Ambassador Geoff Raby poses for a picture next to Chinese painter Lin Chunyan's work on January 22, 2008. [Photo: CRIENGLISH.com by Yang Yang
Ambassadors seem to outsiders as a mysterious group of people who are not easy to get close to. They live in the ambassador's residence, travel with bodyguards and give speeches to the public. Others rarely truly get to know them as people. In today's program our reporter Yang Yang will introduce you to an easy-going ambassador who is also a big fan of Chinese contemporary art.
Dr. Geoff Raby has been the Australian Ambassador to China since February of 2007, but he became involved in Chinese contemporary art about twenty years ago.
"I remember going to my first Chinese exhibition held in Beijing in 1986. I was very taken by the new and contemporary art at that time. Much of it dealt with the alienation and isolation of the individual. The themes and execution were very reminiscent of a lot of western art."
Before becoming an ambassador, Dr. Raby had visited China many times since the late 1980s. At that time Chinese contemporary art was at a turning point. Artists were challenging convention and expressing themselves in completely new ways. What attracted Dr. Raby most was the creativity of the artists.
"I think more than anything is the sense of creative explosion that's happening here. There is an outburst of creativity. It's new, it's fresh and it's vibrant. It challenges a lot of conventions particularly in traditional Chinese art. It's a great break in tradition from traditional Chinese art."
Dr. Raby has many good friends who are top Chinese contemporary artists and most of them had lived in Australia for many years before coming back to China. We can see many works by these artists on the walls of the ambassador's current residence.
Lin Chunyan is one of the Chinese contemporary artists whom Dr. Raby shows great interest in. Dr. Raby has known Lin since 1986 when Lin was a struggling artist just beginning in China. During their twenty years of friendship, the ambassador has collected many of Lin's works from different stages.
"I have a couple of his paintings from the mid 80s. These early paintings when compared to his later works are crudely executed but full of imagination with a sense of bright promise. One of them, which is quite unique, is a self-portrait. I think that it is the only self-portrait that Lin has ever done."
In almost all of Lin's work, we see flying figures that create a great sense of lightness and illusion. This stems from Lin's central theme of the universal man. Ambassador Raby says what makes him excited is that he can see Australia interpreted through the eyes of a Chinese in Lin's work.
The ambassador showed me one piece by Lin hanging in his dining room. The painting depicts an Australian bush scene with a flying figure, but the figure's head is a flower arrangement.
"When you first look at it, the colors in particular strike you as being very Australian. If you look at it as an Australian you'll say 'Ah it's an Australian landscape!', but the more you look at it the more you realize it's not. The blue is too blue. The blue in Australia is washed out. It's bleached. The colors are too fulsome. In Australia on a bright sunny day like that, colors are bleached out, and not so well developed. So there is something else happening there. There is another eye. There is another perspective. I think this is the Chinese perspective—a foreign eye looking at an Australian landscape."
Dr. Raby, the expert in Chinese contemporary art, thinks that the value of this work will continue for a long time because the more you look at the painting, the more in-depth information you will get from it.
"Then if you look at it a little longer, it's got a tremendous depth and the figure that's flying through the air is brilliantly executed. It looks like he is flying out of the painting. There is so much depth in the feel of the painting. The perspective is so marvelous."
When I took a closer look at how the head of flowers was done, I found the texture of the paint is very thick and dense. Maybe that reveals one of the technical secrets of how Lin executes his joyful and uplifting work.
Another powerful narrative painter Ambassador Raby likes very much is Guan Wei who has earned a great international reputation. Guan Wei's narrative art often depicts the early discovery of Australia by Europeans, the clash between Europeans finding the mythical great southern land and the existing aboriginal occupiers of the land.
One of Guan's remarkable pieces is hung on the second floor of the ambassador's residence. There is a boat full of people struggling for life in the middle of the painting and many armed aborigines in the land around them.
Dr. Raby thinks Guan Wei's work is a reminder to Australians that they should be open-minded to immigrants to Australia and live harmoniously with them.
"It's reminding current Australians that Australia has always been a land of immigrants, of refugees and it's a reminder I think to be open hearted about Australia and about foreigners who come into the country and particularly who come to the country in stress."
Taking a closer look, I can easily find many traditional Chinese elements in this painting such as clouds, mountains and mythical creatures. That's quite unique and interesting.
Lin Chunyan and Guan Wei are just some representative painters who combine Chinese classical artistic traditions with modern contemporary settings. As a keen enthusiast of Chinese contemporary art, Ambassador Raby has witnessed its development for the past twenty years, not only in terms of painting but also in terms of architecture.
There are many great pieces of architecture newly built in China such as the "Bird's Nest" -- the 2008 Olympic Stadium -- and the National Aquatic Centre, also known as "the Water Cube."
Ambassador Raby concludes that the flourish of Chinese contemporary art is a result of China's globalization, thanks to China's open door policies that began in the late 1970s.
"These are symbols of China's emergence as a member of the global community. The extent of globalization has played out in China and will continue to play out and you know I think of them as wonderful symbols of China's open door policy."
Ambassador Raby is very humble and kind. His kindness and the smile on his face made me feel that he was just sharing his hobby and stories with a good old friend.
After a sip of coffee, the ambassador thought for a moment and then added that communication is very important and he would like to organize more cultural and artistic exchanges between the two countries in the future.
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