By NATHAN SOLIS
HIGHLAND PARK –Artist Quan Sun’s favorite color is yellow, but not just any yellow, more like sunshine. She associates it with empress garb and joy. Vibrancy and color were not always part of Sun’s artwork, which is now hanging in her daughter’s gallery, Boney Puppy Studio, off of York Boulevard. Growing up in China during the Cultural Revolution, Sun was limited in her choices and bold colors were considered rude.
“Very gentle colors are Chinese colors,” says Lei Shi, Sun’s daughter who is translating her mother’s Mandarin.
Motioning with her hands, Sun describes Shanghai during The Cultural Revolution around 1966. She and her classmates at the art academy were shipped out for military training to the countryside. These art students were mainly from the city, in their early twenties, and all of a sudden they were surrounded by farmers and animals.
The students sketched their surroundings, and eventually Sun would become an art editor in the propaganda department of The People’s Party. Shi remembers seeing her mother’s artwork on the side of buses and her mother made a children’s story book starring Vladimir Lenin that was meant just for her.
Sun continued to make her art at home – black ink on rice paper. These works offer a monochromatic look at China, with their simple elegance. Sun married a soldier, Hu Shi, who would later become an influential artist in China. During this time, Sun made a life with her husband and daughter in Beijing.
“Some days I would sketch, small sketch,” Sun says, “And then my husband would say, ‘Oh, how lovely, can I add to this?’ And he would paint over it.”
During her 15 years of marriage Sun did not paint and it wasn’t until she remarried and moved to the United States that she began to make art again.
Today at 73, Sun is dressed all in black save for a colorful sash around her neck. Her paintings of life in China are abstract like the mixed media piece, Early Morning, which depicts a farmer’s life, dotted with a drinking gourd and a donkey. Or there is the black and white image on rice paper, Seeking the Way Home, which Sun says is based on her recent dreams of waiting for the bus in Shanghai as a young girl. Her dreams of China are in black and white.
Traveling in the early 90’s to cities like London and New York, Sun was inspired by a number of artists and different mediums. Her work flourished. Emotions began to peek through her paintings. Her art became rich, abstract, weightless, with shifting horizons and, yes, plenty of sunshine. There was demand for her art and the London Contemporary Art made a serigraph print of her work. But soon the commercial patrons were making harsh requests so that her art could complement furniture patterns in showrooms. They asked her to stop using so much yellow.
She stopped making art for those patrons.
Boney Puppy, her daughter’s gallery off of York Boulevard, is a small space, fitted with hanging window shutters. They’re a fitting decoration for such a shy artist who only allows glimmers of her own personality into her work. Sun says she is still making art every day and that her style is constantly changing. Now Sun is taking a liking to the color blue.
Nathan Solis is a Highland Park resident who writes about and photographs the L.A. music scene. You can find more of Solis’ stories, reviews and photos at Avenue Meander.