Even famous artists sometimes have to go to the doctor.
And Wan Ding is a top tier name in China’s art circles. But he was sitting on the doctor’s examination table when Frances Hu called him from the other side of the world.
“I’m in the middle of a doctor’s appointment,” he said.
“Well, I’ll call back later,” Hu said.
“No, let’s talk now,” he said.
That basically was the conversation until Hu told Ding that the Louisiana State Archives would be exhibiting his Louisiana swamp scenes.
“He yelled out, he was so excited,” Hu said. “I don’t know what the doctor might have thought.”
Well, it’s a safe bet that the doctor saw more than 100 percent in his patient at least for a moment, because Ding designed his swamp scenes especially for the archives’ exhibit room.
This isn’t the first time the archives has shown Ding’s work, but it’s been awhile. And the thought of the swamp once again flowing through the room for which it was made made Ding happy.
“He won’t be here tonight,” Hu said at the exhibit’s opening. “But we’re going to send him lots of pictures.”
Ding’s swamp scenes are part of a two-part exhibit sponsored by the Baton Rouge Chinese Culture Club. Former Baton Rouge resident Margaret Koai’s collection of Chinese Scholar Rocks fill the archives’ main gallery.
The rocks actually were collected by Koai’s late father and are stored in Baton Rouge. And they complement Ding’s work, which depicts the Louisiana swamp during the four seasons.
Together, the scenes form a mural spanning three walls. Ding created them using a combination of western plein air painting technique and Chinese painting and brush work.
“He said in western landscapes, there is dimension and light,” Hu said. “But there is no light in Chinese painting.”
Hu’s husband, John, is the club’s president. The Hus met Ding in 1997, when he was a visiting artist at LSU. Ding taught Introduction to Chinese Painting and Brush Work in the LSU School of Art and spent the time in between exploring the Louisiana landscape.
“We brought him to the swamp, and he sketched everything he saw,” Frances Hu said.
Ding’s visit was supported by the late Paula Manship and her niece Nadine Russell. Russell later bought Ding’s work and donated it the archives.
Meanwhile, Ding’s class was developed into a “Summer in China” program for the School of Art.
Ding has returned to LSU twice since his initial visit and returned to his home in Xiau, China, to paint his swamp scenes in 1999. It debuted in the archives’ gallery in 2000.
“He said eastern painters are different from western painters,” Frances Hu said. “He said western painters paint the landscape they see. Eastern painters paint how the landscape makes them feel.”
Toward the end of this scroll, Ding writes, “in the fading glory of a sunset, the cypress woods seemed like lonely aging beings standing next to each other. And those cypress knees spreading along the shores near and far; it inspired me as a new life coming out of hardship and to search for the vigor and glory ... my beloved far-away Louisiana, will your mysterious beauty be always truthful to me?”
Visitors definitely can detect what Ding was feeling when he painted these scenes. The mist and magic of Louisiana is here.
And it filled Ding’s senses even as he sat in the doctor’s office in China.