Creating abstract works of art and building community

Nov 30, 2016


As expat Jun Komne adds hues of white paint to his canvas, he is both in full concentration and at ease. As he sips his beer, it’s unclear what Konme is drawing from his initial sketch but it is clear that he’s having a good time. Komne gathered with a group of expats and locals on a Thursday night as part of an “Art Lab” event where non-professional painters get to roll up their sleeves, create a piece of one-of-a-kind art, get drinks from the bar and meet new people in the process.

Art Lab is the brainchild of Suzhou expatriate Katalina Mavares, a professional artist from Venezuela whose works have been exhibited in Brazil, Catalonia, Andorra and Venezuela. Marvares, recognizing the large expat community in Suzhou, sought to come up with a unique way to combine painting with creative community-building by utilizing local bars, restaurants and cafes as pop-up art stations. This particular night, which was the 5th Art Lab event hosted by Mavares, was held at Locke bar across the International Expo Center. With checkerboard tiles, funky lighting, rows of books on walls and its wide open windows, the bar’s atmosphere added to the relaxed and free-flowing mood of the evening.

And though the evening is intentionally casual and relaxed in tone, Art Lab does come with instruction and guidance. Before the participants start their abstract art pieces, Mavares demonstrates different painting techniques and tools beyond the notable paintbrush. As paint begins to hit canvas, the versatile nature of the abstract art format becomes apparent. This is not rigidly a figure drawing or landscape painting seminar but rather an exercise in expression and feeling through color.

Fellow participant Kuni Baer is intently focused on his painting and layers colors upon colors. He hears Mavares describe how making a painting “mistake” or imperfection can be a visually appealing form of expression. “So imperfect is perfect?” he asks. “Exactly,” Marvares reassures.

A large part of the night’s strength comes from Mavares’ ability to mentor the participants with suggestions and encouragement. Mavares noted that one of the most common questions she receives is from interested parties who do not have previous art or painting experience. And such concerns are, to some degree, understandable. Though painting, coloring and drawing are all things that most of us do ritually during childhood, there is an unfortunate shift in attitude that happens to most adults that says that creating art is somehow only reserved for artists. Not only is this untrue, but not having a formal background in art can be a strength when it comes to abstract creations, states Mavares. “When you don’t have any basis, it can become more interesting.”

As the participants finish up their works of abstract art, what is most remarkable perhaps is just how different everyone’s expression turns out to be. Some are less abstract, some more formal while others take on more landscape themes or caricature qualities. The evening’s participants who are now very much painters uniformly seem pleased with their work and laud the efforts of each other. In this way, the night is a success to Mavares who described her favorite aspect of these events as getting to the know each eager visitor. “It’s different meeting someone doing this than meeting at a bar--it’s nice. I think with even my best friends I never had the opportunity to see them drawing or painting.”


About the Column

Luke Lee

Luke is a mental health counselor from Seattle, Washington in the United States. He moved to Suzhou in 2016 and currently works as the Psychological Counselor for international students at Xi'an Jiaotong-Liverpool University. Though his current position consists of counseling students, Luke also enjoys working with couples, parents and families. Previously Luke worked in the Kurdish region of Iraq and in private practice in Seattle. In his spare time Luke enjoys cooking, meeting new people, playing board games and traveling to different countries.

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