My visitors today

Tuesday 12 October 2010

Ma Jir-bo, the Cantonese Constable!

"A page from my Great-Grandmother's journal"
painted by M.D.,
circa 1914
I think M.D. is Majorie Dyson, a friend of my Grandmother's family,

The Norwich School

Coming from Norwich, I grew up not far from “Constable Country” over the border in Suffolk.

Constable did not belong to the Norwich School of painters, a movement that I have known of all my life, although his paintings are very much in the same style as that of Crome and Cotman.

In my Grandmother’s house hung paintings, not by Constable unfortunately or by Crome and Cotman, but by lesser known Norwich artists from the time. Three pictures by members of the Stannard family were passed into the hands of my sister and I when my Grandmother died.

Constable has always been the more famous artist from the region, leaving the Norwich School in the shadows.

One summer holiday my Mother and Father took us camping in Suffolk so we could visit the places where Constable painted his most famous pictures, the Hay Wain and Flatford Mill. I was thirteen years old, I felt like I was being transported back in time and walking straight into one of the paintings.

Ma Jir-bo

It was lovely to see in the September 25th issue of Time magazine that Hong Kong has its very own “Constable”!

Ma Jir-bo, 1927-85, painted “dreamy pastoral paintings of Hong Kong”. At a time when Hong Kong was anything but dreamy or pastoral. At the peek of Ma’s career Hong Kong was “ no sun dappled idyll of lusty rice farmers and blushing flower girls” writes Jing Zhang in Time.

Hong Kong was a “tough entrepot, and factory town, wrapped in a pall of soot and heartache”.

This Hong Kong, we are told, is not to be seen in Ma Jir-bo’s works of art that he produced in the mid-seventies, although his son writes:

“The artist captures the spirit of his era in his paintings. My father was such an artist. His legacy of paintings of the streets and alleys and scenes of Hong Kong bears witness to, and provides coming generations with an invaluable insight into, the spirit of that era. He once said, 'Painting is a silent art; silent as a poem, it expresses the innermost feelings and sub-consciousness of the artist.'.”

His style of painting, as far as I can see from the few examples that I have been able to google, really is reminiscent of Constable’s art. There were unfortunately few examples to be viewed.

As an artist his career was not successful. There were few opportunities for artists at a time when there was a struggling attempt to house, educate and provide jobs for a swollen population.

Ma Jir-bo therefore exhibited his work in restaurants, hotels and department stores and earnt his living by teaching.

Now, until October 13th Hong Kong City Hall is redressing the balance by exhibiting the work by an artist of whom it has been said wanted to provoke as much as to please his audience.

Artifice and exotica

Jing Zhang writes: “In re-imagining Hong Kong through the eyes of a western master painter, Ma gives us artifice and exotica. To many people Hong Kong is all about that.”

Soon some of us will see for ourselves what Hong Kong is all about!


Norwich School-

Ma Jir-bo’s son writes here-

Exhibition -

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