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DeWaard Paints China: Viroqua artist inspired by trip with Tu Zhiwei

Article from Vernon Broadcaster

Story Discussion by Matt Johnson, | Posted: Wednesday, February 15, 2012 9:55 am

Viroqua's Ken DeWaard has been finishing some pieces from his trip to China last fall in his Two Paint Studio and Gallery near Sidie Hollow.

Viroqua"s Ken DeWaard (above) painted with an audience on some locations in China late last fall.


Viroqua artist Ken DeWaard has added a new destination to places he's painted - China.

On a three-week visit to the country in late 2011, as a guest of the internationally-known, Chicago-based, Chinese-American artist Tu Zhiwei, DeWaard created two dozen paintings. And since his visit, DeWaard has added many pieces inspired by images he saw while in China.

The trip was arranged by the Chinese government as it prepares to open a museum in Zhiwei's honor. DeWaard came to know Zhiwei when he studied at the Palette and Chisel Academy of Fine Art in Chicago. DeWaard is a native of the Chicago area and an honors graduate from Western Illinois University. He further studied at the American Academy of Art in Chicago. He and his wife, Kate, have four children and have lived in rural Viroqua for 10 years where he operates his Two Paint Gallery and Studio near Sidie Hollow.

DeWaard's artwork is deliberate and careful, but his years of participating as an instructor at plein air workshops have also allowed him to paint with speed. "Plein air" is a French term that means "in the open air" and it describes a technique of painting in which the painting is produced outdoors and in natural light. DeWaard has a lot of experience painting outdoors and creating art in the moment. That came in handy during the tour through villages and cities in southern China late last October and early in November.

"It was just an incredible trip that I could not have imagined without a Chinese-American painter as the escort," DeWaard said. "We were Tu's guest. We met many people of great importance from the different regions. It was just a great experience. Knowing him from years ago and then being invited in because of my plein air work was a great fit.

"The idea is that we would be out on locations painting," De Waard continued. "For me, having done so many events from east to west, it was a huge advantage to be able to go into an area, grab something quickly, react to it. There were people all around us, but I wasn't distracted. For some of the other artists that was a struggle. And that was one of the other reasons I was chosen to go along, because of my experience doing a lot of plein air events."

The different culture, architecture and the people of China stirred DeWaard. He couldn't get enough of it. Even as he painted, he tried to capture more.

"The same types of striking differences in culture that we see here among the Amish were the things that we'd see depending on where they had us for a morning or an afternoon," DeWaard said. "While I was really focused on the 16-by-20 I was working on, it was hard not to get distracted by something really amazing and different that just happened. While I was on this trip I took between 700 and 1,400 photographs a day. I've never taken that many photos at any other plein air event I've attended."

DeWaard said being on location in China gave him a "sensory overload" that ended up contributing to his ability to paint more pieces.

"I would shoot picture after picture knowing that coming back that I'd be working from these photos and what's in my head - what I remember," De Waard said. "That fascination for me visually was almost too much to keep in check. But it made for lasting memories. I'm not one of those who just creates stuff, I'm definitely driven by what I see... so it helps being in a good scene."

DeWaard said locations included temples or villages. The scenes were varied from morning to afternoon. He was awestruck traveling through, and painting scenes in villages that have stood since the Ming Dynasty.

He was also humbled to work alongside Zhiwei and said he often noticed they were doing the same thing - finishing a piece of art while looking for something else interesting that caught their eye.

"Being trained in Chicago, you grow up under a certain style," DeWaard said. "By meeting some of my friends on the east coast and on the west coast, you learn about the artists who came before you and get to see their work and their influences. It becomes a totally different world. Being able to paint in China with Tu was the same thing. He's a strong painter. To see how he interprets what we were painting side-by-side with him was a good learning experience for me. It's always been that way with Tu, and I'm very grateful for that."

Local residents will have an opportunity to see works DeWaard created during his trip to China when Studio Gallery 1311 in La Crosse opens a show featuring his work on March 23-24. DeWaard's art from China will be featured along with photographs that La Crosse's Carmen Deyoe took while visiting China as part of the Sister City program. The exhibit will open on Friday, March 23, at 6:30 p.m. The gallery will be open normal hours, Saturday, March 24, from noon-4 p.m.

This painting of a boy holding a piece of fruit is one of many that will make up a gallery show featuring the work of Viroqua artist Ken DeWaard at Studio Gallery 1311 in LaCrosse March 23 and 24.

The painting, titled "Days End, Little Fishing Village" was an oil painted on linen by Ken DeWaard with subject matter from his trip to China.

DeWaard signing in during a gallery show in China.

Studio Gallery 1311 is located at 1311 Market St. in La Crosse and can be reached at 1-608-799-1184.





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