Painter Inspired by the Color, Costumes, and Backdrop in Shen Yun: ‘Astounding’
JACKSONVILLE, Fla.—For one unique and personal reason, painter Tom Barnes derives extra inspiration from Shen Yun Performing Arts: he and his son remember their late wife and mother by seeing New York-based Shen Yun together, a performance she had always wanted to see but couldn’t.
“It’s become an anniversary for my son and I to honor his mother by coming to see this dance,” said Barnes, who is an award-winning watercolor painter. “She always wanted to see [Shen Yun] but we never got a chance to and after her death, we came together. And now we’re gonna do this every year in honor of her. So it’s a really special event for us. She was a choreographer, and she told stories when she created her dances. And so we really resonate with the storytelling. That’s what’s so beautiful about it.”
Barnes and his son attended Shen Yun at the Thrasher-Horne Center in Jacksonville, Florida, on Feb. 23, 2020.
Shen Yun employs classical Chinese dance to create narratives from throughout China’s 5,000-year history, from its spiritual canon, and even from modern-day events such as the persecution against spiritual believers happening in China today.
Its mission is to revive traditional Chinese culture, which was once almost lost, and to share it with the world.
Barnes grew up in the American South beginning in the early 1950s and derives inspiration for his paintings from the refined, feminine ladies of that period. The painter waxed poetic and brought his full artistic training to bear when speaking about the many aspects of the Shen Yun performance he had just seen.
“Well, first of all, [Shen Yun] is just obviously so professionally done with such great precision. And the costumes, what we call spectacle in the theater, is just astounding. If you just came to hear the orchestra, it would be plenty. But they add everything else to it so that you get the visuals. The color, the color combinations, the palette, the hues of everything are just gorgeous. And this whole new patented digital thing is so fun. The audience just really appreciated [it] here. I’ve seen it before. But this time the whole effect got applause because it was so obviously well done.”
One of the things Barnes noticed about Shen Yun’s magnificent costumes, which are often coordinated with the digitally animated, patented backdrop technology, “is what we call the triadic split.”
“It’s using secondary colors together. And the costume coloring with, for instance, the burnt orange with the lime-ish green with the purple—that’s the perfect triadic split in color theory,” the painter explained.
Barnes picked up on the fact that Shen Yun draws on tradition as it innovates its art forms for current and future audiences. This is true, too, with the colors in the costumes’ fabrics and stage lighting.
“Well part of that is the beauty of theater lighting, is that we can enhance color. But you know that these costumes are just vibrant. The dyeing process, the whole, the fabric making process, is just really, I’m sure there’s tradition to it. But the fact is that they’re using so many of the old traditional techniques to create a very vibrant, contemporary theater experience.
“And just the precision of the dancers, the idea of unity, in the community and the culture, is just so obvious when the dance comes together and everybody’s on the beat. I looked for feet that were out of place. There just weren’t any,” a delighted Barnes said.
The storytelling in Shen Yun that so resonated with Barnes and his son is an extension of ancient Chinese culture, which has always acknowledged the presence of a Creator and has even passed down legends of divine beings having come to earth over the many centuries.
Barnes took note of these themes in the performance. Although he feels there is a difference between the philosophies and beliefs in the West and in China, both are in service of a grand design at work.
“It’s the larger whole and the greater good and the more—it’s like the Creator with a big ‘C.’ It all moves to the same point.”
“Common values,” Barnes said. “We all have a spirit, don’t we?”
With reporting by Sally Sun and Brett Featherstone.
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