| I was born in Kunming in Yunnan
China, a southwestern province. Kunming hosted the famous
"Flying Tigers"--the American volunteer aviators
who defended Kunming and all of Southern China from the Japanese
during World War II. Some may remember the movie in which
John Wayne plays Chennault, the brilliant retired U.S. Army
Airman who commanded this group. Kunming was the special beneficiary
of their heroism and by them the Japanese were halted permanently
in their attempt to invade China from Burma. Of course, after
Mao came to power, this story was not told in Chinese history.
But we knew it very well.
As a small child, about three or four years old, I would
sit at the dinner table. Instead of eating my food, I held
a chopstick up to one eye, and peered down it moving it
slightly to trace the features of my brothers or sisters.
Even at that age I was learning how to draw faces. A little
older, and I would use a black crayon to draw. I remember
using some water colors also. While in kindergarten, I drew
small animals and flowers. In elementary school, I began
to design a school magazine. The teacher would give me colored
chalks and let me draw on a huge blackboard to fill it up.
I would draw flowers, and animals, and sometimes a large
portrait of the current "hero". I began to dream
of becoming a true artist.
But my dream was shattered when I was 12 years old and the
Cultural Revolution began in China. Schools were closed
for ten years; mayhem ruled. I still painted on my own.
But communism had made my family poor. My father, who had
been a banker in India, was labeled a capitalist and sent
to a countryside work camp. We couldn't even afford stretcher
bars to stretch the canvas over. I put a canvas on top of
a bench, stretching it there. My mother managed to get enough
money to purchase 5 oil colors: red, yellow, blue, white
and black. I painted my first oil painting that way--a still
My older brother was able to borrow books, some of which
had photos of the classical masterworks. The print quality
was poor, but I could see enough to learn. I would paint
my older sisters portrait making her elegant and princess-like,
in the classical style. Occasionally there was an opportunity
to show my paintings to some people who loved art. They
seemed genuinely impressed and they gave me encouragement.
Thus I began to weave my dream again.
At that time, there were no small art galleries in China.
If you wanted to make a living as an artist, you had to
work for the government. I applied with a variety of departments,
but only people born in families who supported the revolution
were eligible for jobs.
Because of my father's background, we were labeled capitalists.
So they couldn't consider me. My life was my art. Without
it I was very depressed and my pool of hope was small and
shallow. I ended up going to a factory to work, thinking
I would have to spend my life there. (In China's system,
once you begin in a field, it is almost impossible to change
But when a door is closed to you, God can open another.
The Yunnan local government was organizing several art exhibitions
every year to promote national policy. They gave the artist
a theme and the artist created work reflecting that theme.
Perhaps, because I had interviewed with them, I was on their
list of artists and I was invited to participate. This made
it possible for me to take several months off from my factory
job each year and paint. I hated the government control
and the propaganda themes, but at least I could paint. Pretty
soon my paintings received recognition and awards, and they
were featured on magazine covers. And even at the factory,
I could paint posters, signs or a giant mural.
Finally in 1977, the government re-opened the Yunnan Art
College. It had been closed for ten years. Along with many
others, I applied. There was a strict examination which
I passed and was admitted. Once there, I painted portraits
and anatomical studies and a lot of landscapes. I was excited
to take field trips to the mountains and spent long hours
painting in small villages. There were people there whose
ethnicity was not Chinese. They had simple and colorful
lifestyles. Later I would return to these villages and take
In 1982, I graduated from Yunnan Art College and my painting
titled "Return" won the National Fine Arts Exhibition
of Excellence Award. But after graduation, there was no
outlet for fine art. There were no private galleries in
China and very little opportunity to show. I spent many
years working at a Television Station as a Reporter on Arts
and Culture, still painting at night. I also was given a
professorship at the college, and taught there for a while.
It was about this time when I saw a horse suffering under
the weight of a heavy load on a slippery road. He slipped
and the driver whipped him and shouted at him. I remember
the look of terror in the horses eyes; and I resolved to
use the horse in my paintings as an expression of deep emotion.
My family name is Ma, and means horse in Chinese.
Little by little, I began to be able to show outside China
in Thailand. Collectors from Thailand, Germany, Japan and
Switzerland bought my work. Occasionally even now, I'll
get an email from someone who has purchased one of my older
paintings, desiring to know the current value. I was also
published in the "Dictionary of Professional Chinese
Artists", and "Who's Who in Modern Art in China".
I spoke about doors opening before. It was time for another
one to open, one of the biggest.
I had sent some digital photographs of my work to a website
in Australia for publication on the internet. I had not
used the internet for this before. I don't know if I expected
any response from it, and in fact, there was very little.
Two people emailed me. One man who emailed me was Craig
Irvin, an artist in Texas, who had seen my work and wanted
to complement me on it. He loved the work of Marc Chagall,
and thought my painting reminded him of that artist, as
well as Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera because of their color.
The email took some time to get to me, since the website
mailed it via ground after they received it.
Perhaps three weeks later, I responded, thanking him for
his comments. I replied via email directly, so there was
no delay. And he responded back again. This went on sporadically
for weeks. My replies were in very poor English, sometimes
aided by a translation program. But my Texas artist friend
was nice, and would send me a digital photo of one of his
new paintings for my critique. Finally, over the next months
it came out that he was single, and at that time, so was
To make a long story short, he ended up coming to China
to meet with me for a few days and after a tearful goodbye,
he returned to the U.S. After an arduous application process
lasting months, I was able to get a visa and come to Texas
as his fiancé in 2005. Within weeks we were married
and began our lives as artists together. Soon I began to
show my work in galleries and shows around the South and
Southwest U.S. My husband Craig also shows with me at times.
Our styles are different but we are linked through our tastes
and use of color. We paint together in a small studio next
to our house. In 2010, I became a U.S. Citizen, and am looking
forward to showing in new venues and galleries everywhere.