Essay

An Artist Born in Summer – Essay by Hardwell Million Kaniye

By Hardwell Million Kaniye 

Introduction

To think about China is to talk about the Chinese, especially at their nest. This summer vacation, I visited one village, Longtan, in Pingnan, Ningde City, Fujian Province. I was introduced to the village by a Chinese friend based in Shanghai. I heard about Longtan in spring. So, I visited it for a few days, and then returned to my school. That time, I observed that there were just a lot of things which I wouldn’t grab in those few days. However, I planned to spend my summer holiday in this beautiful village again. This time, I planned to stay for 15 days. I believe Longtan is a unique village which does not just attract but also amazes everyone because of the beautiful natural landscape which has been designed by people who really put their energy and emotions into it.

When I first visited the village, I got a snippet view of how a typical Chinese village looked like. But this second time, it was not to be like that again. I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the village. It is located between hills which form a curve and at the bottom flows a river which never runs dry. Longtan appears constructed on banks of the river. This reminded me of Suzhou. But the houses in Longtan are constructed either close or far from the banks. There is still a lot of space along the banks. There is also a diversity of vegetation that lines the river including fruit trees, vegetables and pathways, which make gardening easier. Passing through, one cannot help but marvel at the interdependence of water plants, ducks and different species of fish in the river. The water is very clean because the river has a lot of trees and grasses in and along the banks.

A view of Longtan Bridge

When I first entered the village, I saw big trees, a thick forest of fat, tall bamboos, farms and home gardens with a lot of crops and fruits, tall wooden houses, natural soils and roofs made of traditional Chinese tiles, with kids playing around. I arrived in an early afternoon and was welcomed by Xiao Yan, a friend and owner of “Bird’s Nest”; the lodge where I would stay for two weeks. Xiao helped me with language and led me to my room. The room smelled like timber and fresh soils. It was made up of cider wood – the room and its furniture. One side of the wall was smeared by natural soils of the village. In the evening, they invited me for dinner. We had rice, chicken, fried tofu, qingcai (a kind of vegetables) and tomato soup. It was such a treat to eat fresh Chinese food prepared by the villagers. Later, I retired to bed into the village’s quiet night.

What do Longtan people do?

 I had heard Fujian Province was famous for its tea. On my second day, I attested to this. When I visited Lin Zhengling at his office, he welcomed me with green tea in a tiny cup. This reminded me of the first time I had tea with Mr. Gu in Shanghai. Mr. Gu introduced me to different types of Chinese tea and how to drink it. He said one had to hold the small cup with three fingers around it and place the remaining two fingers under it. The second step was to smell the tea, have a positive feeling inside yourself and then drink. And he kept filling my cup. Marvelous! The taste of Chinese tea takes you on a journey of experiencing its bitterness with different flavors. You like it when it matches with the natural flavor present in a certain type of tea. No salt, no sugar and no sour taste. But it felt odd for me to drink tea without even a single crystal of sugar.

Meeting at Lin’s office

It is hard to introduce Mr. Lin in one word. First, he never made it to university. So how did he become a teacher? Mr. Lin used to be a businessman– he was selling line paintings. Once, when he was collecting some of the paintings, he realized he never really knew art. He felt like line painting wasn’t art at all, but simply labor-intensive products. In the process of finding himself, he got bankrupt four times and his friends thought he was completely finished. Mr. Lin never gave up. So, instead of continuing with the same business, he took time to think of the relationships between life, art and society. In the end, he managed to crack the core idea of painting, which is the self-study of relationship between art and people, art and social humanities, art and the new economy.

From a brief biography of his titled “He went bankrupt four times, ran to the poor mountain village, actually Jedi life!” Mr. Lin said he was trying to prove that art was the driving force of cultural creativity related to the individual’s personality awakening and creative sublimation, not spending the whole day painting. Based on the principle of optics on the physical writing, the first picture was successful. He began to paint his own portraits in different styles in the mirror, all with success. It is through this process that he creatively summed up his unique painting methodology. From this experience, Mr. Lin came to the conclusion that anyone who gave positive psychological guidance and scientific methods would draw a good painting. This, to him, also brings artistic potential to life and anyone can become a member of the human environment in which everyone is an artist. When I looked into Mr. Lin’s eyes, I could see a lot of untold stories.

