To date her life experience have led to a rich meeting of cultures. Through her childhood and husband's role in the New Zealand Diplomatic Service, she came to experience many countries as a lived experience. Her husband's death in 2004 has forced Margaret to restructure her own life. Her painting is a vivid reaction and a critique of the reality in which she lives.
In the South Pacific Island of Niue, where she lived for four years, Margaret saw the repercussions of New Zealand's political heritage as a coloniser. She was witness to the "Beating the Retreat" of the British forces in Hong Kong and, whilst living in Beijing, to the return of Hong Kong to the mainland. These events brought the end of the British Empire sharply into focus.
In 1977, Margaret was part of a New Zealand student teacher's delegation to China. In Guangzhou she met Mr Ye Zixiong, a professor of English at the Academy of Fine Arts.
During the period 1991 to 1994, whilst living in Hong Kong, she renewed her friendship with Mr Ye. Furthering her interest in painting, she would travel to Guangzhou, staying in the Academy with Professor Ye and his family, to receive informal instruction and guidance on painting. She was repeatedly told that art is a difficult road to follow. Bearing the paintings that Margaret had completed in the intervening time since her previous visit, she would receive constructive criticism. Students and retired professors gave freely of their time and expertise.
When the then Vice Principal of the Traditional Painting Department, Professor Fang Chuxiong, set assignements and commented on her work, she realised that the difficulties she had forced during this time had tested her perseverance, dedication and resolve. These are considered the most important personality attributes of the artist.
During the long Chinese New Year Holiday, in 1993, she was invited to join Professor Fang Chuxiong, his wife, Lin Shuran (also a respected Chinese artist in the Gongbi or the elaborate, layered, detailed style of painting, usually executed on silk) and his extended family (many of whom are also practicing artists or calligraphers) at their home in Baoju Village, just outisde of the city of Guangzhou. Professor Fang had a large studio and set up in one corner of this studio, was a table for Margaret.
At this time, Professor Fang was working on commissioned paintings (including one for the Chinese Official Guest House in Beijing, the Diaoyutai), joint paintings (with the involvment of other artists) and his everyday commercial or "realtionship exchange" paintings. This intense period of involvement in the life of the traditional painting professional teacher and artist included meeting with other artists, observing, practicing and understanding the process of inspiration, preparation, conceptualising, composing and finally painting.
Margaret knew she had achieved a milestone in her progress when she was invited to participate in the painting of a large landscape, already started in distant co-operation with other well known Guangzhou artists, namely Lin Yong and Fang Chuxiong. Margaret added colour.
In China it is considered an honour for someone else to write or paint something on your painting. This is not a task to be taken lightly. The burden of responsability is on the person adding to the work to enchance the composition or understanding of a painting. It is not seen as a distraction, nor is it seen as devaluing the work (in the way that many may view tagging or graffiti as spoiling another artist's original work). This practice reeinforces the notion that the owner is only a custodian during his or her lifetime. It is not unusual for a collector to feel so moved by a painting in his or her possession that an inscription may consist of something simple and heartfelt, like: "I enjoy this painting". The art object then becomes a true interaction between viewer and artist, or artists.
Unpacking the aesthetic experience through Margaret's paintings opens a gateway to her work, while simultaneously, in a very broad way, opening the door to painting in China's Lingnan School. The term School refers to a movement or a group who uphold a common belief system. Margaret is a fourth generation student and practitioner of the Lingnan School of painting and in 1994 was given the honour of exhibiting her paintings in the prestigious Lingnan Memorial Hall.
The exhibition marked the occasion of her being the first person of European extraction to be invited to show works in this special place. This exhibition attracted a lot of attention and raised many questions. At the seminar accompanying the exhibition artists debated the nature of painting and the significance of not growing up within a "Cinese tradition of practice". Parallels were made to modern Chinese students who use ballpoint pens and computers and do not have frequent access to brush and ink, as those in the past did in their daily lives.
Questions raised at this seminar, form a basis for the challenge to the viewer (in the form of intellectual references) in the content of her works. They include questions such as: What is "Chinese painting"? Is my work "Chinese painting"? Can "Chinese painting", with its strong calligraphic foundation, be practiced by someone virtually ignorant of both language and character formation?
The question of being included as a Chinese painter is interesting. Margaret has clearly been accepted as a Chinese artist, as have others from the past, including the European and Jesuit, Giuseppe Castiglione, who became a court painter during the Qing Dynasty. Shortly after her 1994 Lingnan Memorial Hall exhibition, the first volume of Margaret's paintings was published in Guangzhou. More recently, in 1999, Margaret has been invited to submit photographs of her work for a series of postcards, titled in Chinese Charachter and including the translation "Contemporary Chinese Artist Series", being sold through Chinese post offices.
Margaret is an artist member of the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts. She is currently living between New Zealand and Europe.
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