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Xiao Yan Gen


Written by RAY KASS

Xiao Yan Gan, a Shanghai artist whose work adapts traditional painting techniques to modern interpretations of the Chinese landscape, participated as a guest artist in Virginia Tech’s art and design study-abroad programming in Shanghai, China, and Japan in May and June 2000. Mei Li Dong had introduced him to our group at a time when official hosts were often required to accompany groups on visits to significant cultural sites in and around Shanghai, and Xiao Yan Gan, who liked to be called “Sho-Sho” by friends, was an excellent host. Mei Li also arranged for her son Kalifa Dong-Ydeen, then fifteen years old, to accompany us on trips to Souchou and Anhui, and on our pilgrimage to the mythic Huangshan Mountains that every true artist is supposed to climb at least once in their lifetime.


To celebrate the “Year of the Dragon,” we invited Sho-Sho to come to Virginia later that summer to have an exhibition and participate in a Mountain Lake Workshop. His workshop introduced community members and area students to both ink brush painting and traditional methods for mounting works done on somewhat fragile Asian paper or silk onto paper sheets or scrolls. The technique of Asian paper mounting became very important in future workshops, particularly for Jiro Okura’s “Breathing Lines” workshops, the “Faces Off” exercise that we developed for James Donnelly and organized for the Nevada Museum of Art workshop in Reno in 2007, and Jacques Pourcher’s “Atelier du Lac” experiment in my Virginia studio. The Asian paper and silk mounting technique also became especially important to me in my own developing work. When Morris Graves died in 2001, I made a group of layered paper and silk montages that were inspired by my impressions of his work.

1 Huangshan Mountains, or the Yellow Mountains, are located in Anhui Province in eastern China. The mountains are not yellow, but were renamed in 747 AD after the legendary “Yellow Emperor” (Huang Di), the mythical ancestor of the Chinese, who is purported to have lived in the mountains and became a supernatural being. For more on this see:


2 Xiao Yan Gan’s exhibition was Chinese Watercolor Scroll Paintings, held at Armory Art Gallery, Virginia Tech, July 7–Sept. 1, 2000, with sponsorship from the Blacksburg Summer Arts Festival.


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