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Art Notes: At the Hood: Natural Beauty, Political Danger

  • Fan Tchunpi, White Mountain Landscape, about 1960, oil on canvas. Gift of Meng Chi Tsen, Chunglu Tsen, and Wen-ti Tsen, the artist’s sons; 2012.84. (Courtesy Hood Museum of Art)

    Fan Tchunpi, White Mountain Landscape, about 1960, oil on canvas. Gift of Meng Chi Tsen, Chunglu Tsen, and Wen-ti Tsen, the artist’s sons; 2012.84. (Courtesy Hood Museum of Art)

  • Fan Tchunpi, Blind Beggar with Child, 1936, watercolor and sumi ink over pencil on thin offwhite Chinese paper. Collection of the artist’s family. (Courtesy Hood Museum of Art)

    Fan Tchunpi, Blind Beggar with Child, 1936, watercolor and sumi ink over pencil on thin offwhite Chinese paper. Collection of the artist’s family. (Courtesy Hood Museum of Art)

  • Fan Tchunpi, Self-Portrait, 1937, oil on canvas. Collection of the artist’s family (Courtesy Hood Museum of Art)

    Fan Tchunpi, Self-Portrait, 1937, oil on canvas. Collection of the artist’s family (Courtesy Hood Museum of Art)

  • Fan Tchunpi, White Mountain Landscape, about 1960, oil on canvas. Gift of Meng Chi Tsen, Chunglu Tsen, and Wen-ti Tsen, the artist’s sons; 2012.84. (Courtesy Hood Museum of Art)
  • Fan Tchunpi, Blind Beggar with Child, 1936, watercolor and sumi ink over pencil on thin offwhite Chinese paper. Collection of the artist’s family. (Courtesy Hood Museum of Art)
  • Fan Tchunpi, Self-Portrait, 1937, oil on canvas. Collection of the artist’s family (Courtesy Hood Museum of Art)

Tucked away in the Hood Museum of Art’s teaching gallery is a compact but wonderful show of paintings by Fan Tchunpi, a Chinese artist who was forced into exile by her country’s seismic political upheaval.

The politics is at most an undercurrent in the exhibition, which is titled “Between Tradition and Modernity: The Art of Fan Tchunpi.” Rather, what we see is the work of an exceptionally talented painter on the hunt for an idiom that bridges her origins in early 20th-century China and her education in 1920s Paris, home of the Lost Generation.

The first painting in the show is a portrait that reveals much about who Fan Tchunpi was at the time. In 1929, she painted a portrait of Wenxin Jingwei, the youngest daughter of Wang Jingwei, a political leader who struggled with Chiang Kai-shek for control of the Kuomintang during China’s Republican years, 1911 to 1939. Wang Jingwei later became the head of the puppet government during Japan’s World War II occupation of China. His name in China is the rough equivalent of “Benedict Arnold” in the United States.

Tchunpi’s work owes much to the Impressionist and Modernist European painters. In a 1937 self-portrait she has dressed herself in black, her formal dress rendered in thick glossy brush strokes, the paint a tactile presence. If her clothing suggests mourning, her expression does not. She looks confidently at the viewer, like someone who can take on whatever life throws at her. Her resolve was tested not long after.

In 1939, her husband of 13 years was killed and she was wounded in an assassination attempt on Wang Jingwei. She spent a month in the hospital and emerged as a single mother of three young boys. From a well-to-do family that became increasingly anti-Communist, she regularly spent time outside China, studying and painting in Europe. But in 1949 she was forced into exile, first in Paris, then in 1957 to Brookline, Mass., to live with her eldest son.

She made some of her finest paintings in New England. The Marshes Have Many Fragrant Grasses , from 1960, takes its title from a fifth-century Chinese poem. The female figure in the painting holds out lotus blossoms, a symbol of beauty and the purity of love in Chinese art. Curators Michael Taylor, the Hood’s director, and Xinyue Guo, a Dartmouth College senior, excerpted the poem:

I wade into the river to pick a lotus flower and find many fragrant grasses growing in the marshes. If I do pick the flower, whom would I give it to — as the one in my thoughts is far, far, away? I look around for my home; I see only a long road in front of me. For though our hearts are one, our bodies are far apart, and I will end my days with Sorrow as my sole companion.

