Made in China
I visited China in 1993, landing in Guilin from Hong Kong. I was disappointed by the "city feel" of Guilin yet inspired by that same industrial/city atmosphere to paint a gas pump. I asked around and quickly settled on heading south to Yangshuo. Yangshuo at the time was more ideally the environment I came to China for, so I settled in a hotel for a few weeks and started exploring around what was then a beautiful and cozy little town in a pleasant rural river valley region. It was much colder than I had considered, so I bought a military surplus coat and cap in Guilin as they were the most effective looking clothes to wear while painting plein-air in the cold damp. Early on, it rained cold for a few days, so I holed up in my poorly heated room in Yangshuo and painted a self portrait in my new military clothes. When it cleared several days later, I took a few trips up the Li River a good several kilometers by boat to scout out a place to paint and was dropped off a few days later and started painting a scene of the river and the beautiful camel back mountains. Every day as I walked to and from the river on my painting journey, I saw an old man as old as ever I'd seen, convincingly so, and his eyes were blue from age, it seemed, yet he appeared to see everything. I swear his eyes were clear as day and blue as fresh river water, and he saw everything and everyone. Each time I saw him, he was sitting on a crate in front of his little one room home with its dark dirt floor, or he was standing inside in the dark, looking out. The first time I saw him we made eye contact and he offered me a tangerine and would not accept money. I bought a few tangerines from him every day the rest of my stay. While painting along the river in a rather isolated place with no building or telephone or electric line in sight, no sounds but the trickles and splashes along the shore of the rocky beach upon where I sat painting, two young men emerged quietly and surprisingly from the bamboo forest behind me. They appraoched, stood back at a distance and smiled as they watched me paint a bit. Just after I departed alone with the the captain of the gas powered canoe that morning, I realized I had forgotten to get beer for the day. When I took a break from painting, one of these young men motioned to my sketch book. He deftly whipped out a quick study of a flowing karate character. I drew a beer, I believe it was Tsing Tao and said "tsing tao" out loud and shrugged my shoulders. After paying for the boat ride up the river that morning, I had only the 100 Yuan which I planned to change when I bought the beer that I forgot that morning. After a bit of back and forth drawing and gestures and smiles, I pulled out my 100 Yuan and they agreed to take it and bring back two big bottles of beer within less than an hour or so. After an hour and a half, I thought I would never see them, two well desired cold beers, nor my 100 Yuan. Another hour later or so, and here they came smiling as two kids with candy. They would not accept a beer, a sip, a tip, no money, not my tangerines. They wanted and I gave them a few nice drawing pens and pencils, They stayed a bit longer and left as quietly and quickly as they had first appeared. I finished the painting of the river, and now was still desperately in search of a bull dozer. Where earth was being moved in this part of China, it was all by the hands of hard working farmers and the brute power of the few visible water buffalo and ox. In all my travels and in each country that I visit, I paint a triptych of a bull dozer, a gas pump, and a landscape. This is my Travel Series. But here in China, I had not seen one bulldozer or backhoe or any such machine. I had given up with disappointment that I could not find a bulldozer to paint and boarded the bus to Guilin. This is always the ride of contemplating the experience of travel and adventure to this place with these people and experiencing the last views of the landscape and the people flashing by. Wow! Suddenly there it was as the bus bumped along to the airport, a beautiful old red bulldozer at work moving big piles of red earth. I couldn't believe that in these few weeks this beautiful red dozer was just several kilometers from Yangshuo. When I arrived at the airport I emotionally pleaded to change my unchangeable return ticket. After a good half hour or so, I was allowed to change my ticket for another week at no charge. I returned to the hotel and planned for painting the red bull dozer. The next day I took a motorcycle taxi in the cold drizzle to the dozer. It was in fact moving and mixing red clay and charcoal at a brick factory. I can hardly describe how physical the work appeared, how deep the wear and tear and exhaustion on the workers hung heavy in their very soul. I started painting as the dozer crawled as heavy as the men, back and forth, back and forth, heavy. I struggle for a few hours, wiped my canvas clean, and left. I returned the next day, still cold but clear, and painted my Red China Bulldozer. These are the four images I am submitting to you with this email. I will send more images soon.
Xie xie, and Cheers,
Copyright Dion Laurent 1993-2006. All rights reserved.