A man with a kid on his shoulder is disappearing behind a gate leading to a narrow alley behind Julu lu. He is apparently heading towards The Studio, the art gallery and creative space which lies squeezed inside a maze of low brick houses. A couple of minutes later more parents show up, leading their children by the hand into this little bubble of art in the heart of the French Concession.
Last Saturday there was an Open Day at The Studio, an event which, among other things, included free art classes for kids, cupcake decoration, and artist and calligraphist Pan Jian Feng showing his work. Last time The Studio hosted an Open Day was about two years ago. Lucinda Holmes, one of the artists and organizers behind this artistic collective, explained to us what led up to Saturdays event:
We are all really proud of The Studio and feel that it is awesome to part a creative space that focuses on community in Shanghai. We want to get more people into the space to share it. We would like more people plus kids to sign up to our classes, and as a beginning of a new term it felt like perfect timing.
Many people seemed to have thought the same – a crowd of somewhere around 100 and 150 found their way to the gallery, though the majority of them were young children. During the free art classes run by Lucinda Holmes. these creative toddlers got the chance to express themselves and then display their work on The Studio’s walls.
Another child friendly temptation was the cupcake decoration, held by Song Wong from Sweet Ever After, Shanghai´s first company focusing on American cupcakes, cookies and desserts. Seated by a table full of crayons, cupcake bottoms, frosting and sprinkles, five-year-old Attilus Nordmeyer was just about to make the final touches on his sweet masterpiece, with mummy Cynthia and big brother Gus as a focused audience. When finished, Attilus described his cupcake creation:
It has little silver balls that you can eat, and crunch and frosting. When you´re done you eat it. But not in one bite!
Song Wong who has assisted Attilus and hordes of other kids the whole day, describes how the cupcake tradition has seen a recent renaissance:
It was gone for a long time, and started to become popular again for about five years ago. One reason for that might be that cupcake making appeared on the TV-show Sex and the City.
Now the people who grew up with cupcakes are discovering it anew and can teach it to their children. And now the tradition is coming to Asia.
Open Day at The Studio wasn’t only a paradise for the creative sweet tooth. In the adjoining room of the cupcake workshop, something somewhat different was taking place: Pan Jian Feng, a Shanghai based artist who touches multiple art forms such as sculpture, porcelain, installations, video, showing his pieces of modern Chinese calligraphy.
The first thing you saw walking into the room was a several meter long piece of paper attached to the wall. On it are everyday Chinese people, just as you would see them on the street: pedestrians, a man with a dog, a postman riding his bike, women with handbags, someone scratching his head… As a daily practice Pan Jian Feng paints the people he see in his everyday life.
I paint at least 20 people each day. Some are my friends, some are neighbours, some are creations in my own mind.
As a master of capturing the simplicity of the everyday, Pan Jian Feng, was asked by LIFE Magazine to make illustrations for their special issue about the upcoming Chinese national day. “Ordinary Peoples Republic” as it was called, featured Pan Jian Feng paintings of 60 ordinary people.
I paint on big rolls of paper, just as in traditional Chinese art, where you open the roll very slowly. I feel this is a good way of reinterpreting that tradition. I call my artwork “Down to earth”;. A lot of Chinese contemporary art is only concept – I want to create art that people can understand. This is my statement.
Pan Jian Feng’s paintings have a close connection to Chinese calligraphy. Instead of saying that he “paints” people, he “writes” people. And just as in Chinese calligraphy Pan Jian Feng sees a deeper meaning in the sole act of putting the brush to the paper.
It’s not a dying tradition, but very hard to see it here in Shanghai. But the traditional value in calligraphy would be amazing if applied to modern society. It´s not about writing correct, it´s about meditating.
You come down and become more humble. The ink and paper is very sensitive materials so you have to be very concentrated and down to earth to do it. You become warmhearted. It’s just like in painting people.
And truly, when looking at Pan Jian Feng’s everyday people, one of the most evident characteristic is the warmheartedness and love with which they appear to have been captured.
As Saturday draws to it’s close, it seems that The Studio has done it again. Done with American bakery and cake traditions in one corner, you can stumble upon Chinese calligraphy and contemporary art in the other. This is one of the big charms with this art space at Julu lu. It is open for creativity, in any shape or taste it may appear.