The figure in the painting looks out at the viewer, but appears to offer the lotus blossoms to someone just outside the frame of the painting, a person in her world who has departed.

Fan Tchunpi also painted in the European landscape tradition, working quickly en pleine air . During her time in New England, she packed up her paints and drove around in a VW bus. One of the fruits of this labor offers a great treat to the Hood’s habitues. White Mountain Landscape , also from 1960, is a traditional horizontal frame, but the massed forms of trees in the middle of the composition lend it some of the vertical massing characteristic of Chinese landscape painting. The mountains rise above the mist. The picture plane is compressed, flattened.

This painting now belongs to the Hood, a gift of the artist’s three sons. After I spent some time with it on Tuesday, I went downstairs and looked at the traditional 19th-century European views of the White Mountains, particularly the French painter Regis Francois Gignoux’s New Hampshire (White Mountain Landscape) , from around 1864. Gignoux takes the romantic, Hudson River School approach to the American landscape, rendering the majesty and immensity of nature.

Fan Tchunpi’s painting is more deeply personal, a landscape drained of color, taken in with a level gaze and imbued with personal emotions, the darkness of her loss.

“Between Tradition and Modernity: The Art of Fan Tchunpi” is on view at Dartmouth’s Hood Museum of Art through Dec. 8.

Also at the Hood, photographers Virginia Beahan and Brian Miller, curators of the museum’s exhibition of “transgressive photography,” will give a gallery talk on Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. titled “Persistent Beauty: Exploring the Boundaries of Taste and Acceptability in Contemporary Photography.” A reception will follow.

∎ AVA Gallery and Art Center in Lebanon continues its free film series, “Focus on Film — As Art, On Art” with a screening of Beauty Is Embarrassing, a feature-length film about Tennessee-born artist Wayne White, this evening at 7.

Openings and Receptions

The Main Street Museum has an opening reception Friday evening at 8 for “Written in Stone: Voices of the GLBTQ Community,” an exhibition of works that ask and answer the questions, “Who are you and how do you express yourself within your community?” There’s a suggested donation of $10, but no one is ever turned away for lack of funds. The group show includes work in a wide range of media and styles. On Oct. 19, the museum will host a Queer Prom, where only those in drag will be admitted, in conjunction with the show.

∎ AVA Gallery and Art Center in Lebanon opens two shows on consecutive days, starting this evening, 5 to 7, with “Form and Pattern,” an exhibition of work by Linda Roesch to benefit AVA. Friday evening, “AVA Selections: Work by Twenty Artists” opens with a reception from 5 to 7.

∎ BigTown Gallery in Rochester, Vt., opened “Aviary,” a group show of art about birds that features several artists with Upper Valley ties, including Virginia Beahan, Varujan Boghosian, Gail Boyajian and Bhakti Ziek. A reception is planned for Oct. 19, 5 to 7 p.m., and master birdcarver Floyd Scholz, of Hancock, Vt., will give a talk about his more than four decades of work. Seating for the talk is free, but limited. Call 802-767-9670 to reserve a place.

∎ Woodstock’s ArtisTree Gallery hosts “Local Color,” its fourth annual fall group show, through Oct. 26.

Last Chance

The Woodstock Gallery shows recent 12-by-12-inch acrylic paintings by Irma Cerese through Friday .

Ongoing

Two Rivers Printmaking Studio in White River Junction is hosting a silent auction exhibition. Auction bidding concludes with a party on Oct. 19, 6-8.

∎ Scavenger Gallery in White River Junction shows sculpture and woodware by Ria Blaas and jewelry and sculpture by gallery owner Stacy Hopkins.

∎ Dartmouth’s Hood Museum of Art hosts “The Vollard Suite” and “Cubism and Its Legacy” through Dec. 20. Also at the Hood: “Shadowplay: Transgressive Photography from the Hood Musem of Art,” an exhibition organized by Dartmouth studio art professors Virginia Beahan and Brian Miller, and “Evolving Perspectives: Highlights from the African Art Collection at the Hood Museum of Art.”

