Exhibitionists·Video

These may look like traditional Chinese landscape paintings — but they're actually the Bay of Fundy

When Dan Xu arrived in New Brunswick from China, she says it felt like stepping into a landscape painting.

When Dan Xu arrived in New Brunswick from China, she says it felt like stepping into a landscape painting

(CBC Arts)

Visual artist Dan Xu immigrated to Canada 19 years ago. When she arrived, she says it felt like she was stepping into a big landscape painting. Before moving to New Brunswick, Dan Xu had lived a mostly urban life in the Chinese city of Shenzhen. If she wanted to paint a landscape back then, she had to either work from a photograph, practise techniques she learned from others or study the methods of the ancient masters through textbooks.

Once she arrived in New Brunswick, she resolved to try a new approach. She ventured along the Bay of Fundy with paper, brushes, canvases and her other painting supplies in search of natural beauty to witness and capture firsthand. Now that she had wilderness and coastal settings that she could directly experience and paint, she felt she could come to a deeper understanding and appreciation of the ancient style of Chinese landscape painting that she so admired, created during the Tang Dynasty. Xu says, "I think I learned something from China and I also learned something from Canada. I want to be a bridge between the gap of two countries with different cultures."

Watch the video:

In her landscape paintings, Dan Xu brings together New Brunswick features with traditional Chinese style. Filmmaker: Matthew Brown 3:52

Painting New Brunswick landscapes in the Chinese style has allowed her to share her roots and cultural heritage with Canadians while at the same time sharing with others back in China an intimate view of the Canadian wilderness she has fallen in love with here. It became a means of dialogue — a way of sharing her old home with her new and vice versa.

When asked what differentiates the Eastern style of landscape painting from the Western style, Dan explains that the ancient Chinese landscape masters approached painting landscapes as panoramas. She uses the metaphor of a bird soaring high above and gliding through a place to describe her approach to perspective: "What the masters did...they don't sit in one point to paint. They always paint a panorama. When you finish that, the feeling is like a bird. My painting always has three points. First, I look up. I see the tree. Then I am floating. I see a little farther away. I see some people, I see some animals — but I still float higher. Then I see very far away, far into the distance. So when I put the three of them together, it's a Chinese panorama."

In this video by filmmaker Matthew Brown with help from Zoë Boyd, you'll meet Dan Xu as she explores and paints along the Bay of Fundy, not far from her home in Saint John, New Brunswick. You'll learn how Chinese landscape painting is like literature — each painting is its own journey. Xu says that she feels as though she has a destiny, and a true sense of purpose as an artist, now that she's living in Canada. She says, "When I show people what I am painting, I want them to realize how beautiful this land is."

Follow Dan Xu here.

(Dan Xu)
(Dan Xu)
(Dan Xu)

Stream CBC Arts: Exhibitionists or catch it on CBC Television Friday nights at 11:30pm (12am NT) and Sundays at 3:30pm (4pm NT). Watch more videos here.

About the Author

Matthew Brown is a filmmaker based in New Brunswick. After receiving a Bachelor of Arts from the University of New Brunswick, he studied photography at the New Brunswick College of Craft and Design. He is the creator and producer of Studio Tour, a Bell TV1 show that profiled Atlantic Canadian artists and that aired for four seasons in Atlantic Canada.