"As an adopted child of Chinese-American expatriates living in Hong Kong, I have always been intrigued by how the Chinese culture explained the mysteries of the universe. Just as American kids grew up with Cinderella and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Chinese children heard stories about Chang-Er and her Rabbit, and Kwan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy. These tales go one step further to explain why there is only one sun in our universe, why we cannot gaze directly into its glare, how the carp/koi fish is transformed into a mighty dragon, how lightning is created, and so on. All this forms the central theme of my work. And the more I research into the mythology and history of China, the more I find in common with other cultures of the world.
My medium is Japanese and Chinese watercolors, gouache and acrylic on Japanese silk. The technique is the ancient 'gong-bi' style of Chinese brush painting. Some of the watercolors are made from semi-precious minerals, such as lapis lazuli, malachite and cinnabar. Multiple light washes of color are applied in successive layers to build up the intensity of colors. It takes eight to twelve weeks to complete a 30 inch by 20 inch painting, working eight to ten hours a day, six days a week. I incorporate a multitude of symbolism into the work. The emotions I feel are expressed through the colors I use.
Through my work, I hope to share the culture of a civilization over five thousand years old, as well as give insight into the motivations, aspirations and ethos of modern-day China. Many of my clients are second, third and fourth generation Chinese Americans searching for their forgotten heritage, but you don't have to be Asian to appreciate a good story, or to have fun finding how Chang-Er and her Rabbit ended up living in the moon."
For each painting Caroline attaches a story that explains the composition and the source of her inspiration. Here are examples for the images above.
Kwan Yin (mythology):
Kwan Yin, Goddess of Mercy, is the epitome of beauty and benevolence. In her right hand is the willow branch, symbolizing strength and perseverance; in her left, she holds the flask of holy water to bless her believers on earth. She is said to ride from heaven to earth on the back of the Mighty Dragon.
Kwan Yin is also the patron goddess of sailors. When a fierce storm brews at sea, they pray to her to save them, and she is seen riding through the waves on the back of the Dragon to their rescue.
Mei Fei (historical):
Mei Fei was the daughter of a physician. She was so named because of her love of plum blossoms. Emperor Tang Xuanzong adored her, and had many plum trees planted in the palace gardens to please her. Delicate and gentle, she was not given to jealous bickerings, and so was popular with the other ladies of the emperor's harem.
When Yang Guifei entered the imperial household, Mei Fei lost favor with the emperor, who had eyes only for the newcomer. Thus she was banished to the southern palace, and spent her days in solitude, with only her music and poetry to fill her lonely life. When An Lushan staged his rebellion, the emperor fled the imperial city with Yang Guifei, leaving Mei Fei behind. Too late, he remembered her, and sent servants to search for his former favorite, but they found no trace of her. All that was left was the memory of her lovely face and gentle spirit.
Pandas of Wolong:
Long time ago, pandas were pure white, without their signature markings. In Wolong Valley there lived a shepherdess who tended her flock during the day. A young panda always came by to play with the sheep, perhaps mistaking them for one of his own. One day, a leopard attacked the panda cub as he came to play. Without thought to her own safety, the shepherdess picked up a stick to beat the cat off the cub. The panda escaped, but the girl was killed.
At her funeral, the pandas came to mourn her. As was their custom, they covered their legs and paws with ashes. They rubbed their eyes as they wept, and hugged each other for comfort. As the sounds of weeping grew louder, they covered their ears with their paws. And every place they touched themselves turned black, giving them their distinct coloring that we know today.
The Chinese believe there were originally 10 suns in the sky, causing great havoc and famine. The earth was parched, and man and beast cowered in their shelters from the heat, with little relief. The emperor called on Hou Yi, the Celestial Archer, to shoot down nine of the suns, leaving the one we know today in the sky. Yi was successful, and as a reward, he was given the Elixir of Immortality and named the next emperor.
When Yi ascended the throne, he turned out to be a cruel tyrant. He taxed the people relentlessly. His beautiful wife, Chang-Er, decided that if her husband lived forever, the peasants would never be free of him. One night, she stole his potion of Immortality. She drank it, but too much, and started to rise into the night sky till she came to rest in the moon. Together with the Rabbit, she lives there till today.
Every year, the Chinese celebrate the Mid Autumn Moon Festival. They drink a toast to Chang Er, and eat moon cakes shaped like rabbits. They say on that night, when you look into the moon, you can see the Rabbit there, with mortar and pestle, formulating some more Elixir of Immortality for his mistress to drink.