Today DB has the pleasure of talking to not one, but all three of the founders of SZketch Gang Urban Art Group and their editor in Shenzhen. Meet Phoebe Hutchinson, Barbara Ràccz, Owen Ni and Doreena Deng and hear about their background and philosophies in art.
DB: Could you tell us a little about your background and how you first became interested in art?
SZketch: SZketch is a collective made up of both seasoned artists and enthusiasts – we’re open to people of all backgrounds and ‘levels’ whether it is someone’s first peek into art or their daily bread and butter so to speak. It was founded by three people with very diverse backgrounds. Phoebe Hutchinson attended university in Korea where she specialised in fibre design and familiarised herself with a myriad of classical and ancient artistic crafts. She has made it a personal goal to preserve these mostly forgotten skills and artistic approaches and to reinvigorate them for future generations. Owen Ni started calligraphy at a very young age. Later on he attended Hubei Institute of Fine Arts and studied under international professors while directing his focus mainly onto oil painting. Barbara Ràcz reaffirmed her interest in painting and drawing while doing research for her PhD in education at a university in Rome. Ever since she has enjoyed the profound connection between art and education. Doreena Deng is our editor and engaged in art as a hobby. She works as a research assistant in a hospital. She started art at the university, by making posters with drawings and or photoshop. She regards art as a way to relax, to meditate and to get to know the inner self a bit more.
DB: How long have you been running the SZketch art group in Shenzhen?
SZketch: We started SZketch around three months ago. We started off by organising local sketch evenings and that’s how we got our first members and started growing our WeChat group. Since then we’ve added online (streaming) events to our programme and now group memberships are really picking up speed as physical presence is not a requirement to join in at our events.
DB: What does a typical session consist of?
SZketch: We have indoor figure drawing sessions two evenings a week, during which we draw or paint one another with each member taking turns as a model. We focus mainly on doing quick sketches, which is very challenging but also very rewarding and educational. Typically we start with one minute warm-up poses moving on and building up to 3, 5 and 10 minutes per pose / sketch. Each member brings their own materials of course. We also organise special weekend sessions during which a hired model will pose a whole day so that members can take their time and try their hands at large(r) scale paintings.The coming month we will be focusing on Edgar Degas (Hilaire-Germain-Edgar De Gas) – one of the founding fathers impressionism, albeit that he considered himself a realist. We hope to see some inspiring original works born out of our monthly themes during our sessions. Last but not least, we also feature outdoor sessions during which we will take short 1 or 2 day trips and visit nearby beaches and fields (or other suitable still life locations).
DB: Could you summarise the ethos of your group in a few words?
SZketch: “Fight with heart – our weapon is art”. We are passionate about art – while keeping modesty in high regard. We gather together to share, learn, practice and enjoy the creation of art.
DB: How has living in China inspired the art that you create?
SZketch: About half of our members or “SZketchers” are Chinese nationals, although we do communicate in English. China is a world onto its own with so many places to visit and draw inspiration from and living in an international city like Shenzhen has allowed us to meet people from all over the world. We feel very fortunate to be based where we are.
Barbara: I am personally quite new in China. I think learning Chinese characters influenced me and sketching became an everyday activity due to spending a lot of time on the metro. The skyscrapers inspire me to use lines and very simple shapes and city life appears more in my mind and pictures too. I also enjoy trying to give life to the amazing trees you can notice all around the streets.
Owen: Living in China, let me think… Chinese philosophy has so much to do with harmony to my comprehension. For example, our ancestors knew how to stay peaceful with nature. That spirit influenced me a lot, just as having studying calligraphy since my early childhood.
DB: What are some of the benefits of joining your group for those whom have an interest in art?
SZketch: Members both new and old will find themselves more and more engaged in art and artistic expression. We exchange experiences, improve together and motivate one another to keep on drawing. Our weekly and monthly events are all free of charge and other than opportunities to hone our skills – they’ve proven to be enticing social events where like-minded people can connect and find inspiration. We share media revolving round art such as documentaries, tutorials and films and members are always on standby to answer each other’s questions, provide feedback on artistic works and generally share and discuss experiences. Last but not least, we’re a happy and enthusiastic group of people from all over the globe and help each other with language issues, settling down in China, getting art supplies and more.
DB: Where do you see SZketch Gang headed in the future?
SZketch: We hope to have a positive impact on people in terms of art awareness, appreciation and inspire people to get passed the first hurdles of fear and reluctance when starting out in art by offering quality programmes in and around Shenzhen as well as greater China by means of online participation.We also hope to see like-minded ‘gangs’ and non-profit organisations emerge in other cities and countries and cooperate with them.
Owen: In the future, I would want it grow naturally and spontaneously.
DB: Do you have a favourite artist or favourite era of artwork?
Not really – as keeping an open and unbiased mind is key to artistic development. Of course, members may have their personal preferences, but as a group we strive to appreciate the skill and artistic value of all works from all eras. We hope to be creating history – much like the old masters did with their gatherings and salons.
Barbara: I find some more inspiring than others, but it is possible to learn even from a kid. Paul Klee, Picasso, Moholy-Nagy are among the ones who I really like. I am more interested in modern and abstract art for pleasure.
Owen: I have many favourite artists. Right now I am obsessed with Frank Auerbach.