The Art of Adaptation

 

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Jiang Chengzhen and his adaptive artwork.

 

 

By Wang Jiping

In ordinary people’s eyes, fine art brings with it an aura of elegance and dignity, and many works of fine art have become priceless cultural relics. However, along with changes in the fine art market and ideas of what art is, China is seeing a gradual evolution of its own fine art market. The most significant of these changes is the growing prominence of fine art emerging as part of ordinary people’s lives.

Development of Adaptation

Promoting fine art products’ implementation into people’s daily lives is evident as art production methods and art development have both changed, said Jiang Chengzhen, general manager of the Liaojiang Culture and Art Company in Beijing. However, Jiang expressed regret that China’s fine art market is still lagging behind the fine art markets of Western countries.

Painting is a good example of this trend. Because a single work is original, prices of individual pieces tend to be high and therefore only available to wealthy art enthusiasts. As China’s art market has slowed, demand for original pieces has stagnated. At first, Jiang intended to sell duplicates of works by famous Chinese painters, but later abandoned this plan, citing copyright concerns. Gradually, he moved on to his next idea – to adapt traditional Chinese painting to alternative products.

Thus, purses and handbags with patterns found in traditional Chinese painting and abstract ink painting hit the market. Some of these products were developed on pieces of silk, allowing them to be used as neckerchiefs or as a framed decoration in one’s home.

“Basically, adapting silk painting to different mediums satisfies demand for both aesthetics and practicality,” Jiang said.

Development of adaptation in fine art is promising, said Han Weihua, director of Vango Art and Culture Development Company. According to Han, against the backdrop of increasing globalization, adaptation has become an important part of modern artwork. Art is no longer limited by genre, nationality or medium. The combination of art and commerce will not only allow social development to achieve greater diversity, it will also add more artistry to the existing popular culture.

 

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Printing thangka (a traditional Tibetan Buddhist craft) paintings on resin phone shells.

 

Highlighting Art Identity

However, during the process of adapting artwork to suit modern styles, it is important to consider which kinds of adaptations will work, and which ones won’t, Jiang stressed.

“Adaptations are never equal to the originals,” Jiang said, adding that adaptations are only a medium that offers more accessibility to the ordinary consumer. More importantly, adaptations should be regarded as part of the artwork, or an extension of it. Cooperating with Jiang Baolin, a contemporary Chinese landscape painter and a student of renowned art master Li Keran (1907-1989), Jiang drew from elements of Jiang Baolin’s work to produce his adaptations.

“These elements are full of Jiang Baolin’s artistic ideas and showcase his techniques,” Jiang said. “They are unique, and strictly protected by copyright laws. Adaptations also display his special characteristics, thoughts and enthusiasm for both art and life. Common pieces of art do not contain such profound meaning.”

Sun Peng, director of the Singapore sales division at Shanghai Mimaki Trading Company, an artwork trading firm, said that a good adaptation is difficult to create.

“It is not an easy thing to print a painting on an umbrella or phone case and make it look appropriate,” Sun said, adding that maintaining proper saturation, precision and durability poses unique challenges. One of Mimaki’s newest products is that of printing thangka, a Tibetan style of scroll painting with a Buddhist flavor, on phone cases. The cases have proven to be particularly popular.

Sun said that the printer they use to make such cases are very precise and capable of printing a much larger number of colors than an ordinary printer. One of the models they use reaches speeds of 112.5 square meters per hour, which helps reduce time needed for prints. By using improved technology, Mimaki is better able to print with great precision, necessary when printing the elaborate artwork seen on their phone cases.

“Products like phone cases are easily worn down,” Sun said. “Thus, in order to make paintings on phone cases more durable, we have added the function of intelligent heating, which allows us to add layers of color. The process behind producing this kind of artwork adaptation is fairly complicated.”

As more Chinese enter the middle class and become avid consumers of such products, the market for such artwork adaptations is growing, Sun said. More and more studios are beginning to offer these kinds of tasteful, precise and durable adaptations of traditional Chinese artwork.

 

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