Brush in hand, Lampo Leong carefully dips the pointed tip into a small pool of jet black ink. He quickly moves the ink-laden brush towards the dry rice-paper on the table, a thin, tan sheet held down at the edges by paperweights. A brief pause, and then Leong dashes the brush to the paper, the tip and side jumping and dancing across the sheet with intense, determined movements. As the brush reaches the end of the paper, Leong steps back, sets it down, and clasps his hands together. “This is cursive Chinese calligraphy,” he explains.
Alex Barker wears several different hats in MU’s Department of Anthropology and the Museum of Art and Archaeology. One of these hats involves his research and fieldwork on the European Bronze Age and the ancient American southeast. The other involves the directorship of MU’s Museum of Art and Archaeology. Standing at the crossroads of several disciplinary fields, most of Barker’s field research has in recent years dealt with a single broad question: how social complexity grows out of egalitarian societies. His fieldwork in North America and the Old World follows this transition over different periods and regions.
So-Yeon Yoon admits that while she has always liked computer games, even as a young child, she has also always enjoyed painting and drawing. Yoon describes her watercolor paintings and how for her the creative process is “very addictive”: “I like colors and creating something beautiful, and creating things on the computer actually gives the same kind of fulfillment.” She is attracted to three-dimensional (3-D) images and experimenting with different textures and colors. Thus it is perhaps no surprise that Yoon found herself drawn to the field of architecture and interior design—“a perfect match” in which her creative desires and her interest in computers could merge. Today, the assistant professor of Architectural Studies focuses her research and teaching on the areas of Human Environmental Psychology and Interior and Architectural Design. Her current research combines information technology with interior design and architecture, a composite field in which she applies technology, particularly virtual reality (VR), to interior design problems.
In his teaching of painting and drawing at the University of Missouri-Columbia, Leong encourages his students to find their own voices in the contemporary art world. He pursues this goal, for example, by incorporating the latest digital technology, even when teaching traditional painting.
Inspired by the post-modern art movement, Leong combines different art forms and concepts from Chinese and Western art with digital technology in order to create his mixed-media paintings. He sees this multifaceted process as expressing the spirit of “the sublime and grandeur at a time of globalization.”
Lampo Leong describes the creative process of cursive Chinese calligraphy as “very similar to a dance or a musical performance.” He explains that “the success of marking on paper is, to a certain extent, a direct reflection of the quality of the performance while creating the piece.”
Leong has noticed a heightened interest in Chinese calligraphy in the Western world, and his work is now sought out for exhibitions and commissions as well as collected by many museums. He believes that this increased attention derives from the unique visual experience that calligraphy provides: “The viewer becomes involved while looking at the piece as if he/she is watching the brush dance across the stage—its movements, its rhythm… [like] viewing a dance performance and a painting at the same time.”
Barker refers to a certain tension between curators, who have all this ‘stuff’ they want to communicate, and exhibit designers, who want to keep the exhibit as clean and simple as possible. “Ultimately, we want people looking at the art, not at the labels,” he indicates; but the Museum still wants to educate. In that spirit, the museum is experimenting with technology to showcase the art and the significance of art to everyone by creating MP3-based audio tours of the museum that can then be played on any personal audio device, including iPods, notebook computers, and even cell phones. Barker hopes this will allow greater flexibility for visitors, whom he imagines selecting a tour and walking through the galleries at their leisure while looking at the art and listening to the audio information, “instead of looking back and forth between the label and the art.”
One of the paintings Barker was pleasantly surprised to find in the museum’s collection is a self-portrait by the Romanian surrealist Victor Brauner. Dating from 1923, the painting reflects the period immediately before the artist moved fully into surrealism as a means of representation. “It is a remarkable portrait,” explains Barker, “because it is the last time he paints himself with both eyes.” In his subsequent work, that is, the artist always paints himself with one eye missing—whether there is a gaping wound, an automaton of some kind, or his eyes placed on his hands. In 1938, Brauner was in a bar fight, during which his eye was poked out—the very eye he had been painting himself without for a decade and a half. Barker says, “Surrealism holds it up as an example of sort of a premonitory knowledge that this was going to happen, proof that time is not linear to the unconscious mind.”
In terms of influences on her research, Yoon describes her watercolor paintings and how the creative process can be “very addictive.” As she explains, “I didn’t study art, but I like drawing and painting. I like colors and creating something beautiful, and creating things on the computer actually gives the same kind of fulfillment. I like creating things in 3-D and experimenting with different options in terms of materials, texture, and colors.”
Yoon admits she has always liked computers and computer games, even as a young child, and was encouraged because it was something she could do better than her siblings. Also engaged with painting and drawing, Yoon found herself drawn to the field of architecture and interior design, one that could merge her creative impulses and her interest in computers.
Miller shows some of his original costume renderings.