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Strokes of 'Imagination'

Leesburg artist Dasher Chagnaa displays artwork, works out of his studio at Gallery 222.

Leesburg artist Dasher Chagnaa has to paint every day, but he cannot say why.

"Why is not important," said the 26-year-old, who uses a red stamp and his first name to sign his hundreds of watercolors and oil paintings.

Dasher said this in a Leesburg gallery filled with his artwork, small and large pieces framed and hung on every available wall. The 38 pieces are on display at Gallery 222 for his first gallery showing "In My Dreams," which is being held now through Nov. 1.

The show's title reflects Dasher's evoking the history and culture of his homeland while expressing his thoughts and dreams about his experiences in America, as described in a statement about the show.

Dasher came to America four years ago from his native country of Mongolia. He first moved to Maryland, then to Leesburg two years later, where he lives with his sister Tami Auysh and her family. He followed Auysh to America three years after she had moved here, wanting to learn what he could and to find out if he could make it as an artist. Mongolia, an Eastern Asia country of more than 2 million people, has few artists and provides little in the way of art education, he said.

"This is the same art but different," Dasher said.

DASHER began painting at age 15. His grandfather Chagnaa, a nomadic farmer in Mongolia who is a jeweler and artist, taught him how to make jewelry. Dasher learned jewelry design for horse bridles, harnesses and other gear and started to learn how to paint, mostly from books. "You need good knowledge about art," he said.

"With his grandfather as an influence, he's self-taught," said Gale Waldron, manager of Gallery 222 and vice-president of the Loudoun Arts Council. "He's open-minded to a lot of ideas. His imagination is always at work."

Dasher typically works on several paintings at once, which now are stacked underneath an easel and beside his desk in a room upstairs where for the past 10 months, he has rented studio space near the gallery. There he paints all day and every day, a full-time job that allows him to support himself.

"People who know Dasher's work love his work," Waldron said. "When people walk in the door, they go, 'Wow.' ... It's different. It's obviously an Eastern artist."

Dasher works with several themes or subjects, including portraits of women that incorporate the beauty of women of different cultures into the "universal woman," a phrase Waldron used.

From his own culture, Dasher paints warriors on horseback and nomadic farmers. He depicts landscapes, typically with camel caravans and herds of horses. And he tries to capture the beauty of Mongolia's wildlife and countryside.

"He has combined his cultural Asian art style with that of his favorite painter, who is Salvador Dali. The result is a very neat special visual affect I've never seen before," said Laura George, a Purcellville artist who works in oil. "I know the people who know local art better than I are gobbling it up. ... He's getting to be quite a celebrity."

DASHER paints "little people" pieces, paintings with several small human figures. "They're all about how Dasher expresses his thoughts and emotions and his ideas about things," Waldron said, adding that when Dasher sees something, he interprets it in his own way on canvas.

In one of his "little people" pieces, Dasher depicts a pregnant cow with 10 udders surrounded by little people scrambling for her milk. In another, "The Kiss" has little people forming two larger people who are kissing, an image that changes from different vantage points.

In another painting, Dasher shows life-sized people in "To Shopping." A crowd of shopping bag and purse-laden women are depicted on one half of the canvas as they scramble to shop, their arms and legs hurled about. Dasher got the idea after seeing several women on a shopping trip.

"He's very creative," Waldron said. "He has ideas all over the place, and he makes paintings out of his ideas. All of his paintings have something to say."

Waldron describes Dasher's work as being "very powerful" with command of the paintbrush and a crispness to the look.

"I like painting. I don't know why," Dasher said.

"It's him. He has to do it," Waldron said.

Dasher has been a juried member of the Torpedo Factory Art Center since 2002. He participated six times from 2002-03 in the Art League's Members monthly Exhibition in Alexandria. Two of his paintings received awards.