LESS IS MORE: In China, where Yin Ping Zheng was raised, a great artist can evoke an entire scene in a single brushstroke. After 34 years of studying Chinese painting and calligraphy, Zheng says he still has much to learn. Every Sunday, you’ll find him set up at the art walk on Cabrillo Boulevard, selling his paintings of birds and flowers, mountains and valleys. Zheng admits he makes some concessions for the American aesthetic, which tends to abhor a vacuum, yet his paintings retain the spaciousness and economy of his training. “When you leave the rice paper white, you allow the observer to fill it in with imagination,” he explained last week at his home studio, gesturing to the small painting he’d been working on that morning. On the white page, two black swallows darted between pale purple wisteria blossoms. “Show less,” he said, “and the viewer should feel more.”
Zheng specializes in the freehand style of traditional Chinese brush painting, which he studied for more than two decades under the tutelage of Master Wang Yao Ting. He now teaches the form and has exhibited his work internationally. Huddled over a cup of tea, Zheng was reticent to discuss his accomplishments. “I don’t like showing off,” he explained. “In Chinese culture, it’s about keeping calm and doing your best.”
Yet Zheng is driven, typically spending 10 hours a day painting, and he’ll talk at length about the formal qualities of his work. He uses a combination of water-based ink and paint to achieve intense black, vivid color, and the subtler hues in between. In one of his large-scale framed paintings, deep-pink peonies dominate the foreground, and two birds perch together on a plum branch farther off. Calligraphy in the corner confirms the symbolism of these images: The peonies represent wealth; plum blossoms, longevity; and the little birds, life-long partnership. Western viewers may not catch these symbols, Zheng acknowledged. But stop at his stall on Sunday, and he’ll fill you in. To learn more, visit yinpingzheng.com.
A SUMMER’S DOZEN: It’s been 12 years since Kathleen Elsey left her job as a designer in San Francisco and set out to paint full-time. She hasn’t looked back—until now. This coming weekend, she’ll be opening her studio for a tour that features one painting for every year she’s been at it. Arranged chronologically, these works chart Elsey’s development from acrylic on paper through her transition to canvas and linen, a brief stint with oils, and a return to acrylic. There’s a good balance between figurative works and landscapes, and while these works show her artistic range, there are themes that run throughout: bright color, bold brushstrokes, and a whimsical approach to both medium and subject.
At the same time, Elsey’s an accomplished technician. Take, for example, “Rio Lindo,” from 2000. During this period, the artist stuck strictly to plein air painting, often starting with a bright red under-painting before layering on the subtler tones of earth and sky. Veins of fiery red show through here, delineating the fields and dancing up the flanks of golden hills. Down by the river, diagonal brushstrokes give way to choppier, kinetic lines, as if the water invigorated the surrounding plant life.
“Pink Fog Morning,” from the following year, post-dates the attacks of September 11 by three weeks and is by far the darkest work in this show. The artist seems perched on a narrow deck above the ocean, a single railing separating her from the chaos of cliff, rock, and surf far below.
Elsey’s most recent works tend toward complex figurative scenes, like “Parade” from 2008, which any Santa Barbara viewer will recognize as Summer Solstice in all its exuberant energy and splashy color. The Past Twelve Years will be on view 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, July 31, and Sunday, August 1, at 2 East Pueblo Street. Visit elsey.com for more on the artist.