Last week I went for a day trip to Shenzhen to visit the Guanlin Print village, which is about an hour past the
border between Hong Kong and China by car. I know a couple of people who have done printmaking residencies there and was curious to see it. The printing workshop was in a very contemporary building with fantastic looking
equipment and spacious layout. I could only watch from behind a glass screen as a few artists operated a press.
To distract myself from serious etching-envy we explored the area around the workshop which is a beautifully preserved Hakka village. Some buildings are used as exhibitions spaces and others as bookstores or for storage. It was very quiet, I don’t know if it is packed with artistic types at some other time, but we saw mostly families strolling around.
After a good lunch in the little café near the entrance we investigated where the people with bags of fresh strawberries were coming from – who knew there was a pick-your-own strawberry field directly behind the workshop? Well, all the printmakers obviously. It was quite a surreal thing to be picking strawberries in China, a view shared by the locals who found our (my) enthusiasm for leaping across rows after riper fruit somehow hilarious.
In the afternoon we went to the Dafen Artists village, which I must admit I had low expectations about; I thought it would be painters merely copying old masters. It was like that of course, but it was also fascinating to watch and there were other workshops with artists producing their own work, great little coffee houses and studio-spaces with traditional tea rooms and quirky architecture.
Who, I wondered buys all these canvases? Who, other than Rowan Atkinson, needs a portrait of Mr Bean in historical costume? My friend Cyndi wanted to have a picture copied so we selected an artist randomly, although I pretended to analyse and evaluate brush strokes for expertise.
Amongst the painting cubby-hole studios were shops selling artists materials and shops stocking traditional brushes and papers for calligraphy. I was beside myself with excitement when I found a supplier of large sheets of fine paper perfect for lino-cut as I have been looking fruitlessly for this in Hong Kong for ages. I bought an armful and have test printed some – it looks very promising. Of course I have no idea what it is called or if I would find it again – the shopkeeper said it was on special order and he may not have it again – but then he was trying to get me to buy all his stock, so he would wouldn’t he?
Non-the-less, the prospect of paper-hunting in Shenzhen the next time I need stock is something I am looking forward to. Plenty to explore here for future visits!