A Fresh View of Chinese History

When thinking of Asian art, one is usually overcome with images of priceless and colorful ceramic pieces, elaborately painted, with painstaking attention to detail.
This perception, however, represents only a small fraction of Asian art. It also ignores more contemporary mediums of artistic expression.
Combining ancient subject matter with modern style, artist Steve Wang’s exhibit, Ancient Impression New Expression had a debut on the walls of UCI’s Center Hall Gallery on the 15th and was followed by a ‘meet the artist’ reception on the 16th.
The reception, which ran from 7 to 9 p.m., afforded students and faculty the opportunity to gather, observe and discuss the works with Wang himself.
As an active plein air painter, Steve Wang challenged himself with this exhibition’s works by using a mixed medium to express his exploration of the history and culture of ancient China.
‘I do plein air paintings, but these works are not plein air,’ Wang said.
An architect-turned-artist, Wang’s creations are typically done in oil, watercolor and mixed media, with the California coast, ethnic figures and still life serving as the primary subject matter for most of his paintings.
The Ancient Impression/New Expression series, which has been in development since 1997, presents a unique interpretation of the rubbings of ancient stone bas-reliefs.
‘The stone rubbing technique used in these reliefs was usually done using rice paper and appeared in black and white, but I wanted to add color,’ Wang said.
Much like the paintings of impressionist artists, Wang’s works are deceptively complex. While simple in appearance from afar, the variety of materials used along with the limited yet rich color palette create a layered effect that is best appreciated upon close observation.
‘Any paintable material was used in these works. I experimented to create the final product,’ Wang said.
The paintings range extensively in size. Small pieces such as ‘Zen,’ which depicts a single Chinese character atop a shimmering gold background, are counterbalanced by massive multi-panel productions such as ‘Life’ and ‘Times,’ which illustrates scenes commonly found on relief-style carvings or artwork completed using the ancient stone rubbing technique.
Equally as wide as the paintings’ range in sizes were the various responses shared by those viewing them.
‘I think the exhibit is very nice. It’s an interesting representation of Chinese culture,’ said Shwetha Hareesh, a second-year psychology and social behavior major.
Others, however, were not as impressed by Wang’s modern version of ancient China.
‘It looks very authentic, but with the majority of UCI’s student population being Asian, I think many will pass it off as something they have seen before,’ said Vanessa Taw, a second-year psychology major.
Wang offered a very different view on the impact of his work on the greater UCI community.
‘It could be beneficial and eye opening for UCI students to see this exhibit. I don’t think anyone has seen works quite like this,’ Wang said.
Blending past, present, East and West both seamlessly and simultaneously, Wang has created a fascinating hybrid artistic style that is unique and pleasing to both the casual and critical eye.
Students are encouraged to stop and view these works on their next stroll through the Student and Conference Center. A temporary exhibition, Ancient Impression/Modern Expression finishes its run at UCI on March 30.
This exhibit will provide students with an opportunity to view one of the many alternative forms of art that UC Irvine attempts to expose them to.