During her early adulthood, Tracie Griffith Tso, as she is known in the art world, rarely painted. After marrying her husband, Burton Griffith, in 2002, and beginning the nomadic life of an Army wife, she returned to her childhood love.
"It's sort of like getting on a bike again," she says. "I didn't do it through college, but it comes back to you."
Tso now teaches Chinese painting as well, in small classes of one to three students in her home studio. The classes focus on mastering fundamental brushstrokes used in Chinese art.
"Students have an opportunity to paint orchids, chrysanthemums, bamboo and plum blossoms in both color and black and white and add birds and butterflies as accents," says a description of the course.
Tso's own favorite subjects are Chinese carp and bamboo. Although she doesn't like to look at her own art, and displays pieces in her home only at her husband's request, she does form an attachment to her work.
"Sometimes, things grow on me," she says. "I wonder how many bluebirds I have left in me, how many good horses I have left in me. I went through a hummingbird phase, then pandas recently. Then I started painting on silk. That's very, very hard."
"Bamboo & Beyond: Chinese Brush Painting," on display at The Roxy Regional Theatre through the end of August, is her first show in Tennessee and includes her first ink-on-silk piece. Ink, stone, brush and paper are the four treasures of Chinese painting, but silk is sometimes used in place of paper.
Setting her painting supplies out on her kitchen table, Tso explains the exotic ink stick, stone, rice paper and bamboo-handled brushes. She will explain them again tonight at a demonstration of Chinese brush painting techniques, 5 to 7 p.m. at The Roxy Regional Theatre.
"My students always like the gear," she says.
The paper Tso uses is organic rice paper made of mulberry, she says. The ink stick is hardened pine soot. The ink stone is ornate, decorated with a fish, a frog, and a lotus, which is a symbol of longevity and fertility.
"Everything is significant," she says.
Using a great economy of line, Tso can make four lines of black ink into a stick of bamboo in seconds. Several swirls and lines become a horse's muscular face just as quickly, and in less than a minute, his strong, leaping body takes shape.
She uses color chips to create multi-hued paintings sometimes, but the pure and unforgiving nature of black and white is her basis.
"Black and white is more startling to the eye. It's just simplistic," she says. "The theories of Chinese art speak to black and white."
Using high-quality, natural materials is important both to prevent frustration for the artist and to maintain faithfulness to nature.
"You have to use the black ink," she says. "That's where everything began. That's where life began."
1. To display brushstroke power with good brush work control
2.To posses sturdy simplicity with refinement of true talent
3. To possess delicacy of skill with vigor of execution.
4.To exhibit originality, even to the point of eccentricity, without violating the li (the principles or essence) of things.
5. In rendering space by leaving the silk or paper untouched, to be able nevertheless to convey nuances of tone.
6.On the flatness of the picture plane, to achieve depth and space.
— Source: Lu Ch'ang, quoted from an early 11th Century work of biographies of painters of the Five Dynasties and Northern Sung Periods, at www.asia-art.net.
Stacy Smith Segoviais a features writer for The Leaf-Chronicle. She can be reached at 245-0237 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published August 4, 2005