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Jia Lu, Paintings
  Aldo Luongo
  Carrie Graber
  Emily Ashworth
  Ion Tamaian
  Jan Mucklestone
  James Shirtz
  Jessica Elam
  Jia Lu
  Karin Richardson
  William Allen Selden


Armilary Spere 1998 - Jia Lu Ascendant - Jia Lu Bronze Bell - Jia Lu
Bronze Drum - Jia Lu Contemplation - Jia Lu Departure - Jia lu
Edge of Heave - Jia Lu Embrace - Jia Lu Fallen Goddess - Jia Lu
Flame - Jia Lu Flora - Jia Lu Force of Creation - Jia Lu
Ginko - Jia Lu Heavenly Light - Jia Lu Heavens Song - Jia Lu
Imagined Paths - Jia Lu Lamplight - Jia Lu Mountain Spirit - Jia Lu
Mandala - Jia Lu Resonance - Jia Lu  

Jai Lu - Biography

Jia Lu was born into a Beijing that stood relatively unchanged by the ravages of the Chinese Communist Revolution. Land reforms and a fundamental reorganization of government and civil life had transformed relations between individuals during the five years of Communist rule preceding the artist’s birth. But the Beijing landscape, with its narrow, winding alleys and compounds enclosed by gray walls, the palaces of the Qing emperors and aristocracy weighted under their yellow and kingfisher roof tiles, the lakes and parks where one could swim during the summer and skate in winter, the songs of vendors falling through the dawn air like the swallows appearing at first light—these were the permanent aspects of a Beijing that filled the artist’s memories and provided the earliest inspiration for a lifetime of work. The people of Beijing still maintained a dignified politeness among themselves, their language touched with the dialect of the Manchurian elite and the terms of respect that had been used in the capital for the last three hundred years.

Jia’s parents were members of the new Beijing society. Her father, Enyi Lu, the youngest son of a landowner in Jiangsu province, had joined the New Fourth Route Army at the age of fourteen and had served as war artist for much of the struggle with the Nationalists and Japanese. Later assigned to the cultural department of the Navy, he rose in rank in part for recognition gained painting revolutionary scenes featuring the new leaders and depictions of navy life. Jia’s mother, the daughter of a landscape painter and calligrapher, was herself a graduate of the new Central Academy of Fine Arts and worked in the Forbidden City as a museum exhibit designer.

In 1958 Jia’s father called on the Communist party to attach greater importance to the work and livelihood of artists, and was accused of being a Rightist. Reduced in rank and stripped of Party membership, he was ordered to repair reservoirs north of Beijing as labor reform. Investigations of the family revealed that grandparents on both sides had been important administrators in pre-communist society, and several of Jia’s uncles and aunts had accompanied the Nationalists’ flight from China and now lived in Taiwan. Jia’s family was suspect and accused of anti-revolutionary tendencies.

In 1959, with her father still serving his sentence, Jia’s family moved to Dongcheng district immediately north of the Forbidden City, among the old imperial warehouses and lesser palaces, away from the naval residence and scrutiny of the military. Jia’s skills were recognized and encouraged from the beginning. In her first grade she was appointed class chairman and allowed to join the poetry recitation and fine art extra-curricular groups at the local Youth Palace. These institutions borrowed from the Soviets the idea that early talent must be identified, separated and nourished. By 1962, Jia was acting on Central Television and had participated in the Beijing International Children’s Art Exhibition.

It was a precocious, active childhood, much of it spent away from home and in the company of teachers. Drawings filled her letters to her father. Her imagination was stirred by legends of Chinese heroes as well as by European fairy tales. In spite of the hardships her family felt on the wrong side of the political fence, it was for Jia a silver age.

The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution swept over Beijing in 1966, and brushed away her poetry and painting teachers before it. Jia Lu saw the drowned body of her school principal dragged from a lake where he had flung himself to escape his accusers. She witnessed local intellectuals beaten by crowds of youth who poured salt into their wounds. On the basis of her good school record, Jia herself became the target of angry students ready to turn over anything related to established authority. Returning home one evening, Jia persuaded her grandmother to sell or give away or burn all that remained of their pre-Revolutionary past. Heaping the thirteen school awards she had earned in her first five years, Jia burned all that might attract the attention of the Red Guards, now roaming the neighborhoods.

