English Breakfast Chinese Tea 英式早餐中国茶
30cms (W) x 24cms (H)
Oil on Panel
NB. Awaiting hi-def scan
For my first 3 years in China I worked for a Sino-British joint venture, and it's very common to discuss the similarities and differences between British and Chinese culture. One of the most visible examples of something that is very similar but also very different is the tea culture.
It is fair to say that tea is an extremely popular drink in both cultures, though the types, method of drinking and role in the culture are very different.
I wanted to create a visual joke where I blend two stereotypes of each tea culture. I took elements of the traditional Gong-fu tea culture ( a ritualistic celebration of the drink where loose-leaf tea is brewed multiple times in small quantities in a tennis ball-sized teapot and served in small china cups). This way of enjoying tea is somewhat traditional, complicated and precise which is part science part art form. I wanted to contrast this with the way I would drink tea most commonly back in the UK; a teabag strongly brewed in a teapot, with milk, maybe sugar and perhaps a biscuit or cake. Drinking tea this way is super-simple (though getting the right brew can be tricky), it's quick and the focus is on relaxation (usually I'd drink the tea while doing something else). I love both approaches to tea for different reasons, and both are perfectly appropriate in different circumstances.
In this regard, this reflects the subject's blending of Chinese culture and non-Chinese culture (in this case British) and the ability to mix, match and blend different and often contrasting aspects of both cultures as the circumstances require. The same applies to blending traditional and modern and being able to recognise that both have value; this person is open-minded does not dogmatically insist that one is better than the other.
On the different parts of the picture; the teapot and cups I spent several weeks scouring dusty overcrowded antique stores in Shanghai looking for a suitably patterned teapot. This one I settled on is over 100 years old and has taken some damage over time. It still cost me 1200RMB (and I painted out the damage to restore it to glory), though undamaged teapots from a similar area were over 4 times that.
The greens on the right hand side are tea leaves called Longjing. It's quite an expensive type of green tea that has a mild fresh and grassy flavour. I added this as the painting needed a little bit of extra colour and also something to help with the perspective of the picture.
The biscuits in the centre I actually only added to help provide some scale for the teapot and cups. A Chinese viewer would know that the teapot and cups are small, though may not recognise those biscuits. A British viewer would have no idea the tea set is small, but would know how big a Jammie Dodger or a Bourbon Cream is. It's actually very difficult to get these biscuits in China, so I spent a couple of hours sourcing a pack on a recent trip to Hong Kong (where there are lots of Brits who create a demand for biscuits).