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Gemologist paints glittering works for VIPs

A large luminous abstract watercolor greets VIPs at the entrance of the Red Top Floor in the China Pavilion at the World Expo Shanghai.

Only official visitors can appreciate the outsized series suggesting the convergence of clouds, dew, mist, rain, rivers and sunlight in "Heavenly Water Without Boundary, World Continents With One Origin."

They shimmer because they are fused with microcrystals and the Chinese ink and water colors are made with the snow from last winter in Shanghai, says the artist Shi Di. Snow symbolizes purity though these days it's polluted, she says.

Shi is not widely known in China's art community and her work seldom appears in exhibitions. The trained gemologist doesn't show up in glittering social gatherings.

"There are two ways to find me, either in my studio near the Bird's Nest in Beijing or my apartment near the Seine in Paris," says the slender painter with curly hair.

Shi secludes herself from the outside hustle and bustle. She studies European civilization in Paris and at the same time tries to understand the core of nature as she draws.

"I have no formal art school education but over the years I have studied with teachers who enabled me to look inside myself with confidence and to capture in painting what is unfolding in nature," she says,

"Painting makes me happy. There are no rigid rules, no restrictions on my work."

But before art, it was with gems - crystals of nature - that she expressed her creativity. She graduated from the Gemological Institute of America in California. She is one of the few gemologists in China recognized as experts by the West.

She wears an emerald bracelet, but no other jewelry.

"Gems are not a show-off thing. For me, they are like living creatures filled with their own feelings. I often talk with them."

"Gems and the origin of the Earth are my major, and painting is my love." Shi says. "Gems make me think, and painting gives me hope. My paintings embody the life of gems, while gems give soul to my paintings, and my heart and soul are connected with them."

The artist even fuses microcrystals on her water-color paintings, adding a gorgeous effect.

"Please note, I am not adding crystals for visual effect," she says firmly. "Actually I experience the energy and life of the microcrystals while I am painting and they are integral to my work.

"Although the gem started to grow millions of years ago, at this moment it is melting into my life and growing with me."

In addition to microcrystals, Shi also uses pure melted snow water in her paintings.

"When I was little, I always appreciated snow in winter and spring in the countryside. I remember the snow then as always good fresh, clean and pure," Shi explains. But in industrialized times water everywhere on earth has been polluted, she notes.

The huge painting on the China Red Top Floor used the water from the first snow in Shanghai last winter, she says.

The work integrates ink wash, bright colors and luminous lusters. The ink wash is rooted in her Chinese cultural background, the bright colors come from her illumination about nature, and the luminosity of crystals comes from her constant "dialog" with gems and the cosmos, she says.

When the Expo organizers sought artworks for the VIP area, they wanted works that were fresh and powerful. "My abstract water colors seem to fit the atmosphere here."

Some critics compare her works to the oils by Zao Wou-ki, a world-famous Chinese French artist.

"I admire Zao Wou-ki, but I don't want my name linked with any other artist," she says.

Fan Dian, director at the National Art Museum says "Shi Di is willing to share with others the sunlight, the rain, the dew, the mist, the water and the rosy clouds in the world of her paintings."

Shi's works have been presented as gifts to the French Presidential Palace, the French Prime Minister's House, and the Senate.

She is now beginning to paint another series, Buddha images, though she is not particularly interested in Buddhism.

"Images of the gilded Buddha bumped into my mind one day and I couldn't help mirroring them."

After the Expo she plans to return to Paris.

"Remember to call me in Paris," she says. "I'm a good cook."

She spends time with her son every evening. "I enjoy purity in both life and art," she says.


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