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July 1, 2016

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Home » City specials » Hangzhou

Pole’s drawings marry Apsaras and angels


Hangzhou is known for its long history of literature and arts due to the fact that many scholars have lived here or written poems and es­says about it. Today, it houses the prestigious China Academy of Art, and the city is attracting more and more foreign artists to study, work and live in the city. Shanghai Daily will introduce international artists based in Hangzhou.

AS the whole world seems to be fixated on their smartphones, their heads bent down to stare at the small screen whether they walk on the street or ride the subway, Wieslaw Borkowski is fixated on them. The Polish artist watches others, and draws them into the hard-cover sketch book he always carries with him.

But in China, the young man’s appearance hinders his work. With his golden hair and pale skin, he stands out, and his Chinese subjects — noticing his stares — lift their eyes from their smartphones to engage.

“Where are you from?” “Where do you work, where do you study?” “Can you draw a painting for me?” People always ask same questions. So he wrote the answers at the back cover of his sketch book: “Poland,” “China Academy of Art.”

“Sketching locals is my way of knowing the city,” said the 27-year-old. Carrying his sketchbook all day long, a leather band loaded with a few “pencil bullets” dangles from his wrist, and his shimmering blue eyes never stop observing.

“People passing by, trees waving in wind, and cars running — I analyze what I see,” he said.

Borkowski gained his master’s degree of Chinese painting a year ago at the prestigious China Academy of Art in Hangzhou.

His graduation work, “A Dialogue between Apsara and Angel” earned him the Golden Award for Postgraduates of Chinese Painting Department, making him the first foreigner to win over many skilled Chinese competitors.

“He has a talent,” said his professor Gu Yingqing.

Borkowski paints a lot. “Many students paint one piece a day. He does 10,” professor Gu said. His sketchbooks from 2013 until today now pile a meter high, although he gave many works to those he depicted.

But why did a Polish man come all the way to learn Chinese painting?

The artist said his interest was first Asian languages.

“I was a huge fan of Japanese animation, Japanese rock music and Jackie Chan when I was a boy,” the artist said. Also, when he was little, he learned to paint himself, and he studied Chinese language at university.

During college he took classes of Chinese painting. Driven by the wish of learning Chinese painting in a Chinese environment, he came to China Academy of Art.

East meets West

And why Chinese figure painting? “Because it is difficult, and I like challenges,” he said.

For “A Dialogue between Apsara and Angel” he used ink, gold and mineral pigments. It looks similar to a religious fresco painting, and upon closer inspection, it shows an Apsara kissing an angel’s forehead while touching the angel with one hand.

The Buddhist Apsara and the Christian angel in the center of the painting are in a wordless dialogue. On the left are the representatives of Christian architecture, and on the right side are Buddhist grottoes and temples.

Even the blue background color, as well as decorative clouds to the left and the right are different as Borkowski used Western and Chinese techniques. Contrasting the duo’s faces is a circle painted with real gold — the center and the highest point of the painting, unifying the entire picture.

Borkowski also wrote a paper that explains the similarities and differences between Apsaras and angels.

“This painting represents things important to me: faith, beauty of
art, dialogue that surpasses differences,” he said.

Among the artist’s dialogical creations there is also “Encounter” series always featuring a spaceship.

Borkowski painted a very detailed spherical spacecraft hovering above freehand bluish mountains seen in ancient Chinese paintings — the contrast between colors and objects illustrates a feeling that he, as an alien, broke into a different historic civilization.

Once he got more used to local culture, he created a variation of fragment of “Dwelling in Fuchun Mountains,” one of the most famous Chinese landscape paintings in history, with spacecraft that already merged with local environment.

The Polish artist is devoted to many aspects of Chinese culture. He practiced writing Chinese calligraphy five hours a day on average during college and also learned carving Chinese stone seals. He even designs his own style of Chinese characters, named “Bai style.”

Bai Wei (白伟)is his Chinese name. He likes this name a lot and he uses it and its variation(白尾)as his signature on most of the works. His foreign friends (even some Polish) also call him by Chinese name.

In addition, although he talks about a culture clash, some Zen spirit can be found in this Polish artist. He enjoys the peace of doing things for hours, gazing at stars or walking through a church or temple. When he draws, he usually does so until his arms need to rest.

“Because my heart needs it,” Borkowski smiled.


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