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Prof Liang Zhaotang

An Elegant Blend of Chinese and Western Painting Styles
──Reading “The Painting Exhibition of Nigel Szeto”
Liang Zhaotang
A majestically white tiger lying on the top of a waterfall; peonies and roses gloriously blooming; a
cat resting relaxingly under a tree; wild ducks by the reeds; mandarin ducks with the lotus……all
creatures come to live under Mr. Szeto’s brushwork.  ‘The Painting Exhibition of Nigel Szeto’, which
was held in the Memorial Museum of the Lingnan School of Painting (嶺南畫派紀念館), brought me an
unforgettable experience in beauty.  Nature has seamlessly embedded in his ink and brushwork.  Here
you can see a skilful combination of Chinese painting technique with that of the West, a synthesis
of the fine style (gongbi, 工筆) and free style (yibi, 意筆), a blend of the scholarly and popular
flavors, as well as the amalgamation Chinese painting technique with real life drawing.
In 1995, I met Nigel Szeto in the exhibition hall of the Chinese Cultural Centre in Vancouver.  That
was a beautiful spring when Nigel’s exhibition was just over and I was going to set up my individual
exhibition.  We talked about art, Chinese and Western cultures tirelessly.  I was so impressed by
Nigel’s seriousness, devotion, perseverance and knowledge in art.
Mr Nigel should be described as the third generation of the Lingnan School.  He was born in Kaiping,
a place propitious for giving birth to significant people and many famous artists.  Mr Nigel was
born to a scholarly and illustrious family.  His grandfather, Szeto Mei, was a bagong (an honored
student in the regional public examination, 拔貢) and poet during late Qing; his father, Szeto Kei,
was a master of the Lingnan School in the first succession. With the strong artistic tradition in
his family, Nigel Szeto learned Chinese Painting and calligraphy when he was a small child.  His
works aroused attention from the artists’ circles in both Hong Kong and Macau since his youth.  He
studied oil painting in Capilano College and Emily Carr Art College in Canada and graduated with
flying colors.  I have once joined an academic exchange of Fine Arts in Emily Carr Art College,
where the unique architecture and atmosphere of the campus formed a cradle for budding elites.
After graduation, Nigel put lots of effort in studying Chinese painting while he extracted the
essence of the Western painting concurrently.  He has been devoting himself to the development of
Chinese painting with the integration of Western cultures.  He can master a wide range of subjects
including flowers, birds, wild animals, portraits and landscapes painting.  He tries to blend the
styles of Geshan (隔山), the Lingnan with Western colorings and perspectives.  Nigel’s roses,
peonies, brocade carps and peacocks, no matter depicted in fine style or bangonyi style 半工意 (a
combination of partly fine style and partly free style), all manage to express both the spirit and
image of the subject.  That is why his pieces are popular from all walks of life.
Besides learning from tradition of Chinese painting and the Lingnan School, Nigel also learned from
the nature.  He keeps on doing lots of outdoor sketches and footprints can be found in the mountain
ranges of Los Angeles and the coastlines of Singapore, Hong Kong, Qijiang and Shenzhen River.  His
painting of Hong Kong sceneries in traditional Chinese painting style are of great difference from
his flower-bird paintings in bangongyi style.  Paintings of modern cities in ink and brushwork are
very refreshing and you can even feel sea breeze gently kissing your face.  From the late 60s
onwards, his works have been exhibited in many major cities in the world and gained worldwide
applause.
Most of the people are particularly impressed by Nigel’s white tigers in bangongyi style.  It is not
uncommon to see tigers in paintings, yet white tiger is a rather rare animals.  The delicate hairy
body in graceful brushstrokes wins the hearts of audience.  Recently, he has engaged ink and brush
to draw tigers with simplified and free brushstrokes.  The tigers seem to come to life!  Nigel uses
heavy, light, dry and wet ink tone in harmony and the brushstrokes overlay with each other and
merges perfectly together.  Looking up, lying, walking or sitting … Nigel’s tigers make their move
so lively that they appear real in front of you.  Nigel pursues for self expressive style beyond
formal likeness in his tiger paintings, which complement his realisticly painted white tigers that
have already been highly celebrated. This shows how innovatively Nigel has explored the two extremes
and what new dimensions in art he is actively looking for.  Nigel has a wide range of subject
matters, among which his tiger paintings are highly impressive.  Perhaps the artist’s prominent
interest in tigers is related to his zodiac sign of Chinese horoscope, as he was born in 1950, the
year of Tiger.
Mr Szeto’s paintings preserve the spirit of traditional Chinese painting and the refreshing and
beautiful style of the Lingnan School.  His work inherit the unique and appealing essence from his
father, Szeto Kei’s Chinese painting.  He also learns from the Western technique and observes from
Nature.  All these contribute to the artist’s distinctive and original style.
Uniqueness in artistic style is the basic criteria for an artist to become recognizable in the art
circle.  The style of Nigel Szeto’s works is different from painters in the West and those in
mainland China.  His early paintings present Chinese spirit with the adoption of the Western forms.
Recently, his paintings evoke the Chinese spirit by integrating the fine and expressive styles in
his own way.  Nigel also emphasizes on outdoor sketching since nature is the source of his art
works.
The Sixteen Serial Panels of Flower-Bird in Lingnan Style give audience a beautiful scene of
glorious flowers; peace and energy of life glow in Return of Spring to the Orchid Garden and
Tranquility . Meditation . Rewards; images of juicy fruits are found in Harvest Report in Air; a few
sleepy cats in Snowy; a couple peacocks with fine brush but modern composition in Spring Breeze;
pastoral poetry revealed from Dafudi (literally Big House of an Ancient Officer) and Tsang Tai Uk in
Shatin … all playing different music scores in symphony, lingering beautiful impressions in mind.
The artist lived in the East when he was a child, then; he stayed in the West during his youth.  In
recent years, he has been shutting between the two and Hong Kong has become his base.  His art work
is a crystallization of East meeting West.  He inherits and further develops the elegance and beauty
of the Lingnan School.  He explores the synthesis of Chinese and Western cultures.  He once
described his paintings in a lively and humorous allegory as ‘Geoduck clam with Chinese kale’.
Chinese kale is a kind of vegetables in Southern China; Geoduck clam is a kind of seafood from
Canada.  ‘Geoduck clam with Chinese kale’ is a delicious dish, in which Cantonese folks say, ‘A
second bite comes with an once-a-try’.  The artist’s painting is an integration of Southern Chinese
and North American styles that figuratively manifests his fruit of exploration in art in the past
decades.
After this exhibition in the Memorial Museum of the Lingnan School of Painting (嶺南畫派紀念館) in
the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts, the next stop in August will be the National Art Museum of China
in Beijing.  Hoping the Nigel Szeto’s art works ever reach another peak, herewith my poem dedicated
to Nigel:
Twilight in reflection,
Water of the city welcoming the autumn maple,
Roses and peonies blooming up and down,
Geoduck clam with Chinese kale…
Falling in love with the Nature.
(This article was written in Spring, 1999)
* Note:  The writer is has received national approval as the First Grade National Instructor and is
now teaching as a professor in the Guangzhou Art College; he is also the Vice Principal of Guangzhou
Artists Association.

