Painting the Town Red -- And Yellow
Seventh-Grader's Panda Among 150 Creations
Tuesday, May 11, 2004; Page C14
Claire Kuang leans forward, brush in hand, and applies a thin black line under one eye. She quickly fills in around it with a rich shade of brown. Then she leans back, satisfied with the look she's created.
But it's not her own face she's beautifying. It's the face of her panda.
Her 150-pound painted polyurethane panda!
Any day now Claire's panda will go on display. It will be joined by 149 others -- unique pieces of colorful art that collectively go by the name "PandaMania." The pandas started popping up on city sidewalks a few days ago. All 150 of them -- including Claire's, at 1300 Connecticut Ave. -- should be out within the next two weeks for a summertime of ogling.
A few local schools and youth groups are taking part in PandaMania, but 13-year-old Claire is the youngest artist with a panda all to herself. The Glenelg Country School seventh-grader spent two days working on the drawing she sent to the judges, but said, "I didn't think I had that much of a chance [of being selected] because my teacher said most of the artists would be older and more professional."
True, most of the life-size pandas are in the hands of professional artists, including Claire's private teacher, Jiashan Mu, who calls his statue "10,000 Happinesses." Mu, who instructs nearly 120 art students, some as young as 5, said he wasn't surprised that Claire's entry got the judges' attention. "She did a very good job, a very good piece," he said.
Claire's "Red Pandagon," a combination of the words "panda" and "polygon," is an eye-catching mix of geometric shapes, some of which overlap and seem to build on each other. Two red-and-orange dragons -- one on the panda's belly, the other on its back -- symbolize the nation of China, home to the giant panda as well as Claire's parents. (She was born in California.)
The circles on her panda represent water, Claire said. The triangles represent air, and the squares and rectangles are Earth.
On weekends, Claire and one of her parents would drive to Washington from their home in Columbia so that she could paint. Often she put in six-hour days in silence, she said, because "I find music distracting, so I usually don't listen to it when I need to concentrate."
It took Claire more than 50 hours to get her panda ready. She used acrylic paints (in a half dozen colors) and added a sealant coat to protect the statue from weather damage. Claire did almost all the painting herself, but she did let her mother fill in a few spots and paint the statue's 600-pound black base. "I had to go over some parts, though," Claire said as her mother, Liping Zhang, let out a little laugh.
Alex MacMaster, panda project manager, said Claire was one of "maybe five" kids whose drawings were among the 1,400 entries. "You could see from her submission that she has a good understanding of color, of shape and of form," MacMaster said.
Claire has been interested in art for as long as she can remember, and started private lessons when she was 8. "I've been doing sketches for about four years, and colored-pencil drawings for one year," she said. She took up acrylics and water colors a few months ago.
Two of her favorite art subjects are her 8-year-old mixed-breed cat, Kiki, and Bebe, the family's German shepherd. She also enjoys doing portraits and landscapes. Her 5-year-old brother, Calvin, sometimes poses for drawings.
Claire's favorite subjects in school (where she's an A student) are science and math, and she might like to become an earth scientist, like her dad. "But art will definitely be a hobby," she said.
Claire's friends think it's neat that she will have a panda on busy Connecticut Avenue. She said she's a little sad "to let it go" but happy that so many people -- kids especially -- will now get to enjoy it.
"I think they'll like it," she said, "because of all the bright colors. It looks very playful."
-- Marylou Tousignant
© 2004 The Washington Post Company