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By Molly Siple
Jove Wang believes that where an artist was born and raised has a significant impact on his or her painting style. Indeed, only someone with an intimate knowledge of the Asian way of life could have painted Shanghai Street View, an image so alive you can almost hear the noise of the traffic.
Wang was born and raised in the town of Jilin in northeastern China, where
the soil is called “black earth.” He draws on memories of his hometown
and its chilly climate when he paints a canvas that is dark and filled with
cool, muted colors. “Personality is important, too,” he says. “You can try to invent a style for your work, but true personal style and uniqueness comes from within.” As a young man, he spent much of his time in the company
of adults rather than with friends his own age. Now, when he paints a portrait, Wang prefers a mature face, one with the mark of age, experience, values, and culture. One such portrait, Old Man, won an honorable mention award at this year’s Gold Medal Exhibition sponsored by the California Art Club.
Wang’s repu-tation as an artist is well established. In addition to portraits, he is equally adept at creating still lifes, landscapes, and street scenes. His style of painting combines precise rendering with a freedom of brush-work and inventive design more typical of abstract art. And he has clear ideas about which pictorial elements are most important for a successful painting. Thinking like an abstractionist, he puts composition at the top of the list. Next he concerns himself with color and value contrast as well as paint, line, and mass. Finally, Wang focuses on subject matter and mood.
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Of course, Wang’s considerable artistic training also shapes his work.
When he was very young, he studied with artist Gou Gang, who happened to work for his father. Gang told his student to draw everything that he could see, so Wang would bring his tutor drawings of eggs, chickens, bowls, plates, and family members. “No good! No good!” was Gang’s only response, Wang recalls with a smile.
In 1979, Wang went to the Jilin Academy, where he studied for three years.
In 1984, he was accepted into the Jiang Academy of Fine Arts in Shanghai, one of only seven students admitted at the time and the only new student from northern China. While he majored in commercial design, he also elected to take drawing and painting classes. At the academy, students learned the techniques of traditional Chinese art, but Western art was also part of the schooling. For decades, Chinese artists had traveled to Russia, where painting and sculpture were still being
taught according to the classical curriculum of the French art academies of the 19th century. Armed with this knowledge, these men returned to teach in China’s academies. Wang’s teachers at Jiang had studied with the greats of Russian realism at the Repin Institute in St. Petersburg. To this day, Wang especially appreciates Russian painting for “its strength and its reliance on neutrals and grays.”
He learned superb hand and brush control from studying calligraphy as a young man. The writing style requires that only the brush touch the paper, not the hand or the arm. Today Wang incorporates lyric, calligraphic brush strokes
into his paintings. When teaching a class, Wang calls this brushwork music. The strokes are a means of adding varied rhythm to a composition, giving the painting subtle interest. For Wang, a harmonious composition is the equivalent
of a resolved chord.
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Since his career is primarily about producing art, he likes to underplay his
role as an art teacher. Yet Wang is a highly successful instructor with a large and loyal following. He shares his knowledge with great generosity and shows a refreshing sweetness in his concern for the success of his students. In such an atmosphere, creativity blossoms.
When he is not painting, Wang listens to music or watches basketball. A Lakers fan, he has decided that, just as rhythm is one of the keys to the success of his paintings, the Lakers win because they move with rhythm. “It’s an artist’s job to figure out why something is successful, whatever it
is,” he says. “You can always learn by observing.”
His next goal in his development as an artist is to broaden and deepen his
experience of life. To that end, Wang is making a conscious effort to learn
about other cultures. For example, this inter-view was conducted over dinner at a Japanese restaurant, where the meal included giant clam and fish livers. “We eat this not for the taste, but the newness of the experience,” he said. For Wang, it is essential to enjoy life. “This [enjoyment] comes through in your painting,” he says.
After finishing his schooling, Wang worked for the Chinese government, designing exhibition pavilions for trade shows throughout Europe and South America. The job required travel, and soon Wang had a new goal—to be a fine artist who paints all over the world. He moved to California 12 years ago with only $40 in his pocket and one contact, a friend who ran a modest hotel on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. Wang moved in and applied for a job as a dishwasher at a nearby restaurant, but was turned down for lack of experience. In spite of the trials he faced, he kept going. “No matter how I was living, I kept my sights high,” he says. Wang made more friends and soon he was painting portraits, including one of Cardinal Roger Mahoney. He got involved in the Chinese-American art community, helping other artists as well. These days he finds time to lead painting trips to (continued on page 190) Mongolia and also paints on location to produce work for his galleries.
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Taking top awards has become almost routine for Wang. In 1998 he was awarded the best of show prize at the California Art Club’s annual Gold Medal Exhibition, and in 1999 he took best of show at the Oil Painters of America’s National Juried Exhibition. He won the grand prize at the 2000 Plein Air Tucson event and first place at the Cincinnati Art Club’s Viewpoint 2000 show.
At the 2001 Carmel Art Festival, he received the first place and artists’
choice awards. Wang keeps these honors in perspective. “Awards shouldn’t
be used as goals,” he says. “But they are useful for giving an artist
confidence.” This year, Wang opted not to enter competitions to focus instead on painting for various solo exhibits of his work at galleries. He’s also producing a monograph of his work, which will be available in November.
Despite his accomplishments, Wang remains humble. According to him, art has no destination—it is an unending exploration. He explains that artists
go through stages and always require new challenges, and he describes being an artist as “not easy, not relaxing, no stop, no end.” Wang feels that he will always be evolving as an artist, and that his daily life will continue to feed his artistic sensibilities.
Jove Wang is represented by Galerie Gabrie, Pasadena, CA; New Masters Gallery, Carmel, CA; and Wendt Gallery, Laguna Beach, CA.
Featured in October 2002