Photos by Hillary Ehlen
Zhimin Guan’s expression changes when he talks about painting. His eyes come alive and his voice contains vigor. We sat down with this renowned artist and charismatic teacher to discuss his creative process as well as his recent exhibition at Ecce Art Gallery in Downtown Fargo.
Guan has painted water on metal. The metal symbolizes industrialization of the Western world while the water represents the eternity of nature.
Working Within a Series
“My work is always related to water.” – Zhimin Guan
Before Zhimin Guan determines whether or not a piece is finished, he will hang it in his studio to observe its composition. “Before I put a frame on it, I will stare at it,” he said. The pieces that currently hang in his studio were originally intended to be a part of his Water & Stone exhibition that was on display at Ecce Gallery.
“We planned the Ecce exhibition a year ago. I titled it water and stone, which is a favorite of Eastern culture. I explored that a long time ago, but I just never used oil painting to represent that stone and water,” said Guan.
Guan usually likes to work within series, exploring abstraction and realism at the same time. The pieces within each of his series are connected by a common theme. One theme that can be seen throughout the majority of Guan’s work is the presence of stone and water. “I think that stone and water can be a constant theme,” Guan said when discussing his art.
Guan has a deep appreciation for water. He went on to explain, “My work is always related to water because water has virtue. Life depends on water, but at the same time, water can go to the very lowest place. It is very humble and modest.”
Emotion in the Medium
Guan uses all media to express emotion in his art. “The medium can create different feelings. Watercolor has a cheerful, spontaneous quality. Oil painting has a strong, orchestra-like quality. Pastels have a soft, drawing quality. My goal is to combine them to see how they can work together to create a new medium,” Guan explained. However, he still tends to favor oil because it is flexible and forgiving. “You can get everything you want from oil,” he said.
Zhimin Guan as a Teacher
Born in Anhui, China, Guan came to the United States in 1995. After he received his MFA in painting and drawing from Fort Hays State University in 1998, he applied for a teaching position nationally and was matched with MSUM.
Guan currently teaches Intro to Painting, Intermediate Painting and Advanced Painting at MSUM. While Guan challenges his introductory students with rigorous curriculum, his advanced students enjoy creative freedom. Guan’s former students include Plains Art Museum Director Andrew Maus, Rourke Art Museum Curator and Director Jonathan Rutter, NDSU Professor Andrew Stark and MSUM Adjunct Professor Jessica Matson Fluto.
Viewing the Viewer
For Guan, working on personal themes in his own art helps him become a better teacher. For those who enjoy his work, this is quite a treat. Guan’s solo exhibition, Water & Stone, was on display at Ecce Gallery from September 21 to October 18.
We asked Guan how it feels when other people view his work. “Sometimes it can be heartbreaking, but sometimes I also feel really happy. When people live with my work, I feel happy and proud to be a part of their everyday lives. It is a really happy thing,” Guan shared.
Guan has exhibited throughout the U.S. and China and has received numerous awards. He has also been featured in art magazines in the U.S. and China. Though he has gained such recognition, Guan is happy with the art scene in the FM area. “I enjoy the community. They have really cool taste,” he said.
Guan was here to watch the local art scene grow. “I witnessed the whole process. I think we are really catching up with major metropolitan cities like New York, Chicago, Minneapolis and Beijing. I think we have decent collectors in this region, where in other places, only the super rich collect,” Guan said.
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