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Glen Allen's "Year of the Dragon" offers four different views of Chinese culture.

East Meets West


There is a Chinese proverb that states, "There are many paths to the top of the mountain, but the view is always the same." In the current exhibition, "The Year of the Dragon: Art Flowing from East to West," at the Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen, four artists clear their own path to the top and we, the viewer, are offered a delicious view of what they see.

Kit-Keung Kan paints large landscapes that focus on flowing, turgid water. "Niagara XII" is a four-panel panorama that appears stylistically Western in its use of color, realism and subject matter. On closer inspection, it is evident that traditional Chinese landscape methods are being employed — first, in his materials of Chinese ink on rice paper, and second, in his format and composition. The vertical panels suggest hanging scrolls and reiterate the precipitous grandeur of the great falls. Like famous Song Dynasty monumental landscape paintings, Kan offers a view that unfolds in three parts: Crisp details of rocks, water and foam establish a foreground that dissolves into the mist, steam and spray of the falls. This transition from fore- to background is sudden — a type of visual stacking that moves the eye upward as opposed to inward. At the top, the curve of the falls and nearby trees loom out of the mist in an energetic motion as if they were coming up for air.

Foon Sham's wood sculptures play nicely with Kan's paintings surrounding them. In both, nature — manifested in water and wood — is reinterpreted through the modern eye. Sham, a graduate of VCU, often divides his pieces, severing a tree stump, for example, and then rebuilding half of it with tiny, discrete blocks of processed lumber — a type of linking-logs method that torques upward in a towering swirling motion. The harmonious strain between natural and manipulated, whole and divided, and dark and light, evidenced in these works, reflects Taoist notions of unifying opposites and the energy that informs all matter in the universe.

In the center room, Hsin-His Chen's works on paper continue mystical concepts of the Tao. Almost completely monochromatic, her eerie drawings play with emptiness, varying dimensions, volume and time. Tiny compartments are clustered together on larger shapes — each with a different perspective. Together, they are incongruent in logical illusional terms. Chen's understanding of dimension and space, however, is intuitive. Why show only one stagnant perspective when you can reveal dozens of them?

The artist who most clearly expresses the experience of being both Chinese and American is Richmonder Erjun Zhao. Five of her eight oil paintings contain passages from famous Western masterpieces of art history — Botticelli's "La Primavera" and Velazquez's "Las Meninas," for example — but these images are juxtaposed with a portrait of the artist or another Asian woman. The tension between East and West, Chinese and American, is palpable. The woman literally pushes herself into the Western world, urging the viewer to regard her as not an object, but as an individual in the greater scheme of the cultural divide.

"The Year of the Dragon" is a beautifully orchestrated exhibition in the artists chosen, the works displayed, and the harmonious integration of various media. The art flows not only from East to West, but from one piece to another in a rhythm as timeless and sure as the Tao itself.

"The Year of the Dragon" was curated by Deborah McLeod, a Style art critic.

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