This serene, other-worldly image came about as a result of Scottish artist Angus McEwan winning the Alastair Salvesen travel award, allowing him to tour China for a few months in 1996. He produced a total of 51 pieces as a record of his experiences, thoughts and emotions, and wrote of the trip that it was the beginning of his "love of mixing travel with painting and watercolour." He continues: "Up until this point I hadn't really used watercolour, and it was my struggles to cope with this medium while travelling in China that really helped me to gain confidence enough to use this as a working method."
The painting 'Chinese World' shows a tranquil, placid landscape with a gourd floating peacefully in mid-air above the trees; a surrealist touch combining the style of a still life with that of landscape painting. The gourd has a carved, graphic depiction of a Chinese landscape carved into it, and in composing the painting Angus wanted to compare and contrast this graphic representation with his own more naturalistic depiction of a landscape underneath, thus enacting a collision of traditions and artistic styles in something akin to a cultural clash of East meets West.
The artist's trip through China allowed much opportunity and time to feed his interest in magic and symbolism and this particular image perhaps owes much to this preoccupation. The precise painting style complements the unreal, slightly magical nature of the subject matter, with such a straight-laced depiction requiring the viewer to enter into a dialogue with the painting and momentarily suspend disbelief. The artist is confronting us with an image which defies logic, using instead surrealist imagery to present his cultural comparison to the viewer. East meets West or tradition meets modernity, this is a cultural meeting which exists in an unearthly reality quite separate to our own.
Angus McEwan is a part-time lecturer at Dundee College. He was elected to the Royal Scottish Society of Painters in Watercolours in 1995 and became a full member of the Royal Watercolour Society in 2012. He still travels extensively and paints predominantly in watercolour as he finds it fast and sympathetic to the way he works.