Monday, February 20, 2017

The Artistic Dafen Village in Shenzhen, China

     Since I was invited to a banquet in Shenzhen and I finally had my visa so that I could enter China, my friend in Hong Kong did a little homework and discovered that there was an artist's village of sorts in Shenzhen; Dafen Village. He forwarded a link to me and it looked like something we could do since we were going to be there anyway. However, I simply was not prepared, nor was he, for what we found there. In fact we didn't have time for the art museum!
     Shenzhen is a newer modern city that sits just over the border from the Hong Kong territories. People from Hong Kong go over for items and services and vice versa. In fact, after a bus ride to the border, walking to immigration at the border and entering China was easier for me than coming home and going through U.S. Immigration at SFO (San Francisco's airport). Go figure. Once across the border we took the subway and went to our hotel room, did a  little walking around and then got ready for the banquet.
     The next morning we got our belongings together, as we had to return to Hong Kong that day, ate and then boarded the subway for the Dafen Village Station. Getting off and walking to the area we passed a Walmart; I told my friend I wanted to visit it just to see what it was like. We did going back and OMG! It was like Black Friday here in the states! I have never, EVER seen that many people in a Walmart ... or in any other store in my life! I was told that was just a normal day!
The first shop was you enter Dafen Village
     Entering Dafen Village I was not prepared for what we found there either. I mean it was like Dick Blick, Michael's, Hobby Lobby, Aaron Brothers, all the art catalogs and every art show you have ever seen all rolled together in one place! I could have easily spent hours checking out the first shop we saw ... and as we walked it got better!
     Years ago I seen a show on "60 Minutes" that talked about painting mills in Asia. There would be 50 "original" paintings in a row and one artist would start at one end and paint the same thing on every canvas. They would be followed by the next "artist" who painted something else on all the canvases. This went on until all the canvases were done. Ever wondered where all those original works of art at the corner gas station on sale for $49 each came from ... well, somewhere in Asia.
     It wasn't just paintings, though there were plenty of those, it was supplies, raw unpainted but
The rolling French easel ... something
I could only dream about!
primed canvases, framers everywhere with truly beautiful frames to choose from that blew you away. The problem for me was how on earth was I going to get anything I bought home? In fact I found a treasure ... a real beautifully built French easel that was well built but with a modification that made me almost cry ... not only was it a French easel it included two towing wheels and a telescoping handle. It retained every other feature with even more storage space. I was sooooooo tempted but didn't buy. At $40 it was a steal. I checked on Amazon later and found even they didn't have one.
Alan's Monet styled water lilies painting
     However, it was just the number of items available. Shops were filled with art, of every kind from traditional Chinese art, to European masters, Impressionism that was alive and well as was Van Gogh. While some were quite amateurish, many were very, very good. I was tempted to buy several amazing Van Gogh "Sunflowers" paintings that at a glance looked like the real thing. Some were ho hum but some were truly beautiful. In fact, I succumbed finally and bought an oil Monet styled water lily painting that was still unframed that they rolled up for me and put in a tube so I could carry it home in my suitcase. I am framing it here now. I didn't ask what it would have cost me to frame it there. I might have really cried when I heard the price!
This gives you an idea of both the available art and the available frames. This was just one side alley.
     I recognized some of the more modern art pieces from my days on ETSY. Either the artists here were selling their items there, and there were many Chinese sellers on ETSY, or they were copying styles they saw.
iPad to the left and bracing stick to the right!
     One of the things that was fun for me was to watch these artists. All were willing to let you watch and even photograph them. Right off the bat I noticed two things, many used iPads with the image of art they were painting and the other was the use of a stick to keep their hands steady. I was amazed and am now trying to figure out how I can do the same thing. These artists were young and if they needed some assistance, what about an old man like me?
     At another gallery, we saw not only his hundreds of finished paintings stacked up like sheets of paper but watched him paint two paintings at a time of items that he had already painted in a variety of other interesting color combinations. I know from experience that as long as you paint two or three things at a time, even if the pattern is the same no two pieces are really alike. I myself did that for a time. It was a great way to get more than one of a wonderful design. By the time you got to the first item again, the paint had dried! I would sell one, and keep it posted as there were, for awhile at least, a second or third item available.
Two is always better than one! I can't believe how they

dressed. If that was me, and he was using oils, they
would be all over me by now!!!
     Art is a very subjective thing. My friend and I found a three part painting of a traditional Chinese branch with flowering blossoms on it against a textured silver background for around $200 in Hong Kong. We found something similar that was even bigger and checking it out realized it had to come from here. Same construction and similar style at half the price.
Qiang carrying his paintings
     My friend found a lovely triglyph of a wonderful, sunny alley of trees that he really liked where we purchased my painting. He couldn't decide and was about to walk off when I asked, "Do you really like these paintings?" When he said yes, I then asked, "Will they look nice in your condo?" With another yes nod I then pointed out that for $60 he would always regret not getting them. If I had learned anything in all my travels, was that if I liked it, who cared if it was valuable or not, if I really liked it. I had learned to buy because I would remember and regret everything I saw and liked that I hadn't bought. He purchased them.
Shop till you drop takes on new meaning in Dafen Village
    I do know one thing, I want to come back. Hotels are plentiful there (a small city in China is say around 3 million) and cheap. I really want to explore what's available and get things you simply can't find here or at the prices we saw here. How I can do that I'm not sure but there must be ways don't you think? Or as the Chinese merchants say all the time, "No problem!"
     I can think of no city, town or village that is quite as dedicated to art as here. There is so much to see and explore that you could easily spend a few days visiting each shop, finding things you have either never seen before or have hungered for and can really enjoy and learn watching the artists at work.
     After an afternoon of looking we wanted something to drink before we headed back to Hong Kong. We found a kind of pub I would guess that true to form was almost like an art gallery playing American oldie goodies on the sound system and was filled with arty types deep in discussion. What fun for every and any artist!!!
     If you ever get to Shenzhen this is a must see on your tourist list. You will not regret the time! Its not far from Hong Kong, an hour bus or train trip away. However, you will need a Chinese visa to visit while, at least for now, you don't need one for Hong Kong.
In Dafen Village art is simply everywhere!
Thank you for reading my blog. I invite you to take the time to read earlier blogs where the emphasis here is to explore the ways art and design affects our daily lives ... and always have. Comments are always welcomed!

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