You’re OTN, you’re in Hong Kong, what do you do? Head out to the copy painting capital of China that’s what.
Da Fen is a couple of short train rides and a border crossing into China from Hong Kong. It's packed with small studios pumping out lookalike paintings for the world as well as framers and art supply stores. If you know Heather Straka’s smoking girl paintings you've already seen some of the product of China’s seemingly inexhaustible copying business.
So what is China painting, ok, copying, for the world? Van Gogh is huge. We saw sunflowers, starry nights, cafes and many, many self portraits. Monet waterlilies made a major appearance as did images by Rothko and Lichtenstein, Warhol and Rembrandt alongside Mona Lisas and Maos, landscapes and still lives, herds of wild horses and the cutest of cute animals.
Having expected to be subjected to hard-core sales pitches we were surprised to find an atmosphere of calm studiousness pervading the entire four or five blocks of the painting village. In each studio open to the street was an artist hard at work barely pausing to look up when we asked to take photographs. While the level of skill varies hugely most of the artists are art school trained. Didn’t see much drawing going on and some of the larger more complex works (say Raphael’s The school of Athens) were being painted over faintly printed digital reproductions. The selection of subjects is crucial to this international art industry so the artists tend to work off postcards that have proved popular. It's a smart way to ensure their product will find a home somewhere.