That summer she joined the Navy Residence Compound Agricultural Association with twenty other children to undergo training at a nearby military camp. The experience proved her leadership abilities, and she remained an extra month with a handful of girls to receive extra training. Returning to a burnt-out and all but abandoned school in September, Jia decided the best way to carry out a Cultural Revolution was to rebuild the place where culture is taught. She established her own Red Guard group, but with a different mission: the destruction of old ideas must be accompanied by the rebuilding of state property. Her group replaced broken windows, repainted walls, repaired desks and chairs. By 1968, classes resumed under the leadership of peasants, workers and soldiers. But more and more, Jia’s group of school rebuilders came under attack by other Red Guard groups bent on further destruction of the old order. Accused of being ultra-conservative by rivals, Jia arrived at school one day to find her desk and the floor and ceiling around it covered in ink, glue and written accusations and death threats. Realizing that she was prepared to fight, her friends dragged Jia home to avoid violence.

But her courage was noted at higher levels, and she was elected to the Beijing Committee of Activists for the Study of Mao Tsetung Thought, a position she kept the following year into high school. She began writing and directing performances praising revolutionary ideas for factory, school and military audiences. And because the propaganda needs of the Cultural Revolution require an endless display of inspiring images, her father is allowed to return to the Navy. With the military’s attention focused on the rising tide of revolution, Jia’s family returned to life in the naval compound. At fifteen, enamored of the heroic tales of military life, Jia Lu decided to join the Navy.

Jia Lu enlisted in the Chinese Navy in December of 1969, and brought her leadership and creative abilities with her. Assigned squad leader, she continued to produce and direct propaganda plays throughout her military career. The following year she entered the Naval Logistics Command and began training as an operating room nurse. A strong visual memory assisted her in her medical studies, and after working for a year in the Navy General Hospital, she was transferred to the Science and Technology Exhibition Group.

Iin August of 1979 the political climate turned chilly again. Jia was sent for a month of labor reform in the countryside near Beijing, then ordered to lead raw recruits for basic training, again away from Beijing. At the end of the summer she left her post in dismay and returned to Beijing where she secured a transfer out of the military to the National Bureau of Oceanography, on staff with the monthly periodical Oceans.

By 1982, China was beginning to open up to the outside world, and the overseas relatives whose existence had made Jia’s family background such a problem before now invited her to study in Canada. By spring of 1983 Jia had made up her mind.

Jia Lu's first few years in Canada were difficult, but her problems only deepened her resolve to succeed. Jia had given up a job in China that paid two salaries, a certain notoriety for her adventures in Xinjiang, and a growing reputation as an actress, reporter and artist. In Canada she knew poverty, anonymity, and discrimination. Her first room was a windowless basement storage room under a piano shop on Danforth Avenue in Toronto; her furniture were cardboard boxes, her rent paid by moving boxes to and from the shop upstairs. By the light of a single electric bulb she painted her first several exhibitions in the new world.

Jia made friends easily, and by the summer she had met Vivian Huang, an engineer who would soon become her roommate for several years, and Geoffrey Bonnycastle, a young artist and student of Chinese whom she would marry fourteen years later. With her sister Miao Lu, who had come to Canada the previous year, Jia Lu produced enough work for two large exhibitions of Chinese ink paintings.

The paintings sold well and immediately brought Jia to the attention of the Chinese community in Toronto. She began to lecture on Chinese art history at schools and libraries in Toronto with Geoffrey as her interpreter, and later organized Chinese painting demonstrations and related activities for the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Royal Ontario Museum.

Meanwhile Jia was attending English classes in exchange for her paintings, and had decided to blend the experiences of her past with the new art she was seeing in Canada. In 1988 Jia applied to graduate school at one of Canada’s leading art schools, the Department of Visual Arts at York University. She was first admitted on the strength of her work, but later declined because she could not yet reach a high enough score in the Test of English as a Foreign Language. As a compromise, York offered Jia a position as research assistant to Toronto artist Bruce Parsons, provided studio space and permitted her to attend all graduate classes in fine art.

It was not long before Jia discovered the fundamental differences in Chinese and North American art education. The emphasis at the Central Academy of Art and Craft reflected the academic tradition inherited from France and Moscow: rigorous technical training in drawing from plaster casts and from life, pure color and virtuoso brushwork, and an emphasis on realism and social subjects.

