Art Students Learn Chinese Painting And Philosophy

Ink Subjects Include The Symbolic Bamboo

July 25, 1991|By Jennifer Keats | Jennifer Keats,Contributing writer

Charlie Campbell thought he was signing up for a painting class -- instead, the 61-year-old Arnold resident learned the philosophy of thebamboo.

Instructor Marilyn Carter taught students in Campbell's Chinese ink painting class that the bamboo is a symbol of inner strength: It must bend with the storm to recover. In China, she said, scholars always grow bamboo.

At 55, the vivacious red-headed Carter, an artist-in-residence atMaryland Hall for the Creative Arts in Annapolis, has shared much ofher Eastern training with a dozen or so students enrolled in a classfor senior citizens sponsored by Anne Arundel Community College.

The eight-week course ended Monday when students gathered in a classroom on the Arnold campus to get away from the heat. Most of the classes were conducted in the backyard of a shady Annapolis residence, where students painted studies of the bamboo that grows there.

Sitting on cushions and chairs lining the wood steps near the bamboo garden, students painted their "impressions" of the bamboo onto rice paper,trying to make the boles, or stems, look jointed.

"The leaves look like a goose alighting on the water," said Campbell.

"(Carter) is giving us a bit of history and philosophy; it's not only painting, but an . . . overview," said student Marjorie Crain of Annapolis.

Crain has taken courses in watercolor for the past six years and has been painting all her life, although she finds the ink painting -- orsumi-e -- more challenging.

"There's much more reliance on brush stroke and composition. The color isn't going to come along and rescue you," said Crain, who's the Home Sharing coordinator for the county's Department of Aging.

"What you're doing is writing a picture with symbolic meaning," said Carter, who explained that bamboo paint brushes normally are used for calligraphy.

This is not a simple art form.

"The object is to create a 'qi,' or a spirit of life within the plant or flower," said Crain, who said she also practices at home.

The brush stroke is created entirely through muscle movements, but not in the fingers. Holding the bamboo paintbrush with the thumb and first two fingers, the artist must be flexible enough to manipulate and maneuver the wrist without losing control of the grip.

"It'svery simple, but that doesn't mean it's very easy," said Campbell, who also has been taking martial arts courses at the college for threeyears.

"Charlie is very good. He has spent years in Japan and understands the background," said Carter. She completed her post graduate studies in Asian art history in Tokyo.

Carter helped her students become more adept at the Chinese art by providing copies of "the basic four gentlemen" -- the wild orchid, the chrysanthemum, the plum blossom and the bamboo.

Students learned to use the figure of a triangle to create the composition and design of each of these classicalOriental concepts.

Carter explained that in the East, this coursewould be taught in silence so the students would learn to feel life as they look at it.

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