By Adelle Whitefoot
A brush technique that’s more than 6,000 years old has inspired many artists around the world to learn and even master its craft. One of those world-renowned artists visited the North Shore this week to get a feel for its elements and draw inspiration from the beauty the North Shore has to offer.
Living in China and studying under a student of artist Xu Beihong for 17 years,
DeeTeller, 72, has mastered the art of that ancient technique called the Asian brush stroke and is sharing it all over Minnesota.
Teller, who currently resides in Faribault, was given a grant from the Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council through the McKnight Foundation to meander through Minnesota, painting the different landscapes and incorporating her world famous “flying horses” The resulting collection will be called “Sky, Horse, Water, Earth.”
“When the Chinese are going to paint a mountain or write a poem, they get on a horse and ride for seven days and when they come back they write about the mountain or paint it,” Teller said. “I feel like I can connect to them in way with what I’m doing.”
Teller’s “flying horses” have won many awards and have been displayed around the world. In 1992, she was invited by China’s Ministry of Culture to be in an international competition where she won third place out of 6,000 artists from 16 different countries. Now as part of her grant, she must incorporate these famous horses into the landscapes from three different parts of Minnesota.
“I’ve painted Minnesota landscape before, but not with the horses, so this is a big challenge for me because landscape is more realistic and the horses I paint are just of their energy,” Teller said. “I got this grant to stretch myself and grow, and believe me: it’s working.”
The North Shore was Teller’s last stop before finishing her project. Since last fall, Teller has been to national monument in Pipestone, Minn., and to Sugar Loaf Bluff in Winona, Minn. On the North Shore this week, she had a chance to enjoy the view of Lake Superior from her hotel room, sheltered from the cold wind, and visited Gooseberry Falls State Park. Teller is sketching the landscape with sumi brushes and taking pictures so she can take them back to her studio and use them as a reference to begin on her larger pieces on rice paper with ink and watercolors.
“I try to get out in the elements as much as I can, but they don’t always agree with me,” Teller said.
In early October when she was visiting the Pipestone National Monument, she received a somewhat rude welcome from Mother Nature. When Teller was out at the monument, about a half mile from any shelter, clouds rolled in, accompanied by thunder, and then it began raining which transitioned to hail. Hoping for some nice weather in the North Shore, similar to last Friday, Teller was instead met with 40 degree temps and cold winds. But it didn’t stop her from continuing with her work.
“I was going to come up in December, but it was 8 degrees then, so I decided that wasn’t going to work,” she said.
Hooked on the brush
If you ask Teller what got her interested in Asian brush painting, she’ll tell you it was as simple as getting hooked on the sumi brushes. The handle is traditionally made of bamboo and the bristles are made from an animal’s hair. The brush is designed to come to a point no matter how big it is, so someone can do an entire painting with a large brush and still be able to paint small lines, Teller said.
“It was just like magic, being connected to the brush,” she said.
Teller was hooked after taking a workshop in Duluth with a Chinese master in 1986. The following summer in 1987, she flew to China to study the technique in its home country. Teller went to Hangzhou in eastern China and studied at Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts, but it was Lok Tok who taught her how to master the craft.
Lok Tok, a Chinese art master and college professor, studied under Xu Beihong in the 1940’s before he was branded as a “rightist” in 1957 and was sent to a labour camp where he was imprisoned for many years. He was released in 1978 and left China that same year, moving to Toronto, Canada.
Teller now carries on his legacy through her paintings and continues to push herself to grow every day.