In 2008, Mr. Lin thought of putting his crazy idea into practice. He decided to teach people to learn drawing at no cost. It was quite hard for him in the first days as he was questioned if people would want to learn from him. In order to break the ice, he sourced money from his own pocket and spent it to invite people to dine together in exchange for teaching others to learn drawing. The pictures drawn by his first learners were quite good. He could see from their faces that art stimulated people’s human feelings and creativity.

In 2015, Mr. Lin left Shanghai to the village in Fujian Province, Pingnan. He believed rural renewal education was fundamental. While in the village, he began teaching children to draw, and then adults. It is through the success of these children and adults in this village that made Mr. Lin fund construction of a music studio and primary school. In 2016, the Pingnan County Administration invited Lin Zhenghtou to Shuangxi Town to set up an Antai Art City Public Welfare Education Center. The studio is more than two thousand square meters. It became the ancient village’s public welfare art teaching the largest base. Mr. Lin’s unique teaching skills attracts people from all over the county – young and old, even various groups of people who had been marginalized by society such as people with disabilities, children with autism, dwarfs, paraplegics etc. to learn painting. In just a short period of time, the people’s life status changed. Their work amazed people who walked into the painting studio.

I was blown away by the testimonies of a lot of people who found peace, happiness, comfort, love, respect, recognition, the true meaning of being alive and earning a living, all because of art principles.

There was Shen Minghui, a person of short stature who once played a clown and posed for a living in a mall. Life was not meaningful to him that he once wanted to commit suicide. Now, in just less than two years, Shen owns painting studio. Not only can he make a living through selling paintings, but professional art institutions have organized a solo exhibition for him, and his work was selected for the 2017 Lyon Biennale in France.

Shen, immersed in his art of painting.

Then, there was Lan Yu. Before paraplegia, she had a wonderful marriage, but her husband abandoned her when she got sick. In that period, she lived lonely at home. Now she also owns studio in Shuangxi, living in a world of serenity and peace.

The other amazing testimony came from a Wang Zheng Feng. Within just a year of painting, she painted a stunning peach blossom that went viral on the internet. This famous painting won the Netizen’s Favorite. In January 2018, she was invited to the seven sets of ‘Great Power Farm Road’ in the central Government where she was interviewed and discussed rural art education. In the meantime, she farms and while making good use of free time to paint.

In Lin Zheng ling’s eyes, art is the beginning of new life of an independent body – a disclosure of life. For most people, there is no need to bear the sacred burden of art. He teaches people how to paint through their own expression in their inner world. Each painting is the individual’s powerful sense of their own real life. In his words, Mr. Lin taught painting as art simply by explaining the word ‘study’. He said the word ‘study’ does not mean learning because learning is by teaching but ‘study’ implies having to think very deep about yourself. I found that it is difficult to really get the meaning of ‘study’ if you have never taken a risk before. This was the first step of how I began learning about art.

So, what did I do in Longtan?

 On my second day, I was taken to the painting studio where I was given a brush, painting flame, and paraffin-like liquid. I took different colors of paint on a little piece of carton. I used brown, red, dark green, light green, gray, blue, white and yellow to paint a view of the main bridge on the picture flame. The experience was quite interesting. I was amazed by how a new color was born when mixing different colors. For example, to form sky blue, I mixed light blue and white colors. One of the challenging parts to paint was the color of a brick. I mixed more than four colors to come up with the brick color similar to a real one. This moment, I felt originality in the thought that ‘everyone is an artist’.

Hardwell Kaniye and his mentor, Lin.

