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November 5, 2009

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Fashion plate paints plate glass

NIU An paints tangled, mysterious webs on huge plates of dark glass, climbing up and down a scaffolding to produce works that are snapped up by collectors with lots of wall space. Wang Jie reports.

Artist Niu An dresses to the nines in an emerald-colored blouse and black silk trousers. She's chic and elegant, down to her fingernails and bracelet. Often, she is mistaken for a fashion designer.

But just as often she wears old, paint-splattered clothes, climbs a crude bamboo scaffold and paints a 300-square-meter glass "canvas."

Her dramatic outsized works are abstract - mysterious, seemingly chaotic swirls and webs containing obscure faces and figures.

Some appear to be bubbling organic blobs.

Buyers include a private bank purchasing her art to decorate private VIP rooms.

Niu is preparing for a solo exhibition in cooperation with @ Gallery Suites on Hengshan Road, a 1933 heritage building converted to a boutique hotel. The exhibition is scheduled to be held early next year.

Asked by Shanghai Daily about her fashion designer appearance, she replies, "You are totally wrong. I don't like shopping."

Most clothes come from her sister, she says.

Niu now splits her time between Shanghai and her sister's home in the United States.

Born in Shanghai, Niu was raised in a navy family. As a child her health was poor.

"So my parents planned my art future for me, as they thought that an artist doesn't need a strong body," Niu says.

She learned traditional calligraphy and ink-wash painting as a child.

In the early 1990s, she studied in Japan, later living in Tokyo and Kyoto, as well as Seoul, Austin, Texas and San Francisco.

She moves effortlessly between the East and the West.

"I have more understanding of different cultures than some other artists," she says.

In her works there's a blend of emptiness, repetition, indulgence and sentiment.

"I don't focus on big themes, such as social problems or phenomena," Niu says.

"I care about the interior lifeof individuals, especially women."

In addition to painting, Niu decorates her home with works she has collected abroad.

"It's just a plain old apartment," she says, "but when you step into my home, it's an amazing world. Though I cannot afford antiques, I have an eye for interesting pieces."

She calls herself an otaku, a Japanese term meaning someone who is particularly skilled in one area - in this case it's tea. She enjoys savoring different teas with friends at home.

Niu, who is in her 40s, is single and speaks candidly about her personal life in a country where people are pressured to marry and start a family at an early age.

"It (being single) is not because of my identity as a female artist," she says. "Many women in different professions encounter the same problem, where to find the right man."

In the past, she says, she was too nice to some boyfriends.

"When one called complaining that he couldn't get a taxi, I immediately told him not to worry - I was on the way to pick him up.

"Don't laugh. When I am in love, I am like a fragile kitty, very considerate and devoting."

She has had her share of heartaches but says she is fortunate in being able to shake depression.

She's not waiting for Mr Right.

"Let it be. After all, I have my art."

Apart from the show at @ Gallery Suites, she will have a solo exhibition next year at the Shanghai Art Museum.

"Strangely enough, there is always a group of buyers who really love my paintings," she says. "I don't need to worry about earning a livelihood."

About her paintings in a private bank, she says in fun: "They're displayed inside the VIP room, only for clients with accounts over US$1 million. But I need the code to enter."


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