Party at Lan-ting

Background information

Shiyan Zhang, 1991. 18'h x 40'l, 536 West College. Chinatown, Los Angeles.
In 1988, the City of Los Angeles began funding murals in the city's ethnic neighborhoods through the "Great Walls Unlimited: Neighborhood Pride" program. Administered by the Social and Public Art Resource Center, the program has three objectives: "foster community pride...beautify neighborhoods...and...provide young people with the opportunity to learn artistic skills firsthand under professional guidance." The Party at Lan-ting is one of the twelve murals executed during the program's third year. Painted on the north wall of the Chinatown branch of the Los Angeles Public Library, the mural depicts 32 figures who attended the birthday party at Lan-ting for the 47 year old Wang Xizhi (321-379). During the party, Wang Xizhi, who is regarded as the father of modern Chinese calligraphy, wrote the Preface to the Collections of Poems at Lan-ting. Executed in a supple, elegant script, the calligraphy for the Preface was praised, admired and imitated in subsequent generations. An explanatory panel along the side of the mural reports that at the time of the party, ancient Chinese characters were evolving into the modern style and Wang Xizhi was important in laying the foundation for modern Chinese calligraphy.

Zhang's mural follows the traditional style of Chinese mural painting with strong colors, dark lines outlining the structure and human figures filling the abundant free space. The figures appear flat, reflecting a traditional approach toward depth of field. Combining traditional and modern techniques, the mural contrasts gentle and heavy brush strokes, includes a parallel arrangement of multi-layers of cold and warm colors, and uses a casual style of composition. Jewelry is incorporated into the mural as an embellishment of the women.

It is appropriate that the mural is on the wall of the Chinatown branch of the Los Angeles Public Library. This library was established through a community-wide effort lead by Dr. Ruby Ling Louie, who formed the Friends of the Chinatown Library to mobilize support for the project. After the branch opened in the former auditorium of the Castelar School in 1977, it quickly became apparent that it was too small for the large number of people using it. The Friends group then spearheaded a drive to construct a larger facility. The Board of Education offered land rent free at the Castelar School while grants from the federal government for a building were supplemented by a drive that raised $227,000 from the community. Opened on April 18, 1983, the new enlarged branch is now one of the busiest in the City's library system.

The text has been provided courtesy of Michael Several, Los Angeles, April 1998.

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