The French-Chinese multidisciplinary artist Xie Jing-Lan, known as Lalan, was an accomplished painter, poet, musician and dancer whose avant-garde "integrated art" infused the cultures of the East and West. Inspired by teacher and painter Lin Fengmian, Lalan moved to Paris in 1948 with her first husband, the Chinese modernist painter Zao Wou-Ki, but did not pick up a paintbrush until after their divorce in 1957. Freed from the simplistic label of 'muse', Lalan's pioneering and highly experimental oeuvre was influenced by her singular background as a trained composer and soprano singer, and her willingness to explore new forms of artistic expression such as electronic music and modern dance, which she synthesised with her paintings into performative "Spectacles".


Xie Jinglan, nicknamed Lanlan, was born in Guizhou, China in 1921 to a scholarly family. Her grandfather was a famous intellectual and her father a traditional Chinese literati who encouraged his young daughter's gift for music. Aged seven, she and her family moved to Shanghai and soon thereafter to Hangzhou. In 1937 she entered the Music Department of the Hangzhou School of Art. During her time in Hangzhou, Xie was introduced by her cousin to Zao Wou-Ki. In 1941 they got married in Hong Kong, and in 1948 the couple travelled to Paris to begin their next phase of life together.


Finding themselves at the centre of the art world in the late 1940s, the couple quickly became enamoured with the city's artistic metropolis and world-famous museums. Settling into a studio in Montparnasse where their neighbours included the Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti, they befriended fellow artists such as Sanyu, Georges Mathieu and Pierre Soulages, as well as the poet Henri Michaux who would became pivotal to Xie and Zao's artistic development.


While Zao's painting career gained momentum, Xie continued to pursue her passion for music, studying musical composition at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse de Paris, and later modern dance at the American Cultural Centre after watching a documentary on Martha Graham. Henri Michaux introduced her to the distinguished avant-garde American-French electronic composer Edgard Varèse, whose theories about the affinities between music and image followed a direction that would later inspire much of Lalan's artistic practice.


In 1957, Xie Jinglan divorced Zao Wou-Ki and moved to St. Ouen, a commune in the northern suburbs of Paris. A year later she married Marcel Van Thienen, a French musician, and changed her name to Lalan. Opening a box of watercolours gifted to her from her new husband, she started a new life as an artist, dedicating herself to painting, music, dance and poetry. Lalan's intuitive artistic vision and freedom of self-expression were the building blocks of a brilliant oeuvre that came to an end when a tragic car accident took her life in 1995. 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.


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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