Artist’s Story | An interview with Bevan Shaw on his Red Gate Residency

First and foremost, what delicious (or bizarre) foods did you eat there? I got to eat a lot of delicious and cheap foods. There were so many markets with a wide variety of vegetables I had never seen before. I especially enjoyed numbing peppers and lotus roots in stir fry and noodles. I also enjoyed many kinds of dumplings and hot pot dishes. Among the bizarre was the addition of peach tree gum, which was a clear savoury gel, as a condiment.

Outside of the food, what was the experience like? The experience of living and working in Beijing, a city of over 21 million people, has been fantastic and at times challenging. I experienced the weather change dramatically from the end of winter (4 degrees Celsius) to the start of summer (40 degrees Celsius). Over the weeks, I came to understand how life is lived in Feijiacun village (费家村) much more intimately than when I first arrived. This was also helped by picking up some Mandarin, though I still feel that I only experienced the tiny tip of a large iceberg. To have a large studio with that length of focused time to make work was so enjoyable. It was great getting to know the other artists and exploring the city and traditional parts of Beijing together. Some of the challenging aspects involved getting sick and dealing with the air pollution. I would not change any aspect of the experience I had, as it all fed into and influenced the work I made.

Did you have a particular goal or project you were working on during the residency? What are you working on now? My goal was to research aspects of traditional Chinese painting, create a new body of paintings, and gather the material for a video work. I also wanted to share my work while I was there, so I was pleased to be able to participate in three open studio days. Now that I am back in New Zealand, I am working towards exhibiting this work at Toi Pōneke Gallery in Wellington in October 2015. The particular project I worked on in Beijing was influenced by the atmosphere and the architecture, especially the speed of construction in the village I was living in. I took many sound recordings and made paintings of these ever-changing environments. I also began researching the perspective found in traditional Chinese painting and exploring new ways of constructing space in my paintings.

Do you set yourself a certain number of hours you have to be in the studio a day or are you more flexible? I did have certain times each day when I preferred to be working. I spent the majority of my time in the studio because it was also where I was living. It was very easy to be productive and work for long periods of time in that environment. I also had the flexibility of working in more than one way which meant that if I was not in the studio painting, I could be out exploring the environment and gathering sound recordings and photographs. Because I could be working all the time, it was more important for me to know when to take a break to recharge. Having the flexibility to adapt to new situations was an important part of being productive during the residency.

Have you been sourcing art materials locally, such as paint, or did you take your own? And, if so what are you buying and from where? I researched what materials were available prior to departure. I arrived in Beijing well prepared with materials from New Zealand, which saved me a lot of time and money. I chose to work with acrylics on linen, which would dry quickly and be flexible enough to transport home. I got all my supports made for me by a local and bought some extra acrylics from the shops opposite the Chinese Academy of Fine Arts. I took classes in calligraphy to try traditional paper, ink and brushes. Following this, I bought a couple of good Chinese brushes near to Hepingmen (和平门站) subway station.

What artists did you meet at the residency, where are they from and what kind of makers are they? I met a lot of artists who had come to Red Gate for one or two months. We had some great experiences and conversations and remain in contact with each other. Some of the artists I met were:

May 2015, artists-in-residence outside the studios.

What is the local art scene like? The local art scene is huge with commercial galleries concentrated in the art districts of 798 and Caochangdi (草场地). There is a phenomenal amount of activity with a staggering number of Chinese and international artists living and working in nearby villages. What was the view from your studio window?

Lastly, I would like to acknowledge the generous support of the Asia New Zealand Foundation and my wonderful family and friends who made this opportunity possible for me. Lots of love to you all! Bevan Shaw. For more on Bevan’s Red Gate residency, you can visit his Facebook page here: www.facebook.com/bevanshaw.artist or his website here bevanshaw.co.nz Cover Image: Spring in Beijing from the studio window, Red Gate studio # 6 at Feijiacun (费家村) village, April 2015. The location of these studios is north east of the city centre outside the Fifth ring road.