Colourful Panda Magic

Mr Francis Wong Hooe Wai, Chief of Art Management, CapitaLand Limited, tells charming tales of the art behind the colourful pandas

Issue: Jan 2013

A family of four colourful pandas greet visitors at CapitaLand’s Raffles City Chengdu
A family of four colourful pandas greet visitors at CapitaLand’s Raffles City Chengdu

Art @ CapitaLand

This is one of a series of monthly articles that focuses on artwork in CapitaLand’s properties, for the enjoyment of the community. The intentions and stories of art told in simple language.

Located prominently at the main entrance of CapitaLand’s Raffles City Chengdu is a family of four pandas that greet every visitor. They all have the same posture and expression, but some are more colourful than the others. Colourful Pandas? Now, just what kind of pandas are these?

These are, of course, not real pandas but panda sculptures - creations of contemporary French artist Julien Marinetti. Born in 1967, Marinetti discovered his artistic feel during his youth. He ran away from school, which he considered boring, and spent joyful days wandering in museums. He later joined the famous Beaux-Arts School in Paris but this lasted only 48 hours, as he felt like a stranger there. By chance he met the renowned artist Jean Dewasne who taught him modern tonality and the art of painted metallic “anti-sculptures”. He started to develop his own distinct style.

By 2011, when CapitaLand invited Marinetti to do a special commission for Raffles City Chengdu, he was already well known for his “Doggy John” – a bulldog that is painted with vibrant colours and adorned with graffiti motives, a familiar form in a unique expression. He gladly took on the challenge of creating a family of four Pandas, something he had not attempted before.

There is perhaps no other subject matter more close to heart to CapitaLand in Chengdu than the pandas. Wolong, which is only 130 km away from Chengdu, is one of the sanctuaries of the giant pandas and is also where Jia Jia and Kai Kai were raised. Now these two pandas have made Singapore their home for the next ten years. They arrived in Singapore in September 2012. May they aspire to start a family of four, or even more! CapitaLand is the Presenting Sponsor and Conservation Donor of the 10-year Giant Panda Collaborative Programme.

Unique Interpretations

The Picasso inspired ‘tattoo’ on one arm of the Baby Panda
The Picasso inspired ‘tattoo’ on one arm of the Baby Panda
Vibrant colours and lively patterns on “three-dimensional” canvas
Vibrant colours and lively patterns on “three-dimensional” canvas

It is often interesting to see how someone foreign to a country interprets something that is very much a symbol of that nation or culture. Here, Marinetti has chosen a standard sitting posture for all four members of the family – father, mother and twin children - regardless of their size, gender and age, with Papa Panda occupying a prime position, dominating and spreading his wisdom like a wise man. Is that how he sees a Chinese family?

In the early stage of the creative process, Marinetti had wanted to paint the four in similar pattern basically responding to the natural look of the animal. But gradually this evolved into something far more interesting. Today, we can see that Papa Panda is pretty much black and white – providing a visual reference to the natural panda; Mama Panda has solid patches of colours alongside the black and white; while Baby Pandas are layered with many hues. On close examination, one can see “graffiti” inspired by Picasso’s work – Marinetti’s signature style – present in every panda with each having its unique “tattoo” of human faces and abstract patterns, and even a sprig of green leaves on one of the twins. These pandas are surely hip!

Combining the Arts of Painting and Sculpture

These hip sculptures were however made using the ancient technique of bronze casting. Whereas bronze sculptures often look and feel like bronze, the pandas look anything but bronze. This is due to the creativity of the artist, for Marinetti combines the art of sculpture with the art of painting. Layer and layers of enamel paint and lacquered are applied to give it the depth of oil painting on canvas, and the smoothness of porcelain.

Colourful Pandas may sound like a joke, but it is not new in the art world. In 1983, American Pop Artist Andy Warhol created his “Endangered Species Series” in which the Panda took on bright colours – in one example red, ochre and magenta – with not even a trace of black. In fact, Marinetti’s works are inspired by Warhol’s – in the colour palette, and also by Lichtenstein’s – in the layering effect. But Marinetti synthesises these and Picasso’s styles and applies them on three-dimensional sculptures to achieve an unprecedented effect. It is as if he has introduced a fourth dimension to the sculptures.

The Pandas Charm

Before the colourful Panda Family was unveiled, there was a concern that the locals might not accept it and that there might be lots of controversy. But art is never about “playing safe” and avoiding controversy. In CapitaArt, we do allow controversy, albeit of the non-offensive sort. Most importantly, we want the community to be able to understand, talk about, enjoy and eventually fall in love with our collection.

The  Panda Family has charmed the locals in Chengdu
The Panda Family has charmed the locals in Chengdu

So how have our colourful panda friends fared? Judging from the remarks on Weibo, they seem to have begun to charm the locals. Here is a sampling:

“ What a lovely panda family!”
“ The Pandas are no longer black and white, they can justify colour photos!”
“This family of pandas is quite joyful. Every time I walk past, I will give it a glance.”
“When I have time I’ll take a photo with these pandas that I love most.”

Such is the panda magic - colourful Panda Magic!

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