Qin Bailan. • Courtesy Photo
Qin Bailan. • Courtesy Photo

In the next two weeks, one of “China’s 10 Major Arts Masters” will be in Seattle to present her exhibit of vibrant silk paintings and speak about her life and passion for art.

At noon on February 22 world-famous Chinese artist Qin Bailan will be visiting the University of Washington (UW) Tower to talk about her art, life, and career. She will create sketches onsite, which will be offered to those who attend.

Behind Qin’s beautiful artwork lies an interesting story and journey of overcoming obstacles.

When she was 18-years-old, she fell ill and became paralyzed from the waist down. Still she went on to produce thousands of pieces of art over the next 40 years, and her work has been exhibited in more than 50 countries.

“Ms. Qin is a physically challenged artist and I think her life story provides a very good example for people like her,” said Confucius Institute of the State of Washington Chinese director Jun Zhou.

The Confucius Institute, which strives to expand educational connections between Washington and China, is orchestrating the event and bringing Qin to Seattle. The Whole U, a UW program designed to promote community health, interests, and wellness, is partnering with the institute to promote the event among the UW community.

Qin’s artwork is a traditional style of Chinese painting called gongbi, which uses silk, a Chinese writing brush, and natural pigments from plants and minerals. This is a realistic style painting technique that pays close attention to detail.

Puget Sound artist Kathy Thurston said the art form is nearly 2000 years old and started in the Hidden City during the Han Dynasty. Primarily the wealthy and artists hired by the royal family produced gongbi art. Art masters handed down their designs and technique to their students, who were expected to copy their exact style if they wanted to be successful.

Thurston appreciates China’s strong emphasis on the arts, especially visual art. First learning of the gongbi tradition during a cultural exchange trip to China in 2007, Thurston said this Chinese art form still isn’t common in Seattle. However, she said she believes that increasing knowledge about the technique will lead to a greater connection between American and Chinese cultures.

“Americans have a misinterpretation that Chinese means cheap imported, junk,” Thurston said. “ I think what they want us to know about them is that they have beautiful artwork and a beautiful culture.”

Qin’s paintings typically consist of colorful depictions of historical Chinese women and children. Through her studies in Chinese mythology and history, Qin brings her scenes to life with backgrounds ranging from bamboo forests, cherry blossoms, and snowy landscapes; lifelike figures; and traditional Chinese calligraphy.

“She is kind of a feminist painter in the western sense,” Zhou said.

Qin was a representative of the 4th United Nations World Conference on Women in Beijing where she showed her techniques to people from all over the world. She is also a member of the Chinese People’s Consultative Conference and vice chairman of the Liaoning Railway Cultural Union.

While Qin will only attend at the exhibit for one afternoon, on February 22, her silk paintings will remain on the UW Tower’s Kidz Art Wall through February 28.

Although the walls have displayed many different types of art, UW Tower art committee member Lloyd Claassen said Qin’s art will be the first of its kind, and he said he is eager to meet the artist and for the cross-cultural experience.

Whole U assistant director Lauren Updyke hopes the event will bring new faces, create more unique participation, and bolster an interest in Chinese art.

Zhou is also excited for the event.

“Even for a native Chinese, I myself have very few opportunities to meet an artist and especially an artist so recognized,” he said.

The event is free and open to the public; refreshments will be provided. Register at www.washington.edu/wholeu/2016/02/04/february-festivities-from-diverse-communities-at-uw/.

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