Towson sculptor is a first in China

July 04, 1994|By Robert Benjamin | Robert Benjamin,Beijing Bureau Correspondent

Beijing -- When Jim Paulsen set out to create an outdoor sculpture for China's capital, his first design reflected his abstract vision "of the movements through space of Chinese calligraphy."

More than a year later, plans for the sculpture have become something of a collaboration between Mr. Paulsen, a Towson State University sculptor, and a Chinese artist, Zhao Chengmin.

And Mr. Paulsen's original notion of the piece -- claimed to be the first outdoor sculpture by an American in China -- is not so recognizable in its latest design. The plans for the sculpture now reflect not Chinese characters, but English-language letters -- F, P and U -- for "Friendship, Peace and Unity."

The slogan is a ubiquitous one here and was particularly employed in the failed campaign last year by Beijing to gain the right to hold the 2000 Olympics.

The idea to use the friendship slogan and the English-language letters came from the Dunhuang Art Co. Ltd., the Beijing consultant that first asked Mr. Paulsen to do the sculpture and that later brought Mr. Zhao into the project.

Cao Cun Jin, Dunhuang's chairwoman, said the Chinese firm particularly wanted to use an American sculptor and opted for a design based on English letters to reflect Beijing's rapid development.

"I very much like the American characteristics of frankness, warmth and openness," she said.

Mr. Paulsen, 50, who visited here in May to finish the sculpture's design and lecture at China's Central Art Academy, seems to be taking the changes in stride -- even as he is still trying to shape the outcome.

"I'm learning that in China, abstract form isn't just abstract form," he says. "Shapes don't exist here without some sort of meaning."

The American sculptor was asked to design the sculpture because a Chinese sculptor, Hou Rong, who's been working at Towson State, recommended him to the Dunhuang company.

Mr. Paulsen says his work includes two large outdoor sculptures of timber and steel in England and a "fantasy creature" in front of the General Wolfe Elementary School in South Baltimore.

According to current plans, "Friendship, Peace and Unity" will rise about 22 feet high from the center of a fountain beside a newly opened Hilton Hotel and an adjacent Oriental Arts Center on Beijing's east side. Mr. Paulsen and Ms. Gao say it will be built within six months.

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