Friendship through the ink: Interview with Stan Chan

Last month, Kiwese spoke to Stan Chan the Man, about growing up in Hong Kong, Chinese watercolour painting and returning inkLink Art Studio to its rightful space on Left Bank after an eight year hiatus.

Hey Stan! Tell us a bit about where you’re from? 

I was born in China, then we moved to Hong Kong when I was four. After 19 years, I moved to New Zealand when I was 23.

I grew up in Hong Kong when it was still a British colony. I went to a Catholic school St Francis Xavier’s College, at the same time as Bruce Lee! Though he was a few years older than me. It was 90% European and we learned everything in English. I loved The Beatles, rock n’ roll, The Beegees, but my true love was Chinese opera…

Wow, tell us about your interest in Chinese opera? 

Those days in Hong Kong, I was part of a big professional company for four or five years. I’m not a big star – I’m just a small potato! In the 60s and 70s it was considered only for oldies, but around 1997, Chinese Opera karaoke started to become trendy and a lot of DVDs and CDs started to come out. My friends started the Wellington Chinese Operatic Society Group and I joined for enjoyment. I like to play the old characters – I like the big moustaches!

Stan Chan in action! Image from Radio New Zealand.
Stan Chan in action! Image from Radio New Zealand.

How did you first learn to draw and paint?

When I was a kid, I really appreciated my and art teacher in Hong Kong – he and my father were good friends, so I had a good chance to learn the foundations of drawings and different mediums from a young age. I would always go to his studio, sit in the corner and watch his ways.

“For me, it doesn’t matter if I am doing oil, watercolours, or calligraphy. It’s like being a chef – I can do a sweet and sour pork or a T-bone steak.”

Welcome back to Left Bank! inkLink has a very open environment.

A lot of artists hide themselves a way in a studio to create fine art, while I love to be facing the public. Tell me, help me, teach me. I feel like I am brave enough to receive criticism. The last eight years at home I felt isolated, I wanted to be able to work with people and talk about what I am doing. I want to share my interests.

The inkLink logo is one of my finest designs. ‘Friendship through the ink’ – 磨 mò is ink, 缘 yuán from 缘分 yuánfèn is a link with people, 軒 xuān is studio.

ink-studio-R-L-Chinese1

Stan
Stan is back on Left Bank, go and say hello!

What happens here at inkLink?

It’s a studio workshop. Half and half between teaching students, private lessons, art teachers and art students. People always come in and want to talk about art or share their works with me.

Tell us about your trip to China?

On Friday I am going on a two-week trip to Beijing and Xinjiang at the invitation of the Embassy, with other Chinese painters from around the world. I will travel with an A3 pad and a backpack of materials – it is my way of using a camera. I was going to visit family in Hong Kong as well – but I don’t want to leave my students for too long!

Stan on his recent trip to Xinjiang. From inkLink website.
Stan on his recent trip to Xinjiang. From inkLink website.

What is your approach to teaching art?

I charge $100 for four lessons. Quite often when I am teaching people I am happy to ask, “do you need help?” and if they say “no,” I will leave them be – but if they say “yes,” I will show them the techniques side by side so they can follow and then apply to their own work. I can teach you everything you want to learn, how much is absorbed is up to the individual. My teaching is about how to see, look and draw. How to understand the pencil and brushes as your tools.

What is your preferred medium to work with?

Watercolour; water and ink. Chinese paintings are based on watercolours and European watercolours are easier for me to travel with. I can do paintings in five minutes with watercolours.

Adding some calligraphy to a piece for a customer.
Adding some calligraphy to a piece for a customer.

Is there a secret to Chinese watercolour painting?

European artists are not versed in the techniques of Chinese watercolour ink lines. Quick, free lines where you can see the movement. With ink, once it’s on the rice paper, its unchangeable. Plus, the use of white space. The area you paint and the area you do not paint, are just as important. European work is often full of paint in every space. Space leaves things to the imagination.

What are your favourite subjects to paint?

I love movement – people, wildlife, birds, fish, monkeys, tigers…

Some of the works on display at inkLink.
Some of the works on display at inkLink.

Was is easy to source Chinese art supplies in New Zealand in the ‘70s?

My first trip back to Hong Kong was 1983, it was not easy to travel in those days. I had work, house mortgage and family, the tickets cost thousands of dollars. I waited for 11 years to return and during those years I had been dreaming of walking into a store to buy Chinese art materials… There is no way to get rice paper cheaply imported, so I go to Hong Kong and buy it at retail price, then send it back over. Gordon Harris and the French Art Shop all send customers who want Chinese art materials to me, but I am not an art material shop.

You are a freelance artist now, but you originally studied graphic design in Hong Kong?

I always wanted to be a fine artist, but it was hard to support a family like that. From ’79-’99, I was Stan Chan Graphic Ltd. Over the years I worked for Haywrights, the Tourism Department and the Evening Post, which wasn’t so interesting because there was no colour print in those days. Then I got a job at Ilott Advertising, which was a big company at the time. But I always wanted to be on my own like I was in Hong Kong, so I got a small freelance office at 101 Group Graphics on Willis Street, with the help of Albert Wong.

No one at Ilott thought I could make it alone. Anyway, they gave me a farewell card, which gave me a lot of encouragement – as inside the card it said “CHAN’S TAKEWAY” with rice glued onto it…

They didn’t think I could make it as an artist and were joking that I was gonna have to start a Chinese takeaway around the corner…

Which artists inspire you?

Xu Beihong, most famous for his horses. He lived in France for 13 years and was one of the first Chinese artists to learn the European style.

Lingnan style, south of the mountains. I am a fourth generation Lingnan painter. Gao Jianfu, Gao Qifeng, Chen Shuren are the three grand masters of this style, which emerged with the fall of the Qing Dynasty. They decided Chinese painting was not going forward, it was copying old masters. They wanted to add new fresh things into it, but in those days people didn’t accept it because it was not Chinese painting.

Shi Lu – whose work was recently exhibited at Te Papa.

What projects are you working on at the moment?

At the moment I am talking with Linda Lim about running twenty Chinese New Year workshops with different schools about Chinese zodiac signs next year. When the New Year events come up we will exhibit the children’s work here at inkLink and I will include some of my Xinjiang paintings. We are hoping for a grant from Asia New Zealand, while the Confucius Institute are wanting to support the project, too.

Thanks Stan!

Pop into the studio at 104 Left Bank, or check out the website for more info or just a chat!

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