Paintings by Alexandra Chan; photos by Alexandra Chan Photography
Chinese brush painting and calligraphy have been, like music and martial arts, a life-affirming creative outlet for me. For one thing, it is a deeply meditative act, from the grinding of the ink - using nothing more than ink stick, stone, water, and time - to the breath work and inner tranquility one must attain before attempting the first stroke, to the total concentration (what I call "flow") one must inhabit for the duration of the painting or writing. And yet, it lets me tap into my whimsy as well. The simultaneity of playfulness and gravity is a uniquely refreshing thing.
Why "Rising Phoenix"? The Alchemy of the Brush.
Chinese brush painting and calligraphy are a way for me to renew and recharge, and also to connect to my partial Chinese heritage. I grew up between worlds, somewhere between Chinese ghost stories and county fairs. My father was the fifth of six children, born to a Chinese scholar, revolutionary, refugee and, ultimately, laundryman, who raised his large family with his multiracial wife in Savannah, Georgia in the early 20th century. My grandfather's name was Tai P'eng (Dapeng in today's transliteration), which translates roughly to Great Phoenix. It was an auspicious name for a humble man who lived well into old age, but died long before I ever knew him. He was well-known for his elegant poetry and calligraphy.
In the wake of my father's own death in his 103rd year, I began to paint with abandon because there was seemingly no other place to put that energy, and one's state of "flow" I learned (that is, one's level of immersion in a task, whatever it may be), is like a vessel. Built to contain whatever you have to give it. So deep and so wide, in fact, that it can receive the whole of a broken heart, and even, through strange alchemy, create a joyful one. Grief flows into the brush, lightness and renewal flow out.
Gradually I began to see a new path, and an unexpected way forward, leading to a future self I hadn't imagined before. What is more, within days of my father's death, I began to encounter phoenixes, in every manner conceivable - in readings and book covers, on television, in poetry and paintings, in a library display case of porcelain, on textiles..... In the midst of all this, I also went to a brush painting seminar and the first character we were to do - part of a larger piece - was none other than the character for P'eng, a large mythical bird from Chinese mythology and my grandfather's own name. The saying was pengchengwanli ( 鵬程萬里,)- literally, "P'eng Carries You 10,000 Li," or more loosely, "Blessings for a bright/unlimited future," It is an appropriate gift for graduations, a new job, opening a new business, or for anyone who is experiencing a life transition (divorce, bereavement, etc.). In a literal sense, though, it was also telling me that my grandpa would carry me far. I felt sure this message was for me in the wake of my father's death. As an auspicious blessing and founding tenet for my painting business, naturally you can also buy this calligraphy in my store.
P'eng (the character for which is my business logo, and written in my grandfather's own hand) symbolizes greatness - great accomplishments as well as great promise. The phoenix symbolizes the power of self-transformation, the ability to lose oneself completely, and rise again "from the ashes" of one's former self. One of the last things my father told me was that I should "change [my] career" and start selling my artwork. My grandfather, the Great Phoenix, seems to concur. "Rising Phoenix Arts" is an homage to two great men, and my own humble journey.
Other Things About Me
I am an archaeologist by day - a mom, an author, lover of soil and history; public outreach and education. But the creative urge is strong in me and when I put down my shovel, I have many different outlets (e.g., see my photography page linked above!).
Also find me on Facebook!