In Plano Artist Jenney Chang's Brush Paintings, East and West Come Together

In traditional Chinese brush paintings, it's not unusual to find a scene of galloping horses, with delicate calligraphy spilling down the margins. But it is somewhat unusual to encounter a Texas cowboy swinging a lariat over his head, as depicted in a piece by Jenney Chang.In the Plano artist's works, East and West come together. A pillar of the North Texas Chinese and Taiwanese American communities, Chang has helped hundreds of local students develop their artistic skills. She combines her personal experience as an immigrant with her artistic philosophies in her own work, which is on display until Aug. 24 as part of the ArtCentre of Plano exhibit “FLOW: The Dedication of Women.”"In American culture, it's all about ambition," says Chang, 60, speaking in Mandarin, the language she is most comfortable with. "But Chinese culture is about being humble, about giving, not snatching. It's about harmony. It's a completely different philosophy. In this show, I'm trying to represent Chinese virtues, Chinese landscapes."The classic -- or stereotypical -- immigrant story is that of the young person who dreams of a better life and rises to fame and fortune. Chang's story is a different one, perhaps more common but less told. She wasn't fueled by ambition, but was open to opportunities that guided her to where she is now.Growing up in Taipei, Taiwan, Chang had a natural gift for drawing and inherited a love of nature from her mother. She ended up enrolling at the National Taiwan Normal University, the only one of nine siblings to attend college. There, she studied fine arts and learned the meticulous techniques of traditional Chinese painting.'No erasing'Chinese art instruction "was focused on perfecting line strokes, [how to] control the brush, where to use colors richly, and where to use colors sparingly," says Chang. "In Chinese painting, there is no erasing."But Chang was also exposed to Western thought in a required philosophy class, where, she says, she was taught "how to have a dialogue with yourself, and how to let your ideas develop."Chang enjoyed being pushed to think more deeply about art. After college, she taught art at a local middle school, where she met her husband, a Chinese teacher. In 1986, the pair immigrated to Texas so that her husband, Dennis, could obtain a master’s degree."When I came to America, I thought, 'What can I do?' There was no Chinese painting," says Chang. "I thought about how I never understood abstract art in college. I wanted to learn about the artists' motivation, and to learn how to appreciate abstract art."So she also enrolled in a master's program at what is now Texas A&M University-Commerce. Chang studied the surrealism of Marcel Duchamp and the thoughtful simplicity of Robert Motherwell. Although she was learning new techniques and styles, Chang struggled with being in a different environment, and having to speak a new language.  Continue reading...

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