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January 30, 2010

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Painting great wall of bamboo

FRENCH artist Jean-Philippe Aubanel is chic and humorous. He wears a kelly green shirt with green suit and is almost half an hour late for an interview (typically French), blaming the "terrible traffic."

Aubanel, a renowned artist in the region of Rhone-Alpes in France, is creating a vast floral painting on the exterior "bamboo wall" wrapped around the Rhone-Alpes Pavilion at World Expo 2010 in Shanghai. It is 16 meters high and 50 meters wide.

The pavilion is part of the Urban Best Practices Area.

Aubanel, who is around 57, was born in Lyon, spent his childhood in Portugal and later lived in Tunisia, the United States and the Netherlands.

His work is influenced by Matisse, Gaugin and Asger Jorn.

Obviously the Expo "canvas" is a challenge.

Bamboo canvas

"Surely it is a difficult task, because the painting is on bamboo instead of canvas," Aubanel says with a shrug. "The total area is about 760 square meters and the tough thing is that there is a 30-centimeter interval between pieces of bamboo all over."

The Rhone-Alpes Pavilion's theme is "Eco City." Bamboo was selected for energy conservation and shade.

The great wall represents a great challenge.

"If I had two or three months in the city, maybe I would do it myself," he jokes. "But the problem is that I have very little time here and all the work will be implemented by Chinese workers based on my sketch."

The wall painting is a work in progress, but Aubanel shows a sketch of blurred flower images, mainly in red, green and dark colors.

"I tried 50 sketches," he says. "Even at the beginning I realized I must use the most simple pattern to catch the eyes of visitors. Mostly they are ordinary people and I should provide something easy to decipher, rather than something obscure and hard to interpret."

Asked about the flowers, he links them to the "feminine" qualities of the city of Lyon, where he was born, and Shanghai. "Both cities are feminine," he says, suggesting flowers.

Asked about his other work, he unwraps his hand-painted scarf from his neck -- it's filled with geometric shapes and blocks of color, painted in the 1980s.

The sketch of flowers on paper will be very different from the picture on the bamboo wall.

"The process is rather complicated," he says. "Sometimes I directly paint on the bamboo, and because bamboo itself has its hue, the colors will be different from colors I paint on canvas. Sometimes I projected the sketch and enlarged it on the bamboo wall to see the result."

If not for his involvement in the World Expo 2010, Aubanel might never have visited Shanghai.

"I find a nostalgic touch has permeated in Shanghai," he says. "It is also a city with hospitality in receiving people with different backgrounds."


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