Subtle yet striking

Visitors to Dorothy Siu-Ling Chan’s Playful Nature Series may not be fully prepared for what they find. Chan practices painting in the Lingnan style, which weds traditional Chinese painting (ink and watercolor on rice paper) with touches of expressionism. Many elements of the traditional Chinese craft are present, including very careful renditions of small animals, insects, and branches in foregrounded and concentrated arrangements. But here and there, Chan leaves small, painterly gestures, patches of brightness or haze, that give her work a subtle yet striking, modern look.

As with all of her paintings, “Cattleyas, Orchids” has been painted on rough contoured rice paper. The fibers are distinctly visible and add another dimension to her work. This particular painting is among the most expressionist of the lot. The outlines of her flowers are almost shaggy. Here she uses the bloom of spreading watercolor as an edge rather than a sharp ink line. Overlapping thicknesses of browns leave the impression of a knotty stem. In “Peony,” another impressive work on display, Chan’s tiny birds all share defined, detailed heads, but also nebulous, cloudy bodies that seem solid at the center, but appear to evaporate at their edges. The glowing red tops of the birds in her “White Oranda with Red Caps” are an even bolder statement. The flush of color is almost shocking in the scene of more-or-less traditional representation.

As she moves from smaller canvasses and tighter arrangements to larger, busier works, Chan becomes more ambitious with her arrangement of shapes, but loses the tight compositional element that so positively accentuates her expressionist gestures. In this series, her blank backgrounds are replaced with washes of light blues and pinks. Semi-distinct background forms surface in various places, for example, the lily pads in “Lotus Pond in Full Splendor.” Here she seems to compensate for the lack of tight focus by resorting to outline. The bodies of the gently curving carp in “Wysteria” certainly show definite boundaries, set in ink— a definite contrast to the thrilling form-as-brushstroke flowers and birds present in the smaller works.  

Dorothy Liu-Ling Chan’s “Playful Nature Series” runs through the end of February on the main floor of the University Hospital. 924-9452.