An Ho has lived in the United States since 1974, but she speaks only a few words of English. Her language is art.
Born in Beijing in 1929, An Ho — “everybody calls her An Ho,” said her daughter, Lalani Nan, who acts as her full-time translator — is a rare artist who can execute delicate Chinese brushwork paintings in the styles of both the Tang and Sung dynasties, 1,000-year-old traditions.
She studied under the close tutelage of Pu Ru, a painter and calligrapher who was a cousin to the emperor and who was considered one of the last true Chinese scholar-artists.
An Ho began painting as a child. She was in poor health, she said, and very introverted, so painting helped her to express herself creatively. Saturday and Sunday she will teach a course in Chinese brushwork at Townsend Atelier on Main Street. The experience should help painters use their brushes more effectively, she said.
In 2008, An Ho moved to Chattanooga with her daughter and son-in-law, with whom she resides.
Q: What is the difference between a modern and traditional brushwork style?
A: The modern style is a spontaneous brushstroke style. That started in the early Ming dynasty by scholars. (This older) style primarily was done for emperors. It traces way back in the Tang dynasty. That’s where all the rich color comes from. They discovered the most beautiful, rich colors. At the same time, they came up with the most detailed, lavish paintings. It’s almost like European, like the Rococo era. There’s not much spontaneous brushstroke. Everything is done to extreme detail.
Q: What is the first step to brushwork?
A: You start with calligraphy. To be able to execute a beautiful line, you need to know how to use a brush, how to freely maneuver the brush. In China, the painting and the calligraphy are hand in hand. The calligraphy is the bone of a good painting.
Q: How does learning Chinese brushwork help artists working in Western styles?
A: Basically … it helps them be more controlled of their line work. Going through the process will help them mentally be more focused.
Q: What fulfillment does painting give you?
A: I’m happy that myself, my daughter and my son-in-law are all artists. We’re having our own critique all the time. This is my ideal kind of life.
Q: What are your feelings on how art has changed over the years?
A: I have no prejudice toward modern art. As long as it’s from the bottom of (the artist’s) heart and it’s truthful to what they really want to express, that’s the only thing that’s important. For me, the art has no nationality. As long as it’s good and truthful.
Q: What is the most important thing you learned from Pu Ru about teaching?
A: Pu Ru never taught how to paint a painting. He taught that the No. 1 discipline is to be honest. Start with the classical books. Practice calligraphy. Those are the three major points I always carry with me. Two important things about making a good piece of art, according to Pu Ru: First, it has to come from the inside. The inside cannot be empty. You have to be absorbing all kinds of philosophy, classical books, literature, music, so you can have a full bucket to pull out.
Q: What is in your bucket?
A: I started as a figure painter. Then I started to see enough people and started getting into flowers. Now my vision is much wider. I am inspired by the landscapes, especially in the morning with the fog. In a city like this, I can expand my vision. I’d like to express the mystery of the landscapes.
Q: What are your favorite parts of the Chattanooga landscape?
A: I can see the mountains in the distance. So many times, I can see the fog start to break and the water behind it. It’s very classical.
Q: After 38 years of living here, what is your favorite and least favorite thing about America?
A: My least favorite thing is that it is too mechanical. My favorite thing is I like seeing Americans walking their dogs. I hear Americans are protecting the animals. That means there is kindness.
Q: Do you have any philosophies by which you live?
A: Go with God — it doesn’t matter what God. For me, it’s just a force. Go with God means doing things with good intention. Do your best, work something as truthfully as you can, as hard as you can. The rest, let it fall. Don’t force anything to happen. Trust. Be natural. Things will open up. Follow your own routine and you do the best you can, and see what happens. You feel more fulfilled that way.
Click to view original Times Free Press article: Artist’s Chinese brushwork done in extreme detail