─Reading “The Painting Exhibition of Nigel Szeto”

Liang Zhaotang

A majestically white tiger lying on the top of a waterfall; peonies and roses gloriously blooming; a cat resting relaxingly under a tree; wild ducks by the reeds; mandarin ducks with the lotus……all creatures come to live under Mr. Szeto’s brushwork. ‘The Painting Exhibition of Nigel Szeto’, which was held in the Memorial Museum of the Lingnan School of Painting (嶺南畫派紀念館), brought me an unforgettable experience in beauty. Nature has seamlessly embedded in his ink and brushwork. Here you can see a skilful combination of Chinese painting technique with that of the West, a synthesis of the fine style (gongbi, 工筆) and free style (yibi, 意筆), a blend of the scholarly and popular flavors, as well as the amalgamation Chinese painting technique with real life drawing.

In 1995, I met Nigel Szeto in the exhibition hall of the Chinese Cultural Centre in Vancouver. That was a beautiful spring when Nigel’s exhibition was just over and I was going to set up my individual exhibition. We talked about art, Chinese and Western cultures tirelessly. I was so impressed by Nigel’s seriousness, devotion, perseverance and knowledge in art.

Mr Nigel should be described as the third generation of the Lingnan School. He was born in Kaiping, a place propitious for giving birth to significant people and many famous artists. Mr Nigel was born to a scholarly and illustrious family. His grandfather, Szeto Mei, was a bagong (an honored student in the regional public examination, 拔貢) and poet during late Qing; his father, Szeto Kei, was a master of the Lingnan School in the first succession. With the strong artistic tradition in his family, Nigel Szeto learned Chinese Painting and calligraphy when he was a small child. His works aroused attention from the artists’ circles in both Hong Kong and Macau since his youth. He studied oil painting in Capilano College and Emily Carr Art College in Canada and graduated with flying colors. I have once joined an academic exchange of Fine Arts in Emily Carr Art College, where the unique architecture and atmosphere of the campus formed a cradle for budding elites. After graduation, Nigel put lots of effort in studying Chinese painting while he extracted the essence of the Western painting concurrently. He has been devoting himself to the development of Chinese painting with the integration of Western cultures. He can master a wide range of subjects including flowers, birds, wild animals, portraits and landscapes painting. He tries to blend the styles of Geshan (隔山), the Lingnan with Western colorings and perspectives. Nigel’s roses, peonies, brocade carps and peacocks, no matter depicted in fine style or bangonyi style 半工意 (a combination of partly fine style and partly free style), all manage to express both the spirit and image of the subject. That is why his pieces are popular from all walks of life.

