Artist couple find the perfect canvas in Songjiang
An apartment within a stone’s throw from Xinqiao Art Museum in Songjiang District is where German artist Jutta Bobbe and her Chinese husband Yuan Shun currently live and work. On the fifth floor of the red-brick building, a balcony is overflowing with plants.
“I built a front garden on the fifth floor balcony of our studio. It is filled with all the exotic plants and flowers Jutta likes to find at the local market. Once in a while, flowers of different colors bloom to accompany us while we are working or taking a rest. I think the garden is my gift for Jutta,” says Yuan, a 58-year-old artist who is living and working in both China and Germany.
Bobbe, the daughter of an architect, was born in 1972 and recalls many trips to museums with her father. She still uses some tools her father used at home in Germany.
“Space and construction still have a strong point in my artworks. This is in my blood,” says Bobbe.
In the village of Derneburg, near Hanover, where Bobbe grew up, there is a castle which used to belong to Georg Baselitz, one of the most famous German painters. The castle was later turned into a private museum — the “Hall Art Foundation” — by an American collector.
That gave Bobbe an early connection with art and the village still exerts an influence because every time she goes back there is another new exhibition to see.
Yuan likes to listen to cathedral bells on their four-month-a-year staying in Germany. For Yuan, a Shanghai native whose childhood bedtime stories touched on the Sheshan Hill and its cathedral, it represents his earliest memories.
“My mother is a native of Sijing Town in Songjiang District. When I was a boy, she used to tell me lots of things related to the old house. I was so fascinated by the story of the Sheshan Hill’s cathedral. Later, when I worked as a painter for the Shanghai Chinese Painting Academy, I got to know that my colleague and well-known artist Cheng Shifa was also a Songjiang native,” says Yuan.
Yuan achieved the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) Grant from Berlin’s Ministry of Culture in 2001. He settled in Istanbul as the only artist representing Germany that year. When he went back to Berlin in 2002 to give a presentation, Bobbe was sitting next to him.
Yuan invited Bobbe to his solo exhibition and over the next few months they would bump into each other in exhibition halls or neighborhoods in Berlin.
“This may be what Chinese people call fate. In the long years that followed, through our appreciation of each other’s charms and our acceptance of our differences, we live and work together in different countries and cities till today,” says Yuan.
Hailing from different countries and with different cultural backgrounds, the couple would sometimes misunderstand even simple words.
“During the process of designing our studio, my husband said to me, ‘It is good that the wind goes through the house.’ For an architect’s daughter like me, it means that this house wasn’t built in a proper way. But when the fresh wind blows through my hair, it suddenly makes sense to me what my husband means,” says Bobbe.
Bobbe and Yuan influence each other in their artistic pursuits. In her project with the Himalayan Art Museum in 2015, Bobbe tried to integrate traditional Chinese-style ink painting elements and Yuan’s concept of ink painting into her work. She also used the Chinese traditional drama costumes’ bold colors as inspiration.
Likewise, Yuan is interested in the German Bauhaus architecture and the country’s high-tech industry, which led to the tendency of a futuristic style in his works.
Normally the two artists create independently in their own space, but they also sometimes collaborate. In 2010 they collaborated on the “White and Green Limited, Made in Chinmany” project in Beijing.
The project is a group of large oil paintings with a futuristic landscape style. It was also the first immersive cooperation between Bobbe and Yuan. Their creative process can be generally summed up as a mixture of the German people’s rational structural thinking and the Chinese people’s perceptual and changeable thinking.
“Of course, on some special occasions we will still go back to our origins. For example, when Jutta gets sick, she wants to eat potatoes. And when I am sick, I wish to eat some porridge. This instinctive stomach sensation may somehow reflect our own origins,” says Yuan.
New Life in Xinqiao
In March 2018, the couple left Beijing and moved to the Xinqiao Art Complex. The art complex now accommodates more than 80 contemporary artists from China, the UK, Germany and Spain.
“The process was like transplanting a tree: digging a hole, watering it, fertilizing it and letting it gradually become accustomed to the sunshine,” says Yuan.
Bobbe, after 10 years in Beijing, enjoys the richness of nature in Songjiang.
A change in her way of life is also a chance to bring something new and unexpected. The couple have good working conditions and peaceful green surroundings near Chenshan Botanical Garden.
Bobbe’s focus is on abstract art, whereas the environment and the theme of environmental protection are keynotes of Yuan’s creations.
“For me, abstract art is the freest way of expressing myself and the idea is the major one. I like surprising myself. In the process of abstract painting, you are inventing something new which you never saw before,” says Bobbe.
“Back in the early 1990s, when I first arrived in Germany, I was involved in exhibitions on art and the environment, given the disastrous pollution that followed the second industrial revolution. Reflecting upon the pollution, the Germans thoroughly reconstructed the environment of their home, thus caused the unprecedented environmental movement, which impacted my artistic creations,” says Yuan.