York University’s focus was on developing creative problem-solving skills, an awareness of political and philosophical issues relevant to contemporary art, and an emphasis on abstract art and new figurative expressionism. Where in China Jia had been encouraged to suppress her feelings in the pursuit of an objective visual reality and criticized for an abundance of emotion, in Canada she was urged to explore the depths of her emotions, her sexuality and her feelings as a woman, and express them without regard for draftsmanship or painterly skill. It was unexplored territory for her, and she moved tentatively at first, as if not quite trusting what she might find in this abandonment of control.

The resulting paintings were an amalgam of Western and Eastern symbols, punctuated with images from Jia’s childhood, and constructed in layers of different materials, mainly rice paper, acrylics and oils.

Three series of paintings resulted from her experiments at York. The Cocoon series were images of women, stripped naked, in poses of sleep or self-protection, wrapped in enormous dry leaves and silk threads. They revealed Jia Lu’s vulnerability, and at the same time her willingness to expose herself and her fears on canvas in a way she had not done in her earlier work. Her Secret Garden series were more nostalgic, almost surrealist pieces that suggested her sense of self is deeply linked to her early childhood. The Mask series featured classical nude sculpture with the genitals covered by a Chinese opera mask. Most of Jia’s work as the powerful "Self-portrait" featuring a red figure curled helplessly beneath the imponderable weight of an archaic Chinese bronze vessel.

With the inevitable uncertainty that arose from such demanding self-reflection in her work, Jia looked for stability and certainty in her private life. She thought she had found it in Patrick Lam, a chemical engineering student at the University of Toronto. Soon after their marriage in 1986, however, she realized she had made a mistake. The two had little in common and could agree on nothing. After marrying, he took up worked in Sarnia, a petrochemical processing town in Southwest Ontario. Jia wished to remain in Toronto, but by 1987 she left York to try what she could to save her marriage. In 1989 she bore her only son Anson and nursed him as she prepared for her first major solo exhibition. Twenty-two works were exhibited at the Sarnia Public Gallery that summer.

Almost as soon as the exhibition came down, her husband took work in Calgary, Alberta, and sold their house. Jia had no choice but to follow unhappily in 1990. Calgary was as far away from the art world and friends Jia had spent so much time developing for the past seven years. Geographically isolated and kept at home by the demands of an infant son, Jia’s relations with her husband continued to disintegrate. Already estranged from her husband she moved to the unfinished basement of their house, and painted in despair. Two self-portraits from that period are particularly telling.

The first, "Red" depicts the artist wearing the uniform of a Chinese soldier and the Chinese characters for "Proletariat of the world, Unite!" behind her. But beneath the jacket is a red taffeta skirt, stockinged legs and red stilettos, and a collage of lipstick, automobiles, handbags and other luxury items cut from consumer magazines.

The second painting, "Bride" shows the artist dressed in a nun’s habit, holding a bouquet of red roses, with the Chinese wedding symbol of double happiness hanging behind her. By 1990, Jia had sunken to a life that seemed a pale image of the dreams she held for North America. Locked in a loveless marriage and isolated from her market and friends, she had neither the financial means or influence to escape; she barely had the strength to continue painting. Until in 1991 she received a telephone call from Tokyo.

Several years before moving to Calgary, Jia was asked to paint "The Seven Scholars of the Bamboo Grove" for an agent with a Japanese customer. The piece was received well, and the agent invited Jia to travel to Tokyo to show more of her work. Sensing a financial solution to her problems, Jia accepted and in 1991 arrived in Japan.

Over the next two months she met several collectors and painted numerous commissions. Then she met Mr. Isao Abe, the hereditary owner of the Peony Garden of Ueno Park in downtown Tokyo. Mr. Abe wanted to build a replica of the Dunhuang murals for a museum and hotel complex modeled on the architecture and history of the Chinese Tang Dynasty. He asked Jia to provide advise and undertake research. The results were impressive enough that Mr. Abe formally offered the job of Chief Designer to Jia and sent her to China to organize a team to produce a mural of 7,000 square metres.

During her three years in China and Japan, Jia Lu also had a brief return to the world of film. Mr. Abe invited her to join a team of international consultants to propose improvements to a historical romance, also set in the Tang Dynasty, in which he was the main investor. Jia Lu assisted in the selection of the lead role, and when the project was completed beneath the expectations of the investors, led a European team to rewrite the screenplay. Jia Lu also came to the attention of Pierre Cardin’s agent in China at this time, who invited her to prepare original designs for a fashion show based on Chinese costumes from several ages. The show was to be held in conjunction with the Olympics planned for Beijing in the year 2000.