Besides learning from tradition of Chinese painting and the Lingnan School, Nigel also learned from the nature. He keeps on doing lots of outdoor sketches and footprints can be found in the mountain ranges of Los Angeles and the coastlines of Singapore, Hong Kong, Qijiang and Shenzhen River. His painting of Hong Kong sceneries in traditional Chinese painting style are of great difference from his flower-bird paintings in bangongyi style. Paintings of modern cities in ink and brushwork are very refreshing and you can even feel sea breeze gently kissing your face. From the late 60s onwards, his works have been exhibited in many major cities in the world and gained worldwide applause.

Most of the people are particularly impressed by Nigel’s white tigers in bangongyi style. It is not uncommon to see tigers in paintings, yet white tiger is a rather rare animals. The delicate hairy body in graceful brushstrokes wins the hearts of audience. Recently, he has engaged ink and brush to draw tigers with simplified and free brushstrokes. The tigers seem to come to life! Nigel uses heavy, light, dry and wet ink tone in harmony and the brushstrokes overlay with each other and merges perfectly together. Looking up, lying, walking or sitting … Nigel’s tigers make their move so lively that they appear real in front of you. Nigel pursues for self expressive style beyond formal likeness in his tiger paintings, which complement his realisticly painted white tigers that have already been highly celebrated. This shows how innovatively Nigel has explored the two extremes and what new dimensions in art he is actively looking for. Nigel has a wide range of subject matters, among which his tiger paintings are highly impressive. Perhaps the artist’s prominent interest in tigers is related to his zodiac sign of Chinese horoscope, as he was born in 1950, the year of Tiger.

Mr Szeto’s paintings preserve the spirit of traditional Chinese painting and the refreshing and beautiful style of the Lingnan School. His work inherit the unique and appealing essence from his father, Szeto Kei’s Chinese painting. He also learns from the Western technique and observes from Nature. All these contribute to the artist’s distinctive and original style.

Uniqueness in artistic style is the basic criteria for an artist to become recognizable in the art circle. The style of Nigel Szeto’s works is different from painters in the West and those in mainland China. His early paintings present Chinese spirit with the adoption of the Western forms. Recently, his paintings evoke the Chinese spirit by integrating the fine and expressive styles in his own way. Nigel also emphasizes on outdoor sketching since nature is the source of his art works.

The Sixteen Serial Panels of Flower-Bird in Lingnan Style give audience a beautiful scene of glorious flowers; peace and energy of life glow in Return of Spring to the Orchid Garden and Tranquility . Meditation . Rewards; images of juicy fruits are found in Harvest Report in Air; a few sleepy cats in Snowy; a couple peacocks with fine brush but modern composition in Spring Breeze; pastoral poetry revealed from Dafudi (literally Big House of an Ancient Officer) and Tsang Tai Uk in Shatin … all playing different music scores in symphony, lingering beautiful impressions in mind.

The artist lived in the East when he was a child, then; he stayed in the West during his youth. In recent years, he has been shutting between the two and Hong Kong has become his base. His art work is a crystallization of East meeting West. He inherits and further develops the elegance and beauty of the Lingnan School. He explores the synthesis of Chinese and Western cultures. He once described his paintings in a lively and humorous allegory as ‘Geoduck clam with Chinese kale’.

Chinese kale is a kind of vegetables in Southern China; Geoduck clam is a kind of seafood from Canada. ‘Geoduck clam with Chinese kale’ is a delicious dish, in which Cantonese folks say, ‘A second bite comes with an once-a-try’. The artist’s painting is an integration of Southern Chinese and North American styles that figuratively manifests his fruit of exploration in art in the past decades.

After this exhibition in the Memorial Museum of the Lingnan School of Painting (嶺南畫派紀念館) in the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts, the next stop in August will be the National Art Museum of China in Beijing. Hoping the Nigel Szeto’s art works ever reach another peak, herewith my poem dedicated to Nigel:

Twilight in reflection,
Water of the city welcoming the autumn maple,
Roses and peonies blooming up and down,
Geoduck clam with Chinese kale…
Falling in love with the Nature.

(This article was written in Spring, 1999)

* Note: The writer is has received national approval as the First Grade National Instructor and is now teaching as a professor in the Guangzhou Art College; he is also the Vice Principal of Guangzhou Artists Association.