A world of similarities between Macau and Lisbon waits to be discovered at Creative Macau’s gallery, that starts tomorrow. “Ma-boa Lis-cau” is the latest exhibition by Charles Chauderlot. The only artist to have been granted permission to paint in the restricted areas of the Forbidden City, in Beijing, talks to mART about places and memories.

By Sofia Jesus

Macau and Lisbon may sometimes seem two worlds apart. But in the eyes of traveller artist Charles Chauderlot they share funny similarities that go well beyond architecture. “It is a way of life,” he tells mART.

Charles Chauderlot has lived in Macau since 2006. A few years ago, a health problem made him rush to Europe for treatment. It was during that time that he travelled to the Portuguese capital to organise an exhibition marking the 500 years of the relationship between Portugal and China.

He stayed in the city for almost one month. Born in 1952 in Madrid, Spain – with French-Spanish ascendance –, he had been there before, but only for short periods of time. It was in 2013 that his relationship with the city changed. “I discovered Lisbon and I painted it.”

But the idea to cross sceneries from Macau and Lisbon would only come later. As his health made him interrupt painting for a while, he started looking at photographs from works he had painted in Macau and noticed strange similarities with some of the pieces he had painted in the Portuguese city.

maboa liscau chauderlot creative macau

“The paintings that I painted in Macau and Lisbon are so similar, it’s like a crossing of the peoples… When they built some houses and churches, when they organised some shops to sell food… I realised Macau and Lisbon’ peoples sometimes – with their own style – did exactly the same,” he tells mART.

He started matching some pairs of paintings – one from each city –and showed them to people in Macau. “They were totally confused” at first, he recalls. And he jokes on how he corrected them sometimes: “Please, this is not Macau. In Macau, you would have all that network of electric cables…”

He then chose seven spots he found very similar and made printed limited editions of those photographs. The seven pairs of printings – together with four original paintings, one from Macau and three from Lisbon – can be seen from tomorrow on in the gallery of Creative Macau, in Macau, in an exhibition called “Ma-Boa Lis-cau”, to be held until March 19.

From details of churches to gates overlooking the riverside, “the people [will] need to find who is who”.

Similarities portrayed by Charles Chauderlot in this exhibition go well beyond façades. “It is not only the architecture. It is also the way of life,” he says. Like in the case of stone doors leading to an area in which women sell food – in Macau, as well as in Lisbon.

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Charles Chauderlot

More than just a place

Being a traveller artist, as he describes himself, Charles Chauderlot is inspired by places – with all that the word means. He has travelled for two years along the spice route; he has painted traditional buildings now shadowed by skyscrapers; he has drawn countless boats – “I love boats” – in harbours across different locations.

Contemporary buildings do not interest him that much. He says they do not present “a strong meaning of the place”, as the same style of building could be painted “in Beijing, New York, Singapore or Hong Kong”.

Older and traditional buildings are “full of history”. “I paint the history, the memory, and I paint the beauty. It is not always touristic places, but it is the life.”

Charles Chauderlot has created his own artistic style by mixing techniques from East and West.

“I use Chinese brushes and Chinese ink [on Western paper], and I don’t paint all the space, I have empty space, like in the Chinese technique. But I also use Western techniques, such as the perspective, and I paint on the spot, with the shadows and the light of the sun, which is a typical Western way [of painting],” he explains.

People look at his paintings in different ways, he says. “And that is my wish.” Some concentrate on his blended technique; others focus on guessing where exactly the place in the picture is; and others start by recognising the place as somewhere they had been and talk about their life, forgetting about the painting. “[For the latter] the painting is just the point of departure of another story – their own.”

pavillion flowing music forbidden city

Pavilion of Flowing Music (Changyin Ge), by Charles Chauderlot (08/2003).
In “Ink Wash of the Forbidden City”, at the Macao Museum of Art

Painting the memory

Although that is not his target when he paints a place, Charles Chauderlot admits he is a “witness of life and history”, in a time when it is not unusual for authorities to decide to demolish old buildings in the name of progress. “[When this happens], suddenly, my paintings become the memory – another memory. The memory that [some] people decided to delete.”

China’s capital city Beijing – where the artist lived for ten years – is an example of that. “In Beijing, [about] 90 percent of the paintings that I painted there before the Olympic games have today disappeared.”

He recalls how some Chinese journalists used his artwork to protest against the Government. “This was not my target. I didn’t want to be involved in this kind of stories – but they made me very famous,” he jokes.

Now, images of his paintings in the Chinese capital have been published in China, in a book with texts written by him and translated into Chinese. Beijing people warmly welcomed the book, “because it is the memory of Beijing”. He sometimes receives letters from people living in Beijing telling him “you remembered me of when I fell in love with my girlfriend in that place”.

“People realise traditional houses in Beijing were not only architecture, they were also a way of life. And this way of life has disappeared today in the new buildings,” the artist says.

phorbidden city

View of the Forbidden City from Jingshan Hill, by Charles Chauderlot (10/2003).
In “Ink Wash of the Forbidden City”, at the Macao Museum of Art

Non-forbidden city

Charles Chauderlot says he is the only painter – foreigner or Chinese – to have ever been granted permission to paint inside all the restricted areas of Beijing’s landmark Forbidden City.

“This is one hit of my career. And of my life,” he sighs.

It all began when he was at the opening of an exhibition in Beijing. A man approached him, asking the artist to sell him a painting that had already been sold. It was a painting of a historical temple in Beijing, “a very restricted area”, as it was then serving as “headquarters of the Tibetan communist party” in Beijing.

The man then asked the artist to paint the Forbidden City, as it was where he worked. Charles Chauderlot agreed, but told him: “You need to allow me to paint in the forbidden areas.” The deal – “a huge deal” – was sealed, and after some months the painter got his permission to paint in the restricted areas of what is also known as the Palace Museum – first, he was allowed to go there for three months; but he ended up being allowed to paint there from 2002 to 2004.

The result of this unique opportunity can currently be seen at the Macao Museum of Art, in an exhibition called “Ink Wash of the Forbidden City”. It includes 81 paintings – as many as the 81 doornails on the gate of the Forbidden City, which were ornaments that could only be used by the emperors.

And here a new story begins, Charles Chauderlot tells mART. An important art collector from Macau has bought the entire collection and has made sure it will permanently be shown in the Macao Museum of Art. It is a dream-come-true for the artist, who up untill now had refused to sell the paintings separately, as he considered them to be in fact “one work”. “It is a unique story that happened,” he adds.

Charles Chauderlot says he has also refused higher offers made by some tycoons interested in buying the whole collection, as he suspected they would want it for speculation purposes, and would possibly dismantle it. “Sure, I lose money. But the mind of this [Macau] collector was the same as mine. […] And now the collection is safe,” he says. “And I’m very happy.”