 

It took me nine days to finish the painting at Longtan Gucun Art Education Center. Every single day, I had people visiting my painting and taking pictures with me. I have to say that none of them believed that this was my first piece of painting. Some visitors even wanted to buy the painting on the 7th day.  I found the painting not only beautiful, but also, I felt so connected to it and the mixture of the paint. I was very careful in the way I held the brush and paint in specific directions at different times. Mr. Lin said he had never seen a beautiful painting of a first learner in oil painting looking great as mine. He also published an article on his WeChat account, entitled “Witness the greatness of life’’. In that review, Mr. Lin said “For the first time and the first time in his life (my life), he (meaning me) created a very successful painting, wonderful painting, I believe that the first work of any great art in human history cannot exceed this black man’s!”

Hardwell’s painting

When I asked Mr. Lin, what challenges he encounters, he answered “there are no challenges at all”. He said he had stopped thinking about challenges because he found that people who worry about them always fail as they feel discouraged and have so many doubts. I learnt that it was important to see people with eyes of possibilities not as failures. So instead of asking “what is the problem?”, I learned to ask ‘‘what is the possibility?’’.

Lessons to share with the outside world?

When I asked Mr. Lin how a person could look at everything and be happy with it, he said, without hesitation, “artist!” There are a lot of powerful points of motivation which gave me strength from Mr. Lin. One of them was that “to die is not a bad thing, but to live without being happy or never meet the word ‘wonderful’ or having hope in life, then that is bad”. From these lessons, I have decided to help people see their world as wonderful – to help people look at each word and paint it “wonderful”.

The Rules of Drawing

With such an experience, I would be doing myself injustice if I didn’t share some rules of drawing that I learnt from the village. The following are the teachings that guided me in this journey of self-discovery:

  1. Choose yourself an object you want to draw. Don’t copy a photograph or another person’s work. Observe carefully, this is to establish an independent spirit and promote the ability of induction and humane feelings.
  2. Any attempt is helpful to the full person’s color sense; independent practice is the most effective way.
  3. Color should be painted on any area of the picture frame. No white space for the beginner.
  4. Complete each piece of work seriously; the attitude of sincere devotion is the first quality of creation. It is exactly this attitude that moves you and others first.
  5. You shall not modify another’s work, nor shall you require others to help you modify it. You may discuss it, but they may not do it on your behalf. Such work is an injury to your spirit and ability. Everyone needs to do his/her own painting independently and confidently. Independence and confidence are more important than the work itself.
  6. The form is subjective, the color subjective and the mood subjective, except for the principle of optics, which is that the light at the junction of light and shade is slightly brighter on the bright side. “It is objective that the form is subjective, the color is subjective and the emotion is subjective. The most valuable thing in a work is first to give full play to subjective feelings, and then to grasp the optical principle of ”weak partial light, which is to enrich the subjective feeling. The second is to grasp the optical principle of weak partial light” and “weak light”, the purpose of which is to enrich the “subjective feeling”.

The value of art lies in being able to enrich the life experience, promote the individuality independence and the personality perfection, and sublimate the humanistic feelings and creativity! And that’s what this is all about.

I have seen with my own eyes that people are truly happy in this village. They have clean roads, beautiful pathways, nice streets, clean water, healthy pets, beautiful diverse gardens, and visitors never stop coming! Visitors come and stay for a while. They also welcome new graduates to learn art, volunteer in local schools and perform other social work. The village has a community of talented people such as chefs, musicians, designers, drivers, mechanics, social workers, agronomists, builders, carpenters, artists etc. Painting is a basis to open many new opportunities, people learn how to find themselves and believe that they can do anything. People begin to think of doing other projects such as music, photography and film, small businesses etc. So, I believe that we all have a choice of how we want to live our lives. Longtan village is a great example of the brighter side.


Hardwell Million Kaniye, a Malawian writer, is an undergraduate currently studying Business Administration at Zhejiang Normal University, China. Before going to China for studies, he served as a Project Officer for Community Agriculture at World Renew in Dedza, Malawi and Lichinga, Mozambique. He also previously worked as a Community Outreach/Educational Officer at Lilongwe Wildlife Trust in Lilongwe, Malawi.

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A Malawian online literary magazine that publishes poetry, fiction and nonfiction.

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