Academy Summer Residencies 2016: Beijing

Our third dispatch from Beijing comes from Tania Alvarez MFA 2017

Beijing: the food, the cheap art supplies, the wonderfully talented studios mates, CAFA, the architecture - all combined made for the perfect residency. This was the first of what I hope to be many residency experiences and one that I think will be impossible to forget.  It was also the first time I had been to China or Asia for that matter. I instantly fell in love with the challenge of being in a country where communication was near to impossible except for the six key phrases I am especially proud of learning:

1.     Hello: Nihao
2.     Thank You!: Xièxiè
3.     You’re welcome, Bié kèqì
4.     How Much?: Duōshǎo qián
5.     The ultimate key for eating without tears,  Not Spicy:      Bù là
6.     Tea: Chá. 

(I apologize in advance to all of my Chinese speaking readers for my terrible spelling and/or anything that is incorrect. Please blame it on Google.)

This is about as far as I got with learning Chinese but let me tell you, there is nothing more rewarding than being able to order your own cup of tea or bottle of beer: Píjiǔ.  Isaac was the one person on the residency who we eventually found out has a crazy ability to memorize Chinese words and phrases. When he found a new word we were typically subjected to being his audience for a day as he would repeat it a million times until it stuck in his head. He officially became the residency's designated navigator and communicator. One of my favorite things was his version of saying thank you and it usually was “Xièxiè man”. It always gave us a good laugh.

When we first arrived in Beijing I was immediately drawn to the texture of the city walls and the layers of history that were left embedded into them. I also couldn't help but notice the grayness of the sky, which was typically a sign of poor air quality, but it created an amazing cutout of geometry that I couldn't stop photographing.  To my surprise, Beijing was not bursting in highly saturated color as I had imagined. It was completely de-saturated with muted hues of off-white, rose and the occasional accent of red lights or lanterns.  I was completely in love and felt a deep connection between the palette of the city and the one I tend to be attracted to while painting.


I tried to translate the texture of the walls and the geometry of the city through paint and was finding it difficult to obtain the richness through the materials I was using.  I then found a new obsession that I don't think I will be able to live without after this trip.  Strangely enough it’s modeling paste. It might be the most amazing material I discovered during our residency aside from the $1.50 acrylic paints.  I have always looked at it in the art stores in NY but was distracted by the familiarity of other materials and never tried it.  I was also inspired to push the texture of my work more while watching Pedro (my studio mate at CAFA), who was working in very thick layers of acrylic and oil paints. The materials are so cheap in Beijing, which allowed for the most ultimate freedom to experiment and push our work in ways that we normally wouldn’t.  For Pedro and I, it was thickness of paint and and for Amina and Isaac I think it was the liberty to work large as they both bought enormous stretched linen that was incredibly cheap compared to the prices we are used to back in NYC.

In the last week of our residency we got to show our work at the Dayungtang Museum.  Emerging Dialogs: A Museum Take Over, featured the work of thirteen artists, including Amina, Isaac, Pedro and I, with the artists we shared spaces with at CAFA. We all worked together to hang the show and we ended up having a really strong exhibition that we were all really proud of.

I never thought I would be traveling to Asia and am beyond grateful for the opportunity this residency has provided me. I truly hope I will be able to return one day and explore more of the city and its amazing art scene again in the future.  This residency has enabled me to find a part of myself I don't think I knew was there and inspired me to challenge/free my approach to the work I am making now and hopefully will make this year at the academy.  Thank you New York Academy of Art and CAFA for such a wonderful experience!


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