As a visiting professor and guest artist from Renmin University of Beijing, China, Yidan Guo enjoys teaching students and working alongside her colleagues in the Southern Utah University Art and Design department. Guo’s latest project includes the portrayal of SUU history using Chinese watercolor.
In 2015, President Wyatt commissioned Guo to create a painting depicting the inspirational story of the institution’s beginnings. In determining a concept direction, Wyatt pointed out that most artwork about SUU’s origin depict cowboys or a harsh winter weather, rarely portraying the women and children important in the institution’s establishment.
Honored and eager to take on the challenge, Guo researched the early history of SUU and gained great respect for the Cedar City community and the school’s founders. She learned the story of the townsmen who traveled up the mountain during a treacherous winter to retrieve supplies needed to build the school.
After numerous drafts and sketches, the selected scene focused on a touching moment where the townsmen returned from the mountains and celebrated a successful trip with loved ones. This moment led to the painting’s title, The First Load of Lumber.
The artwork was painted on silk - the oldest substrate of Chinese painting - and was created with traditional Chinese painting techniques and materials. Silk was used by ancient Chinese artists before the invention Xuan paper, also known as rice paper. Chinese painting is traditionally water-based.
“It is a precious opportunity for me to share Chinese art with American people through this painting,” said Guo. “This has been a very important project for me in my art career.”
Guo’s work was created in the Gongbi style, or meticulous style, that uses highly detailed brushstrokes and is one of the oldest Chinese painting techniques. The style usually depicts figural or narrative subjects. Guo prefers this method as it allows her to share a deeper emotion through people’s faces and body posture.
The entire 46- by 73-inch painting took a year to complete. For Guo, art is a mode of communication. Her artwork has been recognized as the best produced by the rising generation of Chinese artists.
“I enjoyed the entire process because it made me feel peaceful and happy,” said Guo. “I had to keep pushing and pushing. I just wanted to do a good job of showing a piece of SUU history.”
To see the project and find other samples of Guo’s work, check out her online portfolio. The original painting is on display in the Southern Utah Museum of Art and will be displayed in Old Main following this year's Shakespeare Festival.