China Daily, China
February 1, 2000

Artist draws inspiration from Life
Businesswoman with love of Asia takes Eastern painting West
China Daily staff

Soraya Runckel is a woman with various businesses to take care of — wherever she goes. She is a computer wizard who creates
websites for her own business, a world traveller and a dedicated volunteer at the Portland Art Museum in the United States.

And as if the list was not already long enough, she has created an Asian art website and opened the Asia Art Gallery in southwest Portland in the United States.

"I have always been like this," she said. "I have always had to take on a variety of tasks. I tried doing nothing but painting for about a year but finally there was no inspiration for me," She told China Daily when she came to Beijing for another visit.

Born in Bangkok, Thailand, the daughter of an aristocratic art family, Runckel developed her deep interest in drawing and painting at an early age.  Her works cover watercolour, pen and ink, and Chinese brush painting and have been exhibited extensively in Thailand, Britain, the United States, VietNam and China.

Together with her husband, Christopher Runckel, a former senior US diplomat, she has travelled extensively. Her works reflect culture and scenes of places she has been to, always giving positive feelings, details and variety. In a previous exhibition in London, she was noted as "an artist with skill and mastery in different styles" by the Times newspaper.

Experience of getting in touch with various people provide her with creation space. With her family living overseas for more than 16 years, making friends became Soraya's trademark. These friendships ranged from taxi drivers to university professors to very senior government officials — "there is no boundary."

"We treasure the friendships we have made over the periods of time that we stayed in those countries and continue to keep in touch with the people we socialized with there," she said.

Even though her family had their own car, they preferred to take a taxi.

"We often ask taxi drivers to suggest new places and no matter what our initial thoughts, those trips often led to wonderful discoveries, often places where no other foreigners visited," said Soraya Runckel.

That's the reason why her paintings always capture the vivid side of ordinary people living ordinary lives.

Among her paintings, a series called "Breakfast in..." are among her favourites. Her different versions of "Breakfast in..." depict the lives of local people having breakfast by the side of road.

"I like those paintings because they capture the spirit and scenes that I viewed with the eyes of a foreigner, but also with understanding and familiarity with the customs and culture of the people," she said.

Sixteen years of experience of living in Asian countries has brought her the rare opportunity to learn and appreciate Asian arts but has also led to disappointment as she realized how little most Westerners know about Asia.

"Asian arts, compared to French, Italian or other Western countries' forms of arts, are still unknown to many people" she said.

After looking at different ways of introducing Asian art to much of the world's population,she chose the Internet.

"With the exception of some commercial buying and selling websites, there was no website truly dedicated to the study and the promotion of the appreciation of Asian arts," she said.

She and her husband launched late last year (1999). It offers comprehensive view of Asian arts, from history,  techniques, display of paintings to artist profiles.

To help Asian artists distribute and show their art works, Soraya Runckel opened the Asian Art Gallery last October in Portland, Oregon. The gallery is the only one in Oregon dedicated  to the promotion of Asian art.

A show on Chinese peasant art was particularly well received and drew large crowds and led to several favourable articles in the local newspapers.

In Oregon, which is halfway around the globe from China, the US citizens were attracted by the vibrant colours of the peasant art and the depictions of daily tasks of China's country people which are largely unknown to them.

"We love to explore and study new cultures, languages and arts of the countries we live in and visit," said Soraya Runckel. "We found that talented artists, young and old, are everywhere. It is just a matter of finding them."

She seems to find them. Both her Art Gallery and website follow the same principle as her paintings — through them, she tries to introduce foreigners to these paintings through her understanding of the beauty of the art of Asia.

More information about Soraya and her artworks, click here

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