Artist Joon Thomas spent 40 years doing Chinese calligraphy and ink painting. That weekend they shared the craft during a workshop at the Gainesville Fine Arts Association. It is part of the club’s efforts to diversify its program.
“Gainesville is a very open community,” said Katy Lemle, gallery director and operations manager for the association. “GFAA has historically been ‘white’, we’ve recognized that, and we’re taking steps to welcome artists from different backgrounds.”
The association also held an exhibition called “Umoja” in May to celebrate black artists in Alachua County and invited local artists from all backgrounds to join them.
Wendy Free, a local artist in Gainesville who values âânatural materials and sustainability in art, attended the workshop to learn Chinese calligraphy with Thomas. Free said she was a beginner at calligraphy and appreciates the art because she traditionally uses bamboo and paper, which are environmentally friendly materials.
“I am learning the traditions of Chinese calligraphy,” says Free, “and would like to expand and develop them further with my own ideas through the use of natural materials and pigments.” [from flowers]. “
Thomas discovered Gainesville as an open-minded place to practice and teach calligraphy, and Thomas is excited and hopes more people will learn about this type of art made with simple materials.
“Gainesville welcomes all kinds of art,” said Thomas, “the people here love art.”
When Thomas isn’t teaching workshops, they spend the day at their Sweetwater Print Cooperative studio on South Main Street in downtown Gainesville. To create an actual drawing of a chicken catching beetles in the bamboo forest, Thomas used a piece of Xuan paper, a bowl of water, a solid ink pen, and a few brushes.
Thomas’ interest in the art form began when they were studying Chinese language and culture at the University of Pennsylvania. Thomas was desperate to learn Chinese calligraphy, but it was so difficult to find a calligraphy mentor in Philadelphia at the time that they began ink painting, which is similar to calligraphy but uses the same tools.
âIn search of calligraphy, I came to Chinese painting through the back door,â said Thomas. You still remember the experience of becoming a student of a famous, pioneering Asian-American printmaker, Chen Lok Lee.
Thomas said Lee turned down the request at first, but they always sneaked into the classroom through the back door with consent.
“One day he asked me to clean the sink,” said Thomas, “and I knew I was in!”
After that, Thomas became an apprentice in printmaking and officially began learning Chinese brush painting and calligraphy. According to Thomas, Chinese painting and calligraphy are linked with an emphasis on content and composition, and each individual’s work is unique, telling their stories with what they see and how they see the world. In the meantime, learning ink painting and calligraphy could also help people learn Chinese philosophy such as Qi, Wu Wei, and the five element theory.
After 40 years, Thomas is now a professional calligraphy artist and has held several exhibitions and personal workshops at the Gainesville Fine Art Association since May.
During the workshop, Thomas encourages students to draw small things from nature, a piece of leaf, a flying beetle or even a silent stone on the ground.
âYou watch, you feel it and you put it away,â said Thomas, âthey are digested in you and you take the picture. The picture comes from your memory and your experience. “
Marilyn Gray, local calligrapher in Gainesville, has worked with Thomas for years and helped organize the workshop. She writes and translates Chinese poetry and says that calling her calligraphy made her feel relaxed.
“We have to stick to these art and calligraphy traditions,” said Gray, “it’s also a tradition and history that people need to be aware of.”