Yuzhu Yang looked out her car window on her way to Charlottetown. A familiar P.E.I. scene: Cows were grazing under the blue, cloudy sky at a dairy farm on York Point Road.
She loved it so much she took a picture of it — then she turned it into a painting.
That and her many other paintings are now displayed in an exhibition titled Brushing Life at the Cornwall Library Art Gallery running until Feb. 18.
This exhibition is inspired by her experience living on P.E.I.
“This Island is so beautiful, we never want to move.”
In one corner of the gallery is a painting of a house on a hill, a house Yang sees every day when she wakes up. It’s across from her Cornwall home, where she’s lived for nine years since moving to P.E.I. from China in 2013.
She’s always admired the house and how peaceful it is sitting alone on that hill — so she painted it.
“This painting [feels] like my childhood.”
An unexpected exhibit
The Cornwall Library Art Gallery is a hot spot for those who want to show their art. The wait-list is long and you have to be a Cornwall resident.
Yang was supposed to wait a few more months to show her work, but a few months ago the library told her the person supposed to do the first exhibition of 2022 was not in Cornwall anymore. Yang was next in line, so they wondered if she wanted to do it.
My painting is my language.— Yuzhu Yang
She started having second thoughts — she’s not a professional artist, she’s a housewife who is interested in painting, Yang said. And it requires a lot of work to pull off a solo exhibition, which she wasn’t sure she was ready for.
But she said yes anyway.
And that’s what she would like the audience to take away from the exhibition. Her message is to be brave — to do what you’re passionate about.
“Be yourself, be brave. If you want to do something, just go ahead and plan to do it,” she said through her husband as her interpreter.
Storytelling with painting
Every painting in this exhibition has a story behind.
Entering the gallery, guests are greeted with a painting of tomato plants on snowy ground. These were the tomatoes Yang grew during her first winter in P.E.I. She named the painting First Snow.
To the left is a painting of an elderly man standing with his hands on his hip in front of his house, which is in poor condition. He is smiling.
Yang said the painting is inspired by a man in her hometown who chose to stay and live in that house in bad condition after others in the neighbourhood had already left. He was happy living there. He passed away years ago.
Next to that painting is a portrait of a topless woman with braided hair, smiling. It’s Yang’s self-portrait, painted based on a selfie she took at 37 years old.
“I tell people I will take all my clothes and paint myself every 10 years … to maintain youth.”
Breaking language barrier with art
Some of the works in this exhibit are the first paintings she did in an art class three years ago.
Back then, she and her husband visited a gallery on North River Road when they noticed a painting class going on.
She took a quick peek.
There were no models or objects for the students to draw inspiration from — each was painting as if they were expressing their own thoughts and ideas.
Yang signed up for the class. She struggled to communicate with other Islanders because of the language barrier, so she wanted to use paintings to express herself.
“My painting is my language.”