∎ e_SDLqPoints of View: Seven Portrait Artists” is on view in Randolph’s Chandler Gallery. The show traces the development of seven Central Vermont artists who work each week from the same model. Agathe McQueston, Lark Upson, Sande French-Stockwell, Judith Beckett, Liesi Hebert, Marcia Hammond and Joan Feierabend have been meeting weekly in Feierabend’s Tunbridge studio to share the expense of paying a model. Through Nov. 10.

∎ Ledyard Gallery in Hanover’s Howe Library shows photographs of library patrons with their favorite books. The photographs were taken by Vershire photographer John Douglas. The “My Favorite Book” project was funded by The Sunup Foundation in memory of long-time Howe volunteer Joy Lange Boardman.

Colby-Sawyer College in New London shows recent work by the college’s fine arts faculty in the school’s Marian Graves Mugar Art Gallery. Artists in the show include Loretta S.W. Barnett, Lucy Covello-Mink, David Ernster, Nicholas Gaffney, Douglas Harp, Jon Keenan, Mary Mead, Julie Puttgen, Hilary Walrod and Bert Yarborough.

∎ “From the Mountains to the Sea: Plants, Trees, and Shrubs of New England,” the first traveling exhibition of The New England Society of Botanical Artists, is on view at the Montshire Museum of Science in Norwich. The show features portraits of more than 60 plants and is designed to promote public appreciation of botanical art and the diversity and beauty of plants in our own backyards.

The Jaffe-Friede Gallery in Dartmouth’s Hopkins Center hosts “Attention,” a series of five print projects by the Philadelpha artist Daniel Heyman. Heyman, a 1985 Dartmouth graduate, has focused his attention on the victims of abuse in Iraq’s notorious Abu Ghraib prison during the American occupation.

Aidron Duckworth Art Museum in Meriden exhibits mixed media work by Alton, N.H., artist Amparo Carvajal-Hufschmid. Also at the museum: “Interiority,” large works on canvas from 1979-1981 by Aidron Duckworth and an outdoor exhibition of sculpture by Fitzhugh Karol, an Orford native now living in Brooklyn, N.Y., which will remain on view into the fall.

∎ Zollikofer Gallery, in White River Junction’s Hotel Coolidge, hosts “Ordinary Beauty,” photographs by Carla Kimball. A reception is planned for Nov. 1, 5 to 7 p.m.

∎ “Field of the Stars: A Pilgrim Life on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela,” an exhibition that documents the recent walks by Kimball Union Academy students and staff and Upper Valley residents who have walked the pilgrimage route across northern Spain, is on view in KUA’s Taylor Gallery.

∎ Fall art shows at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center include mixed media from Long River Studios in Lyme; colored pencil drawings by Corrina Thurston; pen and ink and watercolors by Lone Mountain Artists; photographs by C.E. Morse; and pen and inks and watercolors by Carole-Anne Centre.

∎ “Landscape Reveries,” acrylic paintings that explore the elements of earth, air, fire and especially water, by Georgina Forbes, is on view in Norwich Public Library.

Springfield, Vt., native Jamie Townsend is the featured artist at Sculpturefest, the annual exhibition at the Woodstock home of Charlet and Peter Davenport and the nearby King Farm. Sculpturefest adds a third venue this year with a small exhibition of sculpture at the Woodstock History Center. Directions to the Sculpturefest sites are available at www.sculpturefest.org.

∎ Tunbridge Library hosts an exhibition of photographs by Tunbridge native Emily Ferro.

∎ Giovanna Lepore shows “New Small Works,” recent oil and watercolor paintings at Galleria Giovanna Fine Art in Canaan. Sales benefit the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests. The gallery is located at 313 River Road, Canaan. For more info visit giovannalepore.com.

Art Notes appears in the “Valley News” on Thursday. Send email to artnotes@vnews.com.