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ref:topbtw-1623.html/ 30 Aprile 2019/A

The Magic Flower..
Peony: A Symbolic Flower

Cina: da un posto qualsiasi..

With the coming of spring, lots of people start going outdoors.

From skating, dancing, and other sports to walking in parks and renting boats on lakes, springtime is the best time to enjoy the nature and warmer weather in China.

One of the most common things to do, however, is to go and look at peonies.

Why, you ask?

The peony is a beautiful flower which blossoms in spring, and is mostly along the shades red and pink.

It is a traditional floral symbol in China, not only admired but also painted and used in art.

It was appointed as the national flower in 1903, and even though it isn't the national flower any more, it is still one of the most common motifs in China.

It is often regarded as "flower of riches and honor", or "king of the flowers" in Chinese culture, and symbolizes prosperity, wealth, and beauty.

There is an ancient myth that during the Tang Dynasty, Empress Wu Zetian commanded that all of the flowers in her royal garden (present-day Xi'An) were to bloom in winter, so to bring life and happiness even in this cold season.

All of the flowers complied, except for the peony, who insisted in blooming in spring.

The Empress, enraged, moved the peony to Luoyang, where it has thrived for the past 1,500 years.

It is there which the Luoyang Peony Festival is held. During the festival, both Chinese and foreigners go and admire peonies, as it is the most famous place for these symbolic flowers.

They bloom from mid-April to mid-May, and so the festival is typically held between the 15th and 25th of April.

Even though the festival is spread across many gardens in Luoyang, it is mostly held in the Luoyang National Peony Garden on the outskirts of the city.

This garden is one of the oldest to grow and reproduce peonies, and has over a million peony trees.

People going can admire the incredible flowers as the gardens are "awash with colorful flowers mostly reds mixed with whites, yellows and purples set against a background of thick, vibrant, dark green leaves, like a myriad of precious stones set in bright, shiny rings", as described by China Highlights.

Many come from all over China to admire the flowers in full bloom, as well as watch the numerous performances held during the festival. But these flowers aren't just one to look at: they are one to paint.

Ever since they became a traditional flower, they have been present in dresses, paintings, ceramics, and more!

It has become both an art and a business to create peony art. For this section I have interviewed Mr. Jack, an art teacher.

He runs the Red Peony- Chinese Painting and Calligraphy Studio in Ningbo, a town in China about three hours car from Shanghai.

He specializes in painting these unique flowers.

He is a passionate artist and teacher, and was reported by China Daily, February 2016, as "a phenomenal, brilliant man who is able to bridge both cultural gaps and artistic gaps… a good ambassador for Chinese culture who makes it more accessible to the West".

In 2017, the British BBC conducted a half-hour live broadcast of the Red Peony, telling the world about British people's love of Chinese peony paintings.

L.B: Could you talk a little about yourself?

Mr. Jack:
Hello, I am Mr. Jack!

I'm proficient in English, education, and art, and devoted to teaching people who love art.

I've been awarded several top art awards including a National Golden Prize for Chinese Painting in 2012.

In the same year, I set up the Red Peony Academy of Chinese Painting and Calligraphy in Ningbo.

The Academy offers classes in Chinese brush painting and calligraphy for foreigners in Ningbo and over seven thousand students from 170 countries have attended.

From 2018 to 2019, under the guidance of Ningbo Culture, Radio, Television and Tourism Bureau, I set up the Red Peony painting studios in Yangfan square, Xiangsha and Nantang Old street.

Since the establishment of Red Peony Academy of Chinese Painting and Calligraphy, the six teaching bases have attracted more and more people wanting to study Chinese painting and calligraphy.

I have been invited to teach Chinese culture for Chinese embassies, elite scholars of Tsinghua University, foreign experts visiting delegation, foreign mayor governor minister and overseas groups.

And I have been invited to give lectures in several universities including the University of London, Queen Mary University and Nottingham University, as well as many British primary and secondary schools.

I've also gone to art centers and churches.

L.B: Why did you start *painting* peonies, as opposed to any other art linked to this flower?

Mr. Jack:
Before the founding of the Red Peony Academy of Chinese Painting and Calligraphy, I was an English teacher.

During 20 years of English teaching, I was inspired by the master of calligraphy and painting, Yu Yiqing, and embarked on the road of painting and calligraphy.

Initially, I was exposed to the "four gentlemen" in Chinese calligraphy and painting:
plum, orchid, bamboo, and chrysanthemum.
In 2006, I was the director of the Ningbo Art High School Library.

In the next 6 years, I used the library's rich teaching resources to constantly absorb the wisdom of the paintings and paintings of the past dynasties and copy their works of art.

The artistic wisdom of Peony Painting Master Wu Changshuo and calligraphy and painting Wang Xuetao has had a profound impact on my creation.

Since then, I have become attached to the peony.

In the process of delving into the creation of peony paintings, I had a thought: peonies are beautiful, but few people know;
Chinese culture is beautiful, but it is very shallow!

If I can use the power of education to make the country shine in the world, there will be more people who fall in love with Chinese traditional culture.

In 2012, after winning the Chinese Painting Gold Award in the National Painting and Calligraphy Art Competition, I became determined to establish a public welfare international calligraphy and painting exchange agency with the concept of "art, friendship, love".

L.B: Could you describe how you paint peonies?
Is it hard?
How long would it take to master this aspect of art?

Mr. Jack:
The process of painting peony is not complicated.

First, keep a certain amount of water in the brush.
Second, let one side of the brush be white, and add red until the surface of the brush has a gradual red color.

Third, put the pen flat and start painting the peony petals, adding petals in the direction of flower growth. Fourth, mix yellow and blue, blend into green, and add different sizes of green leaves to the peony.

Afterward you should draw a stem, adding a little red in the brush.

Finally, garnish the peony with a yellow flower. I feel lucky to get close to national beauty and the heavenly fragrance of peonies during my years of painting them.

To some extent, expressing the charm of a traditional peony is a hard thing to do involving the use of brushes, the appearance, shade, color and combination.

However, it's simple to present red peony by using special freedom painting way.

L.B: Who, in your experience, are the people who start learning art with peonies?

For example, foreigners, locals, children, elders etc.

Mr. Jack:
Before 2018, I have worked for cultural exchanges, teaching Chinese traditional culture to foreigners who come from a variety of countries including Britain, Germany, Ukraine, Russia, Latvia, South Korea, Japan, and so on.

Their age ranges are mostly between 7 and 70 years old.
L.B: Do you have any final things to say?

Mr. Jack: It is my mission is to spread the fragrance and the beauty of Chinese painting and calligraphy by bridging our hearts with friendship and happiness between China and the world to benefit people in all corners of the world.

Except teaching peony painting, I also teach Tai Chi, calligraphy, and paintings with the "four gentlemen" I mentioned above.
L.B: Thank you so much!

Cortesia di L.B.

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