Colleen Quen held her first art exhibit “In the Spirit of Fashion” at the China Brotsky Art Gallery in the Thoreau Center for Sustainability. Her watercolors express an infectious, child like enthusiasm for form and color. The work says what many artists easily forget: art is fun.
Madame Quen had lived in an intense production cycle creating one of kind gowns for customers with high expectations—Hollywood celebrities and San Francisco socialites. After being diagnosed with breast cancer, she changed focus and, from what I gather, stopped operation of her clothing design business.
That’s when she turned to painting watercolor.
Many of her watercolor paintings are a series of strokes, reminscent of Chinese calligraphy, accented with color. When I spoke with Madame Quen she said that she struggled at first to accurately copy the forms she saw, but her teacher, Madeline Fu, encouraged her to go with the impulse.
Watercolor is notoriously difficult to control. Watercolor on rice paper, even more so. Giving up control and allowing the medium to be itself is a part of the art. But giving up control is difficult to do, and, even more difficult, I imagine, for someone coming from the fashion industry.
“Like improvisational jazz,” I said. “You’re a musician?” she asked. “No, and if I did play play music, you wouldn’t like it.” She laughed.
Her watercolors are vibrant, often joyful, no doubt. Her joy was infectious and the story of her struggle irresistible.
While I was having the conversation with Madame Quen, I couldn’t help but think of Rilke. He wrote, “Works of art are of an infinite loneliness and nothing can reach them so little as criticism. Only love can grasp them and keep hold of them and be just to them.” How true. Doubly true for art work born out of a battle with cancer.