Cultural Connections

Musings about my experiences, art, and life in Mongolia and beyond.

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Location: Ulaanbaatar, Tuv aimag, Mongolia

Native Chicagoan currently teaching in Mongolia.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Art Nirvana

When surveying art history or the biographies of artists, there are many who have left their homelands in search of inspiration in exotic lands or landscapes. For example, the American painter Georgia O’Keefe, who grew up in a small, rural town in Wisconsin, studied art in the big city of Chicago, went to New York, and then left the east coast for the desert landscape of New Mexico – quite a contrast to life in New York and the lush landscapes of the east coast. Gauguin, whose colorful paintings were inspired by his life on the exotic island of Tahiti. And one of my favorites, Malvina Hoffman, who was a student of the famous sculptor Rodin. Malvina won a commission from the Field Museum in Chicago. She traveled the world to create a collection of bronzes depicting the many faces of the world’s cultures for a museum exhibition. The experiences of these artists in these exotic landscapes or other cultures, inspired them, and later defined their art and who they became as artists.

Five years ago, I would have never thought I would be living in Mongolia, much less meeting or working with Mongolian artists. It’s like a dream; it’s surreal. As I mentioned earlier, when I was younger, I dreamed of being an archaeologist and studying the ancient history of Central Asia, Siberia, Mongolia. I was fascinated by the animal style of art – the meaning behind the symbols, the spirituality, the movement of line, the animation. The artwork, as well as the culture and history, have been a fascination of mine, one that has slowly crept into my own artwork. Since 2004, when I first visited Mongolia, it has become stronger.

In 2005, I returned to Mongolia for a second time. This time as a volunteer. Little did I know I would be introduced to many artists, professors, galleries and many fellow ceramic artists. If you want to understand the soul of a culture, you look to their artists and writers – they are the windows or the eyes of a culture’s soul. Meeting and talking with many Mongolian artists was very eye opening regarding Mongolian culture. There was also a great connection. Perhaps we artists are the same throughout the world. Certainly, our mediums connect us and I found a special connection with Mongolian ceramic artists. It’s funny, some of us like to smell and taste the earth in the same way! Perhaps because our ancestors have produced ceramics for thousands of years and the earth connects us historically, geographically and spiritually.

Now that I am living in Mongolia, I am able to see, learn, and connect even more. This past fall, I visited an exhibition by artists of the Blue Sun Gallery. The theme was based on Mongolian business logos. It was interesting to see the artists interpret these logos or businesses in the style of American Pop artists, Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol.

Recently, I visited the studios of several members of the Union of Mongolian Artists. It was exciting to see so many artists at work – the color, movement and energy in their work. For example, I had never been inside the workshop of an artist who creates monumental sculptures or bronze sculptures. It was how I imagined Malvina Hoffman or Auguste Rodin’s studios to be. And to discuss surrealism with one of my favorite Mongolian painters – I never dreamed I would meet him and so it was a real treat. Like an American friend said to me, “Jules, it sounds like you are in art nirvana!” So after experiencing Mongolia’s landscapes, like the sculptural rock formations of the Gobi, and its culture, such as Nomadic life and Buddhism, it will be interesting to see what develops in a year, or five years from now.

For now, I am busy meeting with artists and learning about Mongolian contemporary art. They have shown me their studios, artwork, new galleries, the National Art Gallery and art college. I have been given clay to create my own sculptures. In addition, I have been given many pamphlets and catalogues about their artwork - including an interesting one on "Earthworks" - art made of nature in the Gobi! Some of us are currently discussing some exhibitions for this year and next. I am hoping to do a show with a fellow ceramic artist on Women's Day, March 8th. And Of course, I would like to bring some of them to Chicago. We await the first edition of a new magazine on Mongolian Contemporary Art. If anyone is interested in receiving a copy, please let me know.

Here is a photo of my good friend and Artist extraordinaire, Mr. Boldbaatar. He is an art Prof. at the Technical University, Member of the Union of Mongolian Artists, exhibit designer for the new Chingiss Khan Memorial museum and creator of the new World Art magazine.

Blue Sun Gallery:
Union of Mongolian Artists (UMA):
Mongolian Arts Council:
More photos later...


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