Snow Land: Preface

     Snow Land is the title for Chinese artist Luo Tong’s latest exhibition at Han Art Gallery. Snow land represents the memory of a place once visited, a home left behind and a traditional way of life slowly being forgotten. In our contemporary age where most people rely on technology as their memory-keeper, Luo establishes the vitality of his own mind with these visual masterpieces that recall his many visits to the snowy plateaus of Tibet over the past ten years. 

     Born in China, Luo now lives and studies in New York. The Tibet he describes is one of memory; stimulated by a feeling of nostalgia for the land and culture he left to further his career as an artist in North America.  In 2003, Luo, an established artist in China, left his homeland to pursue an international art career.  Luo spent several years in Calgary, Canada, before moving to New York to continue his mastery of painting technique at the New York Academy of Art.

     It was only after leaving China that Luo started painting images of his homeland.  Like many far from home, Luo felt a longing and a new love for his home country. Slowly, Luo’s dreams of the people and landscapes of China started to appear on his canvases.  Instead of painting contemporary subjects, as he had done in China, Luo started to paint the stories of people attending to their daily lives, rendered with meticulous detail and told with sensitivity and compassion.

     As he had done when he was a young student in China, Luo started visiting Tibet to gather reference material for his work. There on top of the snowy plateau, he met a young girl in a temple. Bewitched by the young girl and all she represented - for the next ten years - he continued to visit her village, stay with her family and paint this enchanting model as she grew up in this ancient culture seemingly frozen in time.  For Luo, the girl represents the purity and vitality of this minority culture. 

     It was also during these trips that Luo started to define his aesthetic.  One inspired by the beauty and the force of the Tibetan peoples and their landscape.  The artist transmits this force through a great build-up of brushstrokes describing not only form but also a multitude of untold psychological nuances from pride and strength to fear and loss.  This psychological element in his portraits makes his subjects more relatable to an international audience.  The artist invites his viewer to see a part of themselves in these expressive portraits that reveal as much of his subjects interior world as their unique surroundings. 

     Luo is not the first artist to paint the Tibetan people and he credits Chinese artist Chen Dian Qing as a major influence on his work.  Luo stands shoulder to shoulder with other internationally acclaimed artist like Ai Xwan and Chen Yifei, who have dedicated themselves to portraying the beauty and mystery of China’s many minority communities. Although he is not the first, Luo brings a new international perspective to the subject.  In reaction to his New York surroundings, Luo chooses to paint images of these people in tranquil natural surroundings.  This is accentuated by his use of strong natural lighting. A style inspired by the old masters he esteems. 

     His work evokes Dutch masters Rembrandt and Van Dyke. Like the old masters, Luo has a perfect sense of light.  Luo says he learned how to paint light in Tibet – and speaks excitedly about the beautiful shadows cast in the strong sunlight that fills the Tibetan plateau. Subject and style are matched perfectly in the artist’s work.  In each tableau the viewer is treated to lavish images painted with confident brushwork of the villagers in their traditional garments.  His old master style elevates this traditional culture from folk art to high art.

Courtney Clinton