East meets west at new LAC gallery exhibit |The Mississauga News

The Mississauga News: East meets west at new LAC gallery exhibit

By Jason Spencer


MISSISSAUGA – Remember the blackout in the summer of 2003? Iconographic artist Paulo Zen Shifu found the darkness that swept across North America's east coast on Aug. 14 to be quite illuminating. While driving on that day, Shifu recalled the sight of people helping direct traffic to be both "human" and "beautiful." Conversely, he remembers some taking advantage of situation when he entered a store to purchase water, milk and candles and found a huge markup on prices. That duality of human nature played nicely into a metaphor for a piece that he was to create a decade later. Entitled, Desire, the painting is one of Shifu's many creations on display until Jan. 18 at the Living Arts Centre gallery as part of the The Word of Art Exhibit. It's a celebration of Chinese culture through the ancient form of calligraphy. Using red clay and rice paper from the eastern tradition and mixing that with a more contemporary western approach of acrylic paint on canvas, Desire is a piece of cavernous depth that conveys the human struggle of light and dark. Incorporating an excerpt from The Mississauga News about the blackout, the piece delves into religious philosophies from both sides of the globe. Within the image, Shifu employs primary colours – red, blue and yellow – intended to be emblematic of the trinity in western teachings and the sweeping black brush strokes of what's known as the cursive school of Chinese calligraphy to convey a yin and yang concept from ancient Taoist teachings. Tina Luo, Shifu's wife, explained that the pictographic characters central to Desire express a saying in China that in a dark situation "the good people, the kind people, always appear." Another theme running through the pieces in the exhibit is a square, which Shifu said resembles a prison, with the Chinese pictographic symbol for human inside, an image reminiscent of a geometric compass. The motif is prominent in Shifu's more abstract installation, a sizeable 17-piece offering called Captivity vs. Freedom. Taking cues from ancient wisdom, he likens the square to the body because the body is like a jail. "People cannot control (their) body, but anyone can control (their) soul," said Shifu, adding that the exhibit aims to imbue viewers with a sense of self-reflection. Having moved to Canada from China about two decades ago, Shifu said the The Word in Art is a combination of his life in both places. This juxtaposition is amplified by several traditional black and white pieces denoting Taoist scripture hanging alongside the colourful, more modern paintings. To view examples of his work, which has been on display from Vancouver to Dubai to New York to Hong Kong, visit shifuart.net. The LAC exhibition also features the work of calligraphy artists Chun Song Zheng, He Liang Chen, Zhen Yu Fu and Jie You. For gallery hours go to livingartscentre.ca and follow the links. Admission to The Word of Art is free.