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A Classical Eye: Chinese Brush Paintings of the Botanical Garden from the Teachers and Students of The Pine Studio


For Janny Huang and Joseph Yan, the inspiration to pursue an art exhibition at San Francisco Botanical Garden started many years ago. Their beautiful exhibit, A Classical Eye: Chinese Brush Paintings of the Botanical Garden by The Pine Studio, is on display in the library through December.


In preparation for their exhibit, the Garden had a chance to ask Janny and Joseph a few questions.


What was the inspiration for your A Classical Eye exhibit?


We have visited the San Francisco Botanical Garden often ever since we came to San Francisco as young artists and teachers. The Garden is an endless source of beauty and amazement, and an inviting challenge to a painter, so it was natural that we would one day organize an exhibition of work about the Garden and its inspirations through the lens of Chinese Brush Painting.


For this exhibition, we want to showcase our work and the works by our students who are currently studying flower-and-bird paintings using the gongbi style. Some of our chosen works are style studies after works of Chinese masters in preparation for creating gongbi depictions of plants found in the garden. Many of the plants depicted in these classical studies exist in the garden's large and varied collection of Asian plants.


How long have you been studying and teaching Chinese brush painting?


Some of the Bay Area artists exhibiting here began classes with us nearly thirty years ago, while the newest began five years ago. All are skilled in the classical traditions of Chinese Brush Painting in the styles we teach. In addition to our own paintings, A Classical Eye features works by: Yetta Allen, Marilyn Bancel, Martha Cheung, Eileen Lai, Miki Pan, Teri Reina, Michelle Tsao, Li Wang, Nikky Wang, Katy Yan, and Petty Yao.


We are graduates of art institutes in China and San Francisco, Joseph from the Nanjing University of Arts (1982) and the Academy of Arts University (1990), and Janny from Jiangsu Traditional Chinese Painting Institute (1982).  Our work has been exhibited and collected internationally. As teachers, our goal is to help students of all ages learn to express their artistic imaginations and styles through traditional Chinese visual arts. We were honored when the eminent educator and author Herbert Kohl described his experience as our student in his book Painting Chinese (2007).


We named our studio for the large pine tree in our garden. Observing the tradition of identifying where an artwork was made, we often stamp a finished painting with our Pine Studio chop.


This exhibit features artwork from thirteen talented and diverse artists. Please tell us more about The Pine Studio artists.


Zhouqing “Joseph” Yan - Joseph began carving jade in China in 1972 when he was 16 years old.  After he moved to the United States, he began to use traditional Chinese landscape-painting techniques to portray American natural landscapes. His recent works combines traditional Chinese brushwork with contemporary Western concepts.


Xiaoqin “Janny” Huang - A native of Nanjing, China, Janny has worked as a professional painter since 1982. She is most noted for her skilled brushwork in figure paintings and in  flower-and-bird paintings. Her recent artwork evokes a harmonious sense of nature: in each new piece, she attempts to achieve a sense of poetry, peace, and refinement.


Yetta Allen - A lover of tiny, intricate, whimsical things, Yetta is an enthusiastic maker who teaches mathematics by day.  She works in many media, exploring the expressive potential of painting, sewing, knitting, pottery and paper crafts.


Marilyn Bancel - Marilyn is a retired non-profit consultant who once made the occasional pencil sketch. From her first freehand monkeys under Joseph Yan’s tutelage to gongbi style flowers under Janny Huang’s patient eye, she has marveled at Chinese brush painting's powers of expression. She particularly enjoys rendering the textures found in nature. 


Martha Cheung - Martha was born in Taiwan but grew up in San Francisco.  She retired about 10 years ago from work and has become a professional hobbyist:  traveling, painting, knitting, baking, gardening, sewing, practicing qigong, and most recently upholstering.  


Eileen Lai - Eileen Lai has always been intrigued by the meticulous details of ancient Chinese paintings.  She is particularly interested in studying the art form and techniques of the Song masters, and have worked mostly on flower-and-bird paintings.


Miki Pan - Miki is currently pursuing an MBA degree.  Outside of academics, Miki is passionate about nature.  She is interested in paintings from Song Dynasty, especially their presentation and painting techniques.  Flower-and-bird paintings are most attractive to Miki with peonies being her favorite.  Miki is also a cat lover who lives with four cats.


Teri Reina - Study of Chinese painting has taught Teri an alternate approach to line, color, and composition that resonated with her own esthetic.  She has been fortunate to be taught by Janny Huang for many years. She is especially drawn to the works of the artists living in Shanghai in the 19th century.  Their paintings demonstrate an immediacy and a stylistic freedom that reflect a true appreciation and a striving for a personal interpretation of Nature.


Michelle Tsao - Michelle has been passionate about Chinese brush painting since she was a young girl, but never received a formal training of the art until she became a student of Janny and Joseph’s studio in 1992.  Painting not only enriched her life, but also gave her a deeper understanding of her culture.


Li Wang - A native from Taiwan, Li Wang has been following Janny in studying Chinese brush painting and Chinese calligraphy.  She enjoys gardening, sewing and painting in her leisure time.


Nikky Wang - Painting under the tutelage of Janny since 2002, Nikky loves to paint plants that she grows as a way of preserving them.  Nikky is good at painting flowers and insects.  Her style is delicate, and her love of nature comes through her paintings.  She paints as if she can feel her plants breathing and communicating to her.


Katy Yan - Katy Yan loves teaching science and living in Oakland with her partner, Carey, their infant daughter, River, and their two cats. While most of her free time is now spent playing peek-a-boo, she also enjoys rock climbing and brewery hopping. 


Petty Yao - Born in Hong Kong, Petty moved to San Francisco when she was 19 years old.  Petty majored in art.  She has a passion for photography.

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About Chinese Brush Painting

Traditional Chinese brush painting uses water-based techniques that reflect its ancient origins in Chinese calligraphy. It is more stylized, more abstract and may be less realistic than Western styles. It emphasizes the importance of white space and may also be said to favor landscape painting over portrait art.

When calligraphers eventually began to incorporate images from nature, they kept their same brushes while maintaining their calligraphic and ink-only sensibilities. Color washes were finally introduced in the Tang dynasty (618-907), but with an ink-based heritage, colors were generally muted compared to Western tones. Present-day approaches now may employ brilliant color, but that style is clearly understood to be a departure from tradition.

The three major styles of Chinese brush painting encompass Calligraphy, Impression or Freehand Style, and Elaborate or Meticulous Style, all of which have specialized tools, materials, and sub-styles. The styles have overlapped and cross-pollinated over many centuries. In any style, however, once a brushstroke is made, it cannot be changed or erased. This makes Chinese brush painting a particularly demanding art form that requires years of training.


Framed original artwork and unframed prints are available for sale with a portion of the proceeds benefiting the Library

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