Tag Archives: Chinese New Year 2014

Winter sunrise

John Martin, Thomas Bewick and Chinese brush paintings

We are fortunate in North East England to have a wealth of wonderful art galleries and museums to feed our cultural souls. On a recent town trip we enjoyed some new artworks and some old favourites.

Our first stop was an exhibition of Chinese brush paintings in the Newcastle City Library. This was part of the city’s celebrations for Chinese New Year – The Year of the Horse. The paintings in this exhibition were the work of members of the Northern Chinese Brush Painters’ Society. Chinese brush painting is a very distinct style of painting, often featuring flowers and animals associated with China, as well as classical images of Chinese figures.

Viewing Chinese Brush Painting Exhibition at City Library
Viewing Chinese Brush Painting Exhibition at City Library

We like to take our time when we’re exploring an exhibition and really absorb the feelings different works evoke. Having visited previous exhibitions of Chinese brush painting we were ready to appreciate the skillful brushwork that goes into this style of painting and the artists of the Chinese Brush Painters’ Society really are very accomplished. The exhibition was a visual treat. There were wild birds, cockerels, peonies, roses, landscapes, waterfalls, a tiger (a favourite with our boys), and of course, a horse – all beautifully represented in Chinese brush work.

Our second stop was the 18th and 19th Century Paintings on the first floor of the Laing Art Gallery which is conveniently just across the road from the library. The Laing is one of our regular haunts so our boys are very familiar with many of the works in this part of the gallery. They feel at home here and happily wander off to study the various paintings. In this gallery we have works by John Martin, Thomas Gainsborough, Joshua Reynolds, William Holman Hunt and, one of my favourites, Laura Knight, among others. Then after we’ve wandered we meet up at particular family favourites and talk about something that has caught our eye.

On this occasion we were standing by John Martin’s “The Bard” – at over 2 metres high and a metre and a half across, it is an imposing and truly mesmerising painting that we never tire of viewing and discussing. It depicts the medieval story of Edward I and his armies conquering Wales, with the last Welsh Bard standing high on the mountainside from which he is about to leap to his death.

We also contemplated the smaller works by John Martin that are hung adjacent to “The Bard”. One in particular drew our attention, entitled “Solitude”, as it depicts a lone figure gazing out across woods and moorland towards the kind of glorious sunset we often see in winter across our own valley. The sunrise I’ve added as the header to this post demonstrates the amazing sky colours we experience. This is a raw image taken in early January.

The final part of this cultural tour was to view an exhibition currently at the Laing Gallery showcasing works by another very famous North East artist and his pupils, “Thomas Bewick and His Apprentices”. Thomas Bewick is renowned for his wood engravings, many of which were published as book illustrations.

Thomas Bewick's engravings
Thomas Bewick’s engravings

This exhibition partly showcased Bewick’s own work, but also that of the apprentices who worked with him at his workshop. There were engravings but also paintings by Bewick’s apprentices in the exhibition, including a wonderful watercolour of Tynemouth Priory by Luke Clennell. The following link takes you to part of the Tyne & Wear Museums website where you can see some of Luke Clennell’s work. We discussed how the subject matter and style of some of these paintings were similar to some of the works of John Sell Cotman.

We had a very enjoyable and informative day, experiencing and appreciating an interesting range of works by North East-based artists past and present. It was certainly a wonderful way to spend a damp winter’s day.

J Peggy Taylor

Chinese Dragon, Lion and Unicorn dance

Celebrating Chinese New Year in Newcastle-upon-Tyne

We always try to get along to the Chinese New Year celebrations in town and so off we went on Sunday morning. As usual, hundreds of other families turned out too. There is such a wonderful atmosphere at this event.

We normally start by taking a wander around the mini-fairground including some tastebud-tempting Chinese food stalls. Then we make our way up onto Stowell Street and join the crowds thronging the pavements to await the arrival of the traditional Dragon, Lion and Unicorn. Stowell Street is at the heart of Newcastle’s ‘Chinatown’ and is lined with Chinese restaurants and food shops, so the air is full of delicious aromas.

Chinese Dragon and Lion dance
The Dragon and the Lion arrive

Soon the dragon’s arrival is announced by the loud rhythmical beat of the huge drum that accompanies the parade. The Dragon appears and is closely followed by the Lion.

Chinese Lion dances by
The Lion dances by

As they dance their way along Stowell Street the crowd follows behind. Small children are hoisted onto adult shoulders as we all crane our necks and wave our cameras and phones in the air trying to snatch another glimpse of the dancing parade.

Chinese Dragon, Lion and Unicorn dance
Dragon, Lion and Unicorn dance

In the centre of the street, outside of the North East Chinese Association, the parade stops briefly and the Unicorn joins the Dragon and the Lion in their ongoing dance. The parade sets off again, the crowd follows and the dancing continues to the end of the street then finally round to the Chinese Arch. The following crowd doesn’t quite make it that far as the event stewards must carefully ensure everyone’s safety … and there’s another crowd already waiting by the Arch!

Chinese New Year parade
Dancing off to the Chinese Arch

The sights, the smells and the sounds all combine to create a truly memorable occasion. Having returned home with only photos, I wished I’d thought to record the fabulous drumming that accompanies the traditional dances. Also adding to the ‘official’ drumming are many children and families in the crowd joining in with their small Chinese drums too. The noise is amazing.

Kung Hey Fat Choi!

J Peggy Taylor