Thursday, April 5, 2012

Part 7: Shanghai Diary -- China Rising

This construction site was opposite our hotel. I painted it in gouache to capture the early morning smog. 

The workers slept in an on-site trailer-dorm and got to work early, using mostly hand tools. They are building clusters of high rise residences, fairly dense urban housing. The government is energetically meeting the needs of the rural people who stream steadily into Shanghai, where they have the opportunity to make a fortune, or at least a living.

Shanghai's leap into modernism is rapid and stunning. The famous buildings across the Huangpu River from the Bund have almost all gone up in the last 20 years. A whole highway system of raised four-lane expressways flies through the city at rooftop height. At some intersections they cross seven levels deep. Many of those motorways were built for the 2010 Expo held in Shanghai.

On a fine Saturday downtown, the crowds all come out to promenade amid the mad juxtapositions of neon signs, crazy wiring, and urbane sophistication. For us, not being able to read the signs turned out to be liberating in a way, making us feel like little children. It freed up the left half of our brains, so that we could enjoy the visual cavalcade all the more.

Shanghai has a modern subway system, too, but a lot of people get around on two- and three wheeled motorcycles, mopeds, bicycles, and electric scooters. On most wider boulevards, these vehicles have their own dedicated lane. Tradespeople pile them high with vegetables or building materials.

Those two-wheelers were a terrific spectacle that I enjoyed sketching, but of course when I pulled out the sketchbook and the paintbrush, I became the spectacle for the locals, who watched quietly and with great interest.
Shanghai Diary Series:
Part 1: Getting There
Part 2: American School
Part 3: Old Town
Part 4: Jujiajiao
Part 5: Goat Man
Part 6: Sketching in Restaurants
Part 7: China Rising
Part 8: Chinese/Russian Drawing
Part 9: Sketching in Shanghai (Video)


Richard said...

James, before you wax too positively about the workers in China, you need to find out about the "hukou" system, a system of internal passport controls, but don't blog about it from China.


James Gurney said...

Richard, I'm trying not to be either positive or negative, nor am I interested in labor politics for this blog. I'm just reporting my first impressions as an artist. Blogger is not available in China, except through special networks, and I didn't have time to blog about my experiences while I was there anyway.

T. Arispe said...

Wow, and I thought Los Angeles and Manhattan were cities. Shanghai is a City.

jeffkunze said...

This is really cool seeing the city through an artists eyes. I love that shot of all the signs and wiring. It does look like chaos.
Nice painting too!

It's interesting with the people watching you. I've mostly noticed when I draw at the zoo or sketch in public somewhere people will talk to me a little but not really watch what I do for very long.

Looks like a really interesting trip.

Tom Hart said...

James, I see you brought some gouache in addition to your usual watercolors and watercolor pencils (along with your trusty Molskine). What else. if anything. did you bring in the way of art supplies. No oils, I'm guessing (?).

Thanks again for letting us experience China through your observant eyes!

Ezra said...

I love the thought about seeing the colorful signs and lights and how the experience was made even more wonderful and magical precisely because you were unable to read them. I believe that G.K. Chesterton said something similar about someone who could not read visiting Time Square for the first time.

ANDROID said...

Do you have any trouble transporting paint on a plane? I was thinking of taking my watercolors on a flight. Will I have to check them into baggage? Or can I take them as a carry on? As long as the pockets are dry?