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Artist profile: Charlotte Fung-Miller, Chinese brush painting

This article is the fourth in a series featuring an artist exhibiting at the DubuqueFest Art Fair in Washington Park on May 19-20, 2012. Click here to read other Artist Profiles.

By Pamela Brandt

Charlotte Fung-Miller, an artist from Mukwonago, Wisconsin (30 minutes from Milwaukee), will display her Chinese brush painting at the DubuqueFest Art Fair on May 19-20, 2012. In a blend of East and West that reflects both her Chinese-American heritage and her individuality, she portrays birds, flowers, landscapes, fish and animals in a vibrancy that resonates with many people.

Yellow Blue Mountain by Charlotte Fung-MillerFung-Miller said about her painting, “It’s done very spontaneously; there’s no sketching beforehand. It’s just with the brush and the paper, and your imagination. It’s not like oil painting, it’s not even done like other watercolors, because it all has to do with the absorbency of your brush stroke on rice paper.”

She’s been painting for over 40 years, with her cultural heritage being what she calls a “subliminal” influence on her work and often guiding her choice of subject. “I got into all the Chinese zodiac animals. This is the year of the dragon, and I’ve finished all 12 animals.”

Yet the luminous colors in the landscapes she paints are not entirely traditional. She said, “That’s my own feeling, my own experience. I never lived in China. I grew up and was born in San Francisco, in Chinatown. I had quite a traditional upbringing in that I had to go to Chinese school for ten years, and that was every day, 5 days a week. I learned to brush in ink pen, to write Chinese words and read, so that was the foundation for painting.”

Two Rabbits by Charlotte Fung-MillerThe themes of her paintings are peaceful and idyllic. “I was born and raised as a Buddhist, and Taoism is also influential to painters of Chinese brush painting. It’s all about harmony with nature. We don’t have any cityscapes. We want things to calm the mind, or I do.”

With a degree in nutritional science and bacteriology, Fung-Miller paints with an intensity that she learned when her now-grown children were small, admitting, “I paint all the time.” Laughing, she said, “I can cook and I can paint. I think I learned that when I had kids. In those days, there was no VCR, and Sesame Street was only half an hour to an hour. That time was my painting time. You can’t wait to get in the mood, because you have only that time to do your painting.”

Autumn Waterfall by Charlotte Fung-Miller“Moving to the Midwest, I started painting a lot and started accumulating a lot of inventory, and somebody said, ‘Why don’t you show at the art fair?’ I was smitten, and after that I really liked exhibiting my work and explaining my philosophy of Chinese brush painting.”

Now, when people enter her booth, she encourages interaction. She wants to hear questions and comments from festival goers, even from those who are uncertain of the right thing to say. “I don’t think there’s a right or wrong question. People always worry they’re asking a dumb question, but I like all questions, I don’t care what they are.”

As a board member of the Wisconsin Alliance of Artists and Craftspeople, Fung-Miller uses her expertise as a full time artist to actively work toward promoting opportunities for others. “We make the decision in regards to putting on two art fairs, and also any opportunities for Wisconsin artists and craftspeople in terms of the art world.”

Her advice for other, possibly less experienced art fair vendors is to “be personable. If you’re bored, people will see that you’re bored. If you’re excited by your work, people will see that, and then they get excited. It’s a real good ego booster, since only people that like your work will walk into your booth. Here’s your opportunity to explain your work to them and describe your methodology and just be open to having a good experience at the show.”

Hummingbird and Fuchia by Charlotte Fung-MillerSuccessful art fair vendors will also “have a variety of price points, from those who can’t afford a lot, to the more expensive pieces. I call myself the ‘working man’s artist,’ which means I have paintings that anybody can afford.”

“I think you’ll like my paintings, because it’s kind of like a blend of East and West. You can definitely recognize the subject matter. It’s not abstract nor is it very realistic; it’s kind of in between. I think I capture many people who like art. Plus they like the variety of subjects that I have.”

As they are created, her paintings tend to happen as a progression on a subject. She said, “It totally absorbs my attention, and it’s really great because I’ll start painting a painting, and then I’m thinking, ‘What can I do to this painting?’ I mean, not that painting — that painting’s done. In Chinese brush work, you don’t go over your strokes, you don’t layer it, you just stop.”

“When you’re done, you’re done, and you don’t say ‘Oh, should I change this or change that.’ But that leads me on to the next painting, and it may be similar to the first painting, but I can implement the changes that I wanted to do but I didn’t do on the first one. By the time I know it, time passes, and I’m totally and thoroughly enthralled by what I can achieve.”

“Whenever I paint a good painting that I’m pretty satisfied with, I will paint another one similar to it. And half the time, the first one is better, and half the time, the second one is better. And then the beauty is, then I have two of the same subject, but they won’t look identical.”

Having a successful career as a Chinese brushwork painter also necessitates framing, matting, ordering, paperwork, and applying to art shows. “I’m never bored,” she said. She looks forward to returning to Dubuque after visiting during last fall’s Galena Country Fair. She agrees that Dubuque is a wonderful community: “I’ll say. It’s beautiful and it’s hilly, with new things coming, and a lot of old history to it, too.”

At 2012 DubuqueFest, Charlotte Fung-Miller’s original Chinese brush painting will be available as matted prints and notecards in addition to original artwork. To learn more, visit her website at www.cfungmiller.com.

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