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Kris Kerzman, Variety contributor, Published November 13 2013

Weekend Watch: Bachmeier, Guan show master strokes with collaboration for the Rourke

MOORHEAD - A little magic happened a couple weeks ago in the painting studio at Minnesota State University Moorhead.

Ceramicist Brad Bachmeier and painter Zhimin Guan, both art professors at the university, hover over a table. Guan shows off a few of his brushes designed specifically for the Chinese calligraphy he practices. Bachmeier is audibly impressed. The thick brushes contain an ample head of bristles for handling the large amount of paint calligraphy requires, Guan says.

But as he takes aim to use them, he doesn’t reach for paper or a canvas. Instead, he is poised over a clay platter, one of two brought to the studio by Bachmeier. Guan dips the brush into a charcoal color and draws an abstracted Chinese character down into the soft curvature of the platter, a move that takes mere seconds. Then, he dips another brush into a light blue and makes a few more strokes around the first. After another minute or two of tweaking, he’s done.

“This is really fun to have this space,” Guan says, “I’ve never drawn on this kind of space before.”Bachmeier takes what Guan created. He’ll bake the clay into its final state, bringing out shine and color from the tinted glazes used by Guan.

In the meantime, Guan turns to the second platter while the two chat enthusiastically about colors and textures that these and future works will display.

The platters will be part of “Confluence,” an upcoming exhibition at the Rourke Art Museum in Moorhead featuring new and collaborative works from both artists.

While the pairing of ceramicist and calligrapher might seem unlikely, both artists share a deep-seated respect for traditional modes of art, Guan with his deep exploration of the calligraphy of his native China and Bachmeier with his fascination with the use of clay throughout the world’s history.

“I get to play around with firing techniques, get into them and study them,” Bachmeier says. “And with us collaborating, I can make a porcelain vessel, give it to him, he can do calligraphy on it, I can put a Chinese celadon glaze on it and, all of a sudden, you’ve got something pretty interesting and unique.”

Tonia Blanich, executive director at the Rourke, said the way the artists play with these modes informs a unique conversation between their practices.

“You have Zhimin on one hand, steeped in a traditional Chinese calligraphy and starting to loosen up and look at painting in a very different way, and then you have Brad who is drawing on Chinese and Japanese traditions but putting his own spin.

“The juxtaposition feels really interesting, how they go back and forth in time and styles,” Blanich said, referencing Guan’s more abstract recent work and Bachmeier’s experimentation with materials in his work, including rock, wire and wood.

The exhibition won’t be made up entirely of such collaborative works, but each artist had each other’s work in mind while creating solo pieces for this exhibit, adding to the sense of conversation between them.

Back in the painting studio, Guan says he saw something in the finished product of Bachmeier’s work that he wanted to achieve in his own.

“I looked at his work, at the texture and everything, and it really reminded me of the paintings I try to achieve, with the layering, color and mark making,” he says.

The second platter comes together as quickly as the first, with Guan making a mark abstracted, fittingly enough, from the Chinese characters for “fire” and “earth.” As Guan finishes, Bachmeier gently reminds him that roughly one in 10 platters cracks during the firing process, meaning the thousands of years of history influencing their contemporary artistic strokes could possibly be rendered nil, at least in this case.

But the two have enjoyed a fruitful partnership thus far, and both artists are considering the idea of collaborating on more pieces beyond this exhibition.

“I hope it’s the start of something, and I hope that they take this spark between them and see what happens,” Blanich said.

If You Go

WHAT: “Confluence: New and Collaborative Works by Painter Zhimin Guan and Ceramicist Brad Bachmeier

WHEN: Nov. 15 to Jan. 15


This article is part of a content partnership with The Arts Partnership, a nonprofit organization cultivating the arts in Fargo, Moorhead, and West Fargo, and its online publication, ARTSpulse. For more information, visit theartspartnership.net/artspulse.