Living in China and Japan after almost a decade in the West reaffirmed for Jia the importance of craftsmanship and tradition in her own work. The return to Asia was part of a process of spiritual recovery and artistic rediscovery, so that when she returned to Canada, she was prepared to take her work and her life in a new direction.

Several months after her return from Japan, Jia Lu finally left her husband of eight years. A bitter divorce and fierce custody battle over her son Anson followed, during which time she was unable to leave Calgary. Her long-time friend and translator from Toronto, Geoffrey Bonnycastle, moved to Calgary to help with her case, and together they established the Jia Lu School of Art in her apartment. Teaching provided an income in a city where Chinese-style painting and Buddhist art had few serious collectors. As Jia’s reputation as a teacher increased, so did her students, until over a hundred youths and adults were taking classes in drawing, painting and design every week in her home.

In the summer of 1996, Jia and Geoffrey spent their earnings on a six week trip to London and Paris. For the first time in her life, Jia came face-to-face with the European culture she had previously only read about. At the British Museum, the National Gallery, the Louvre and the Musee d’Orsay she was surrounded by masterpieces of Western and Oriental art. For the first time, perhaps, Jia Lu saw the importance of oil painting in general, and paintings of the human figure in particular, to world culture. And like so many artists before her, she fell in love with Paris. She sensed in the architecture, sculpture and painting of the Nineteenth Century an empire at its full glory, comparable to the Chinese Tang Dynasty but untarnished by several intervening centuries. All around, in private and public spaces were sculptures and paintings of the human figure, the magnificence of the nude in its unashamed beauty.

In October 1997 Jia Lu exhibited at Art Expo Los Angeles, an international exhibition of commercial fine art. Her work occupied one of the largest spaces devoted to a single artist and as a newcomer she attracted the attention of several art publishers.

Almost immediately, Jia Lu found she had to make some hard decisions about how she would show her work in the United States. The American fine art market was divided quite clearly between "high and "low" markets. The "high" market was the home for conceptual, abstract and avant-garde work, generally shown in artist-run cooperative galleries, a small number of commercial galleries, and public and university museums. It had its own magazines, critics and collectors. In the 1990s it was also relatively unsympathetic to realistic work. The "low" market was dominated by realistic and decorative painting, shown in commercial galleries, earning very little critical attention, with serigraphy and the newer giclee reproductions as important products.

Unsure how to describe her work, between 1997 and 2000 Jia Lu chose to concentrate on new creations and let the art world decide for itself. She had only begun to work in oils and had a number of themes she wanted to explore, reintegrating the compositions she had developed in her ink paintings, subjects she had explored in her Buddhist designs, and the highly personal, confessional mode she had discoverd in her mixed media work. During this period of intense activity she had time to invite her parents to the United States and now formally studied her father's own impressionist painting techniques, particularly his use of color and looser brushwork.

By 2000 she held several non-commercial exhibitions: her oils were shown at the new Asian Art Center and the United Nations Building in New York, and she was the only oil painter chosen to represent China at an important UNESCO exhibition during the China Cultural Week in Paris. Closer to home she showed at the Pacific Asian Museum in Pasadena.

Commercial galleries in the West began to purchase and exhibit important work to a growing audience. Exhibitions in Denver, San Diego, Santa Fe, San Jose, Bellevue, Los Angeles and Hawaii helped to establish a devoted corps of collectors and supporters. Several print editions began to sell out and her publishers, Alius Fine Art, had trouble keeping up with demand for a book on her life and work.

In 2003, Jia began to develop imagery for a stage production of her own. Originally titled Immortal, over the next three years it would transform into Transcendance, a live musical performance featuring dance, acrobatics, martial arts, magic, on-stage musicians, puppetry, moving sets and spectacular special effects, blending Asian and Western myth and legend. It was an attempt to bring her own paintings to life, to break out of the confines of two dimensions, to blend Chinese philosophy into Western art and to reach a larger audience.

By 2005 Jia had developed the script and concept art with Geoffrey and a small team of artists. The work attracted the attention of Tony Dimitriades, manager for Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Yes and Billy Idol. He in turn brought Jia to AEG, producers of the Celine Dion "A New Day" show at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas, owners of the Staples Center in Los Angeles, and one of the largest producers of live musical entertainment in the United States. Impressed with the work, AEG signed a contract to co-produce Transcendance and began working with Jia Lu to bring the show to Las Vegas in 2010.


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