. Jane and Andrew came to join him. Jane has established herself in Launceston, selling works, creating a large mural at the Seventh Day Adventist Church, connecting with the Gallery Pejean, holding her first exhibition there. Andrew has been studying at Launceston Grammar and will do year 12 next year. The family is very grateful for the opportunities of their life in Australia.
In the context of current fears about the growing power of China and its dominance in the Asia-Pacific region, along with concerns about the number of migrants coming to Australia and talk of the need to restrict their number, the occasion of Qing Yang (Jane)’s exhibition and the factors involved there might be said to take on added significance. Not, of course, by negating or countering these political and economic concerns, rather as another side of the story. As a celebration of Chinese-Australian relations in the form of unique art works, enriching appreciation of the natural beauty of Tasmania, facilitated by a gallery committed to supporting and promoting local artists, eloquently described and endorsed by a local political leader - whatever other politicos might be saying about related issues elsewhere.
Qing Yang (Jane)’s exhibition Life is Pure is showing at the Gallery Pejean 57 George Street until 8 December.