Executive Directer of Dennos Museum Center:Eugene A. Jenneman

I met Wan Liya on a trip to China in 2008. He was to be part of an exhibition on contemporary Chinese and Japanese Ceramic Sculpture we were organizing for exhibition at the Dennos with Dai Ichi Gallery. After seeing his ceramic work and paintings at his studio in Songzhuang, on the outskirts of Beijing, I invited him to come to the Dennos Museum Center and Northwestern Michigan College to serve as an artist in residence for several weeks in 2009.

Wan Liya has always been an inventive and creative person. He was inventive in his effort to pursue maritime navigation not only for the purpose of making a living, but to have the opportunity to see the world and from it capture and study what was happening beyond the environs in which he grew up. This process of inquiry and study led to the way he expresses himself as an artist, a passion he had from his childhood.

Starting with the traditional Chinese folk art of cut paper, he then pursued a major form of traditional Chinese art, ceramics. Breaking the mold, he created works that were avant-garde. They paid homage to tradition, but were anything but traditional. Their unexpected forms and subject matter could easily provoke an emotional reaction from the viewer.

His venture into painting would be no different. Abandoning the brush and control of the image he dripped and poured the paint on the canvas in a “Pollock” like manner combining oils and acrylics and forcing the two media to interact by folding the spattered canvas; a process he could control the shape of, but not the outcome. The emotion found in the action of expressionist painting was abandoned, letting the folding and squishing of paint to create the result, rather than the active hand of the artist. The artist lets go and “the power of nature,” as Wan says, takes over.

The emotion and the feeling that might otherwise be found in the stroke of the brush,  had to be found in reacting to the result of the interaction of the paints between the folds when the canvas was pulled apart and laid flat again. In doing so the artist is confronted with the results he has left to chance (nature) and then has to find within him the moment his eye tells him the feeling is right. If it is not, he has two options – abandon the work or introduce more paint where he feels it could impact the outcome – fold again – unfold and see the result. Wan says. “I stop when I get the right feeling; in Eastern philosophy, when a state of Zen is reached.  You cannot set out to create that feeling, but you know it when it is achieved.”

What you see before you is the dialogue between the artist, the paint, and the “power of nature” at the moment the conversation is complete, Zen is achieved, and as Wan Liya says, “the feeling is right.”


Eugene A. Jenneman
Executive Director
Dennos Museum Center
Northwestern Michigan College
Traverse City, Michigan, USA




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