Chinese brush painting with Barbara Stumph

Barbara's fan painting of a Chinese bird and roses in traditional Gong Bi style

We kicked off the new year with Barbara Stumph, our guest artist for our January meeting. Barbara shared her work with Chinese brush painting.

First she summarized Chinese art history, along with information from renowned painter and writer, Mai Mai Sze. She discussed the symbolism of the lotus flower, which leads us to realize we can all overcome adversity. She also explained why classical ink painters of China create such gorgeous calligraphy, as they believe handwriting is a reflection of high moral character. She quoted “a Chinese painting must be read.”

The subjects of Chinese brush paintings usually convey the season. Bamboo for winter, lotus for summer, chrysanthemum for fall, and plum blossoms for spring. The signature is often a poem that reveals the mood of the artist, the location depicted, a poetic reference to a classic piece of literature, or maybe a reference to an admired artist. The seal is another art form to decorate the painting.

Barbara said that artists like to play with opposites in this art form, such as male/female, light/dark, dense/sparse, front/back, or the yin/yang symbol. The result is to create a sense of harmony in the composition if all of these forces are in balance. White space in Chinese ink gives the painting space to breathe and the viewer a chance to use his or her imagination.

Plum Blossoms for Courage in Spring

Barbara decided to study Chinese ink herself in the 1970s, instead of taking visitors on docent tours of the Asian Art Collection in San Francisco, because she loves the smell of the handmade ink, the feel of the brush, the absorbent rice paper, and the challenge of learning to find The Way (Tao) in her own art. She is learning how to focus her inner spirit in her work so she is not merely copying a master, but developing her own style.

Single Lotus

Barbara studied Intensive Mandarin and Related Studies at the East West Center in 1965-66 at the University of Hawaii. She just returned from a month of all-day classes in Landscape, Calligraphy, Figures, and Bird/Flower painting lessons at the Hang Zhou Art Academy at West Lake, an hour south of Shanghai.