More than 160 artists are preparing to display their work at the Rotary Club of Los Altos’ 44th annual Fine Art in the Park show 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday in Lincoln Park. Chinese-American painter Caroline Young is among them.
Young depicts centuries-old Chinese legends in her intricate paintings. Raised in Hong Kong by American-born parents, she became intrigued by traditional stories explaining the mysteries of the universe, stories that have molded generations of children immersed in Chinese culture.
Both painting and verbal storytelling to children are Young’s ways of conveying her passion for stories that have shaped Chinese culture for centuries.
Young was mentored in the classical Chinese “delicate style” by Lam Oi Char. The style involves a traditional labor-intensive technique called gongbi, meaning “working brush.” Painting primarily on silk, Young mixes her own watercolor washes – some made from semiprecious metals, such as malachite for green and lapis lazuli for blue – and applies them to build intense, vibrant colors that reflect her emotions about a story.
She tints the silk one layer at a time. After a layer dries, she applies another one, ending up with 18-22 layers in all. To complete a work, she applies 22-karat gold leaf to watercolor paper. Each painting takes months of meticulous work.
“To fully understand the impact of these intensely evolved pieces, they should be experienced in person,” Young said. “The beauty of the canvas they are created on and the vibrancy of the colors cannot be appreciated without seeing them in front of you.”
Young invites children and adults of all backgrounds to see her paintings and hear the legends and myths behind them at Fine Art in the Park. Descriptions of two of her works follow.
Young’s painting “Moonrising” depicts the moon goddess Chang Er flying to the moon, embracing a rabbit. The legend is that 10 suns once circled the Earth, causing great famine and havoc. The emperor’s archer Yi shot down nine suns, leaving alone the one we know today. As a reward, the king gave Yi the potion of immortality. After the old emperor died, Yi became emperor. However, Yi was a tyrant who taxed his peasants relentlessly.
Beautiful Chang Er, Yi’s wife, took pity on the peasants and planned her husband’s death by one night stealing and drinking Yi’s nightly potion. Alas, she drank too much and rose into the night sky, coming to rest in the moon. And there she lives until today with the rabbit. When people look at the moon’s contours, they can imagine a rabbit with its mortar and pestle, pounding the elixir of immortality for his mistress to drink. When Chinese people celebrate the annual Mid-Autumn Moon Festival, they toast Chang Er and eat the famous Chinese mooncakes shaped like rabbits.
Another of Young’s favorite subjects is “Khutulun the Huntress,” painted with a cheetah and a falcon. While Kublai Khan ruled the Mongol Empire in the 13th century from what is modern-day Beijing, his cousin, Khaidu, and Khaidu’s daughter, Khutulun, fought him from their base in Central Asia. According to Venetian explorer Marco Polo, the beautiful, powerful Khutulun was a skilled archer and wrestler who vowed to marry the man who could defeat her at wrestling. Each man was required to gamble 100 horses against his victory. None succeeded in overpowering her. Khutulun amassed 10,000 horses and never married. Her story, in part, inspired Puccini’s famous 20th-century opera “Turandot.”
Visit carolineyoungstudios.com for more information on Young.
For more information on Fine Art in the Park, visit rotaryartshow.com.
Cindy Bogard-O’Gorman is a member of the Rotary Club of Los Altos. For more information, visit losaltosrotary.org.