At first sight, the modern, black-and-white painting, hanging on the wall of a gallery in Diamond Bar, appears to be an abstract face with a cigarette dangling from the lips. Looking closer, the face is composed of black ink strokes, a signature technique of Chinese painters. But the painting as a whole is markedly different than traditional Chinese ink paintings because the strokes are rough, and not smooth.
The work is called Shi Dai De Lian, which translates to "The Face of the Era." Its creator, Fei Wang, 54, lent the piece to CM2 Space, an LA-based organization that promotes Chinese art, to expose his work to American audiences. Wang is known for striking ink work that aims to reveal the struggles of the human condition in urban life.
Yuexi Lin, the co-founder of CM2 Space, said that Western audience like the combination of Chinese traditional art techniques and global themes that relate across national boundaries. Wang's piece fits perfectly, Lin said. It has been on exhibition for several years.
"Western people like the Chinese expression of emotions and techniques that don't exist in their own tradition and culture," Lin said. "This particular art piece also reflects some of the worldwide emotions of modern people, such as anxiety and confusion."
CM2 Space is an art organization that builds a cultural bridge between the Chinese and Western worlds through contemporary modern arts.
"'C' stands for contemporary, and 'M' stands for modern. 'CM' stands for centimeter and it's a unit of length we use in China," Lin said. "This is a representation of our identity that we want to promote Chinese contemporary modern arts, [as] art pieces reflect culture and social phenomenon."
Lin said he and his team established the concept of CM2 Space in 2006, but spent more than a year trying to find a suitable physical space in Los Angeles to set up their art gallery. They initially had their eyes on Chinatown because the Chinese setting and buildings highlighted a strong cultural presence that fit with the goals of CM2 Space. However, there were already about 20 art exhibitions in Chinatown at that time.
CM2 Space opened in 2013, collaborating with artists, hosting art exhibitions and participating in the Los Angeles Art Show for the first time. In 2014, CM2 Space established its physical space in its current Diamond Bar location.
Promoting arts is a constructive way to communicate cultures and publicize the current development of Chinese arts, as well as to promote Chinese artists with great potential in the U.S. art industry, said Lin.
"One of our artists, Dadi Liu, has been exploring the connection between photography and abstract arts," he said. "We have been promoting this artist in art shows for years, and gradually more people came to know about his art pieces and him."
Liu is based in Beijing, but believed that his innovative art pieces was more suitable for the U.S. art market. Thus, he started to work with CM2 Space to share his art in LA.
"Through my collaboration with CM2 Space, I don't need to go to the U.S. every year, and I can focus on my work in Beijing," Liu said.
However, cultural differences can also be obstacles when interpreting art. For instance, it can be difficult for a Western audience to understand the different mediums and techniques used by Chinese artists.
"[We often use the] Chinese brush and rice paper, which are parallel with the traditional mediums [like paintbrushes and canvas] used in Western countries," Lin said. "[Those] techniques… have much aesthetic values, but it is abstract and pertained to Chinese culture."
Moreover, Western and Eastern arts often place an emphasis on different values, so it can be hard to comprehend the underlying themes without any background and cultural information, according to Wang.
"It's hard for Western people to understand Chinese arts because the internalized feelings and emotions are often abstract," he said. "On the other hand, it's hard for Chinese to understand Western arts, because we don't have the related philosophical background of the art pieces."
Despite the existence of cultural differences, Lin said that audiences would not have any trouble appreciating CM2 Space's Chinese artworks at art shows.
"[Firstly,] we will not take art pieces that are too challenging and abstract for a Western audience comprehend," he said. "Sometimes we will also use Western 'language' or mediums to tell Chinese stories, so there won't be any communication problems."
There is an increasing trend of Chinese artists utilizing Western techniques to tell Chinese stories, which further reduces the challenges of cultural communication.
"Some aspects of Western art that made its way to Chinese art could include commentary and investigation of consumerism, such as pop art in the US, which inspired a generation of Chinese artist to look at similar aspects," said Emilia Yin, the curator of Make Room Gallery in Los Angeles. "Many artists from China is not merely working with these universal themes to appeal to a global audience, but instead, these expressions in art enable more connections among the audience from diverse backgrounds."
In addition, the increasing amount of globalization promotes the cultural understanding and artistic communication between nations, according to Sonya Lee, an associate professor of Chinese art and visual cultures at USC.
"I think there's a lot of discussion nowadays about multiculturalism, developing empathy for others, and also trying to understand the United States within a more global context," Lee said. "All this can help facilitate a deeper understanding of the artistic traditions."
CM2 Space will be attending more art shows in the near future to promote Chinese arts.
"A few decades ago, art galleries with stable locations, provided services towards their local communities. But now, art fairs can offer the same precious opportunities but with thousands of people to be able to view an abundance of artists and works within a single day," Lin said.
Emilia Yin said that the U.S., a country where people come from diverse backgrounds, should expand knowledges of different culture, which can reduce the bias.
"One of the best ways to empathize with others is by viewing and appreciating their artwork and culture and seeing their perspective in exciting and new approaches," Yin said. "China has a rich and vibrant history that is still maturing, and that is reflected in its art. viewing this art provides access to exciting developments that show where an important part of the world is and is heading."