For Chinese landscape artist Bertrand Mao, the answer to Tao Chien’s question is in the silence of the imagination.
“If you put your mind at a distance from your environment then your mind will be quiet and you can create,” said Mao, a resident of Potomac for 20 years. “The Chinese landscape artists were the original impressionist painters.”
And impressions are what Mao had to call upon when he agreed to depict the entire length of the Great Wall of China.
When Mao, a retired diplomat and graduate of Georgetown Law School, turned a lifetime passion into a new career, he found himself busier than ever before. At 69, Mao teaches the techniques of Chinese calligraphy and ink-brush painting. He also paints Chinese landscapes that he displays in his studio at the Rockville Arts Place, where he is a resident artist.
Then, this year, the Chinese Cultural and Community Service Center asked Mao to produce a painting of the Great Wall of China. They wanted to display it at Lakeforest Mall to liven the festivities celebrating the Chinese New Year, for this, the Year of the Horse.
After he agreed to do the painting, Mao had to find a way to put three thousand miles of scenic wonder on paper. Where to start, where to end, what to do with the middle? Except for the start of the wall at Old Dragon Head on the shore of the North China Sea in the east and at the end at the final gate facing the desert in the west at Chia Yu Pass, Mao’s Great Wall is an interpretation. The painting spans 210 feet and took many eight-hour painting days.
Like a long and winding freight train, his impressionistic wall snakes through the scenes, enlivened by the color of the seasons and continuing on through a series of sudden twists that propel it into the next segment, the next season.
A grandfather of six, Mao, and his wife Yu-Chen, raised four daughters in Potomac. He served as cultural attaché and cultural counselor at the Nationalist Chinese Embassy to the United States and later served as director of the Department of Higher Education in the Ministry of Education in Taipei. During those years, Mao studied and practiced Chinese calligraphy and ink-brush painting in his spare time, often exhibiting his work.
After painting for more than 50 years, Mao passes on his knowledge and skills to students who come to his studio to learn.
“Learning to paint isn’t enough, you first have to have good calligraphy in Chinese ink-brush painting,” said Mao.
Students Petrina Tso and Muriel Tso agree. They arrive from Ellicott City arms filled with reams of calligraphy homework, ready for more.
“I am considered a senior citizen and I am starting something new,” said Muriel Tso. “We come this far because we enjoy it so much.”
Mao considers the practice of Chinese calligraphy a means of meditation, the concentration good for the health. “It keeps me young,” he said.
Mao’s artwork is at the Potomac Community Library as well as at his studio. For other exhibits or information call 301-738-1638.