East meets West a cultural exchange through art

23 June 2014

Two renowned artists inspired to paint each other's country; Dutch born; New Zealander, Gerda Leenards and Chinese painter, Yang Songge have been asked to exhibit together in a Wellington exhibition, East meets West.

Yang Songge paints the Wellington Harbour

Yang Songge's Wellington Harbour

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On her visit to Beijing in May, Mayor Celia Wade-Brown, met with Mr Ding Wei, Vice Minister for the Ministry of Culture of the People’s Republic of China. Theyagreed on a cultural exhange through art to strengthen relations between China and New Zealand. The result was East meets West, showing at the St James Theatre, Friday 27 June to Saturday 26 July.

“The connections our Capitals make enables cultural, business and sporting cooperation,” said the Mayor. “I’m delighted we will host and exhibit such a high-profile Chinese artist in Yang Songge.”

“Gerda Leenards artwork is also inspired by the natural landscape. This pair of artists expands our cultural understanding and experience of China and New Zealand.”

Councillor Ray Ahipene-Mercer, Arts portfolio leader, says, “Leenards has demonstrated an ever evolving consideration of her work, reflecting the natural world, including the work, Morning, which features inside the council’s main meeting room.” 

Yang’s work is widely acclaimed within the Chinese art world. “Yang has captured the natural and cultural beauty of New Zealand using classical Chinese painting techniques and the viewpoint of a Chinese painter.”  

Yang Songge, is a research fellow of the Chinese Poem, Painting and Calligraphy Research Institute and a member of the Chinese Ethnic Painting Academy and his work has been widely published. His most recent anthology, a collection of Yang Songge’s Chinese paintings, features New Zealand landscapes that were sketched on his trip to New Zealand in September, 2013, at the invitation of the New Zealand China Friendship Society.

Having travelled from the North through to the South Island, Songge stayed for more than a month in New Zealand, completing hundreds of sketches. In the six months following his return to China, he poured all his efforts into re-working these sketches, resulting in 60 original Chinese paintings depicting New Zealand’s beautiful landscapes.

Gerda Leenards is a Wellington based, Dutch born painter who has exhibited widely in New Zealand and internationally since 1982. Spanning the Subantartic Islands, Fiordland, the River Waal in Holland, Wellington Heads and most recently the Li River Region in Southern China, Leenard’s paintings are an extended enquiry into how we register landscape.

Her attraction to Fiordland stemmed in numerous expeditions to Doubtful Sound. “The painting style I developed in Fiordland seemed to relate to early Chinese landscapes I’d seen. In 2007/08 I decided to explore the Karst Mountains in Southern China, an area I knew to have inspired many poets and painters from China’s long history.” Gerda became transfixed not by the Peaks but by the absolute stillness of the river, the reflected mountain peaks and bamboo groves.

Following the Blue Ribbon showed at the City Gallery and was the result of her 2007-2008 trips to China, supported by the Asia NZ Foundation. Part of this work will be exhibited alongside Yang Songge’s paintings in East meets West, in the St James first floor Gallery, Friday 27 June to Saturday 26 July.