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December 16, 2009

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'I feel I am swirled by colors'

WHILE many Chinese women are named for flowers, elegance and jewels, one artist has chosen a very singular name, Mianhua, or Cotton Flower.

"Cotton is not beautiful, nor am I," says 30-something Mianhua,

"In my eyes, cotton represents a character that is simple, humble and honest. It isn't fragrant when it blooms, but its simple flower creates cotton."

In this society, pretty young women wearing lots of makeup and fashionable clothes are everywhere. Many are determined to get ahead in a fast-changing urban society.

Mianhua is a contrast.

Unpolished and sincere, she seems the perfect representative of her name, a small pink cotton flower.

Mianhua recently had her first solo exhibition at Shanghai Duolun Museum of Modern Art, which revealed a passionate, wild and dreamy side. She creates big, bold swirling shapes and colors.

"Some close friends said they could hardly believe I created these works," she says with a smile.

Perhaps her answer lies in a noted line in the film "August Rush" (2007), a drama with fairy tale elements: "When I wake up, it is already there."

Mianhua grew up in the countryside in Anhui Province and always felt a powerful emotional link with colors, a stronger connection than with anything or anybody else.

"When I am painting, I never allow anyone around me," she says. "It's so personal, I would feel extremely uncomfortable if someone else is there."

Wearing her hair long and natural and clad in a long skirt with exotic accessories, Mianhua reminds one of Echo, the late female writer and traveler from Taiwan.

Mianhua too has traveled a lot and today lives in Shanghai.

"I frequently moved among different cities for different reasons. Sometimes just because a place was on the sea," she says. Over the years she has been a writer and editor and a member of the Authors' Association of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.

But one day she answered the call from her heart to take up a paint brush in her colorful world.

She gave up everything in Nanning, the capital of Guangxi, and arrived in Shanghai.

"At that time my family didn't understand me at all. My brother thought that I was crazy for abandoning a bright future there. But I knew what kind of life I wanted. It was time for me to go back to painting."

Visual artist Martin Boyce famously says, "Everyone is an artist," meaning everyone is a potential artist if he or she has a fancy-free imagination and creativity.

Never accepting orthodox painting education, Mianhua only follows her instincts, creating works that are pure, simple and feminine.

Gorgeous color, clear brush strokes and forceful contrast of the whole tableau suggest post-impressionist and fauvist influence.

Her experience and female nature create works evocative of but different from early modernism. Lines are reduced and replaced with color's natural transition.

"When I am painting, I feel that I am 'swirled' by the hues around me," she says. "Sometimes when I can't fall asleep at night, I will go to my nearby studio. There is such a soothing power there that I easily calm myself down and doze off."

This reporter asked whether her overwhelming passion for art discourages men from approaching her.

"No, definitely not, although it has been really a long time since my last love affair."

Unlike women who become embittered over romance and pragmatic, Mianhua still has qualities of naivete.

"I don't care much about fame and money, and you can call me stupid in this commercial society," she says laughing. "Many friends ask me what kind of man I want. I don't have a standard. Sometimes a small gesture attracts me, such as a man giving up his seat to an elderly person on the subway."

"Love is the meaning of life," she says.

"Perhaps I am unable to get it all my life, but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist. I firmly believe that there are some fortunate people on this Earth who already have it."

She candidly expresses her inner world where feather-like, star-like and leaf-like shapes stir a response in viewers.

"Painting is my most beautiful dream. I imagine that I have a pair of wings and can fly. I always believe everyone has his own dream at the bottom of his heart. As years go by, some carefully preserve the dream, some lose it on the way in order to move rapidly.

"I hope that my dream will accompany me every morning I wake up."


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