At 82, artist Chou Van still follows his heart

Monday, September 3, 2007
Issue 95, Page 7
Word count: 1005
Published in: Macau Daily Times

By Poyi (Natalie) Leung

Having lived with his artist father for the first 20 years of life, 82-year-old Chou Van, Chairman of the Chinese Calligraphy and Painting Research Association, said he unintentionally picked up Chinese painting only after his father’s death.

Chou Van told the Macau Daily Times in an exclusive interview at the Lou Lim Ieoc Park yesterday that he started learning painting only when he was 23, two years after his businessman father Chou Jim passed away.

Chou Jim had a passion for Chinese painting and his work had been displayed in Macau Art Museum.

“Whenever my father painted at home, I had to go into his room and pour him tea. I would stand next to him and he told me some techniques and tips,” Chou Van recalled.

“Every time I would just nod my head, I didn’t really pay much attention, but as I listened to it almost every day, I started to remember what he had said to me.”

Chou Van said he was sorting out his father’s belongings and when he saw many of his painting tools in the room, he decided to give it a go.

“So I tried to do some painting, recall what my father had taught me and apply it in a practical way,” he said.

The 82-year-old said he had underestimated the skills needed in Chinese painting at that time. Therefore, he would research more on the techniques and try to revise his father’s teaching whenever he could not paint something nicely.

“I always learned things on my own,” he said.

Seventh child

Mr Chou was the seventh children and there were four siblings younger than him. However, he was the only one who painted among his parents’ 11 children.

He said he would have been a scientist if China had not been at war when he was about to go there to continue his education in the 1930s.

“Macau had no senior high schools and universities at that time. I was about to complete my junior high school and do my senior high school in the science discipline in China. But it was during the Japanese invasion and so I abandoned my education.”

Chinese paintings could be divided into two main disciplines – figures and nature. Mr Chou said he began by painting figures which was the most complicated kind of Chinese paintings.

“When you painted a figure, there must be something on the background such as flowers, bamboos, mountains and trees. Therefore, my skills could be developed comprehensively and I can draw and paint almost everything now,” he said.

“In addition, the caption is necessary in every painting to illustrate its meaning. Therefore, I also got to learn calligraphy.”

Young businessman

Chou Van said he was engaged in a lot of businesses in China such as a garment factory, retail jewellery and producing alcohol to replace petrol during the wartime when he was young.

And from his 30s to 50s, he was teaching Chinese Kung Fu which he said was probably the reason why he looked younger than he actually was.

“I have been having just one lung for more than a decade but I can still do exercises. I also lost my gall bladder and part of the small intestine. Recently, the doctor has implanted a metal supporter for my heart,” he said.

Although Mr Chou had been studying the traditional art since his 20s, he did not have his first student until he was 55.

“My name had spread around the local Chinese painting community although I didn’t put my work on sales.

“Lam Tak Cheong (Chou’s first student) has his own students now but he would still sometimes seek comments from me.”

Most of Chou Van’s students were between 30 and 50 and had full-time jobs. He has eight students now and gives classes twice a week.

“Some of them have been students of mine for more than a decade,” he added.

Curiosity his motivation

Chou Van said the biggest motivation that kept him painting for all these years was his curiosity. “Whenever I’ve a question from my students and I don’t know the answer, I search for it and I enjoy the process. I want to know everything the other people don’t know.”

He told the Macau Daily Times his paintings had been selected twice in the Chinese Painting Exhibition of China event which was held every four years in Beijing.

“My friends and I all know that I’m always smarter than other people,” he laughed.

Except for having a talent in painting, Chou Van was also interested in playing violin.

“I know how to fix a violin even though it has been broken down in pieces. I learned everything seriously even it was just a hobby.”

However, he said there was a period that he did not like talking to people.

“I don’t like to socialise and people thought I was so proud of myself. In fact, I was afraid that they would think I was crazy if I told them I knew so many things and had so many different types of businesses. They just wouldn’t believe me,” he explained.

The Chinese Calligraphy and Painting Research Association is currently hosting an art exhibition in the Lou Lim Ieoc Park. It displays 60 art pieces of its 50 members.

Two of the flowers paintings are the work of Chou Van. However, he said he did not paint very often now.

“I seldom paint; indeed I enjoy studying more. I only paint for my interest and whenever I feel like. I just follow my heart.”

“My goal is to embrace the Chinese art culture with creative ideas such as contemporary photography and western painting techniques,” he said.

The association had been organising the art exhibition for the past two years. Mr Chou said that, as an artist, he wanted the annual exhibition to be the best, from the invitation cards, to the guest books, and to the layout of the paintings in the exhibition hall.

It was, he said, because “I’m a perfectionist.”


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