Biography

Xie Jinglan, nicknamed Lanlan, was born in Guizhou, China in 1921 and brought up by a scholarly family. Her grandfather was a famous scholar and her father was a traditional Chinese literati. At a young age, Xie Jinglan had a musical gift and had the opportunity to cultivate her talent thanks to her family's support of the arts and academia. When she was seven, she and her family moved to Shanghai and soon thereafter, moved to Hangzhou where she entered the Music Department of the Hangzhou School of Art in 1937. During her time in Hangzhou, Xie Jinglan met Zao Wou-Ki. In 1941, they married in Hong Kong and in 1948, the couple travelled to Paris to start a new phase of life together.

 

Finding themselves in the centre of the art world in the late 1940's, the couple quickly became enamoured with France's artistic metropolis and world-famous museums. Xie and Zao settled into a studio in Paris Montparnasse where they became neighbors with Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti and befriended artists Sanyu, Georges Mathieu and Pierre Soulages, as well as the poet Henri Michaux who had helped both artistic development.

 

Xie Jinglan continually pursued her passion in music, while Zao Wou-Ki's career in the visual arts progressed. During this period, Lalan studied music composition at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse de Paris, and later, she studied modern dance at the American Cultural Centre after watching a documentary on Martha Graham. Henri Michaux introduced her to the distinguished and avant-garde American-French electronic composer Edgard Varèse who offered Xie Jinglan the opportunity to learn about electronic music. As a result, this experience led to Lalan's realization of her genuine passion to express her inner world of artistry.

 

In 1957, Xie Jinglan divorced Zao Wou-Ki and moved to St. Ouen in the north suburb of Paris. One year later, she married Marcel Van Thienen, a French musician, and changed her name to Lalan. From then on, she started a new life as an artist, devoting herself to painting, music, dance and poetry.

 

Lalan never ceased to paint with vibrance and spirit until an accident took her life in 1995. Most significant to her work was the conveyance of her intuitive artistic vision and the freedom of self-expression. Her works are collected by the Culture Ministry of France, the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, the Shanghai Art Museum, the Macau Museum of Art, etc.

Works
Artistry

Calligraphic Abstract (1957–1969)

 

In the first phase of her artistic development, Lalan's background as a trained musician and dancer converged with childhood calligraphy lessons and the spirit of French Art Informel in the form of dark and hypnotic monumental abstractions. Her early abstract works introduced symbols and forms inspired by Chinese calligraphy.

 

But Lalan's gestural application of thick, black calligraphic brushstrokes - executed without reference to any preparatory drafts - conveyed a daring, dancer-like quality, with deeply-felt rhythms and vibrations attesting to Lalan's diverse passions. It was a bold vision that captivated the French art world when Galerie R. Creuze in Paris presented her first solo exhibition in 1960.

 

Landscape metaphor (1970 –1983)

 

After 1969, Lalan sought a new artistic language. Undergoing a profound re-examination of her roots, she studied traditional Chinese painting, particularly the dramatic "one corner" compositions of Southern Song Dynasty artists Ma Yuan and Xia Gui, as well as the classic Taoist text Zhuangzi, which ponders the state of "Heaven and Man in unity". Lalan's extensive travels to Europe's famous mountains also provided an opportunity to meditate on the spirit and beauty of nature, and its connection with humanity.

 

She began to create watercolour paintings on scrolls, and her works changed from highly charged abstract compositions to dreamy landscapes depicting the sun, moon, mist, peaks and rock formations. In 1971, the French Ministry of Culture acquired Lalan's three-paneled masterpiece Sudden Blue, which marked the beginning of Lalan's landscape series. Soft tones of white, yellow, grey and blue suffuse the landscape series, as well as gentle rhythmic lines evoking a latent cosmic energy - a reflection of the artist's enlightened consciousness and introspective approach to life.

 

In 1971, Lalan began incorporating performance art into her solo exhibitions at Galerie Jacques Desbrières, Galerie Iris Clert and the Centre Culturel Pablo Neruda of the Corbeil-Essonnes. In front of her paintings she performed her own choreographed modern dances accompanied by her original electronic compositions. These unique interdisciplinary "Spectacles" marked the inception of Lalan's "integrated art" (l' art synthèse), and in 1973 the French Ministry of Culture awarded Lalan a special grant in recognition of her work in this field.

 

Pure inner spirit (1984 –1995)

 

In the 1980s, Lalan returned to China on several occasions and spent much of her time exploring its museums and natural landscapes. With inspiration rooted deeply in Chinese culture, Lalan's mature works gradually returned to abstraction. Compared to the bold style of her earlier abstractions, which were punctuated with vivid calligraphic lines and symbols, Lalan's later abstract creations were sublime in their portrayal of rhythm and movement. Favouring a palette of lighter hues, her compositions were defined by ultra-fine lines and clustered dapples that synthesised modern dance movements with the staccato rhythms of electronic music through the meditative lens of Chinese qigong. Ignoring trends, Lalan only created what she believed in - a bold and avant-garde vision for a woman of her generation and cultural background. In the words of dramatist Eugène Ionesco:

 

"It is very rare to witness the existence of an original voice and path, it is very rare to be innovative in non-figurative painting, to find the forceful, discreet yet evident originality that Lalan possesses. There can be nothing new, one is tempted to think, in one domain or another: then all of a sudden here is something new, here is the unexpected, here is a painter, here is Lalan."

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