Local artist teaches, exhibits Chinese brush painting

Sharlene Cline shares her creativity with community members of all ages through classes, workshops, and exhibits

A full-time working artist who took her first art class in college, Sharlene Cline has been sharing her creativity with community members of all ages through classes, workshops and exhibits for nearly 30 years.

Perhaps best known for her Chinese brush painting, Cline fell in love with the medium while traveling in Taiwan after college. Without knowing much about the medium, she signed up for a class and when instructed to pick a subject from the choices of birds and flowers, mountains and water, or people and animals, she chose birds and flowers for the simple, expressive brushstrokes.

For Cline, the essence of Chinese painting is the brush stroke.

“In Chinese brush painting, a subject is comprised of well-controlled single strokes loaded each time with paint with a mou-bi, a round paintbrush full at the base narrowing to a point,” she said. “For a flower, each petal is one stroke, as is each leaf. This skill takes hours of practicing repetitive brush stroke so that ultimately the hand, coming from a calm meditative mind, knows intuitively how to paint its subject. Like a pianist practicing its scales and pieces over and over again so their performance comes from their soul not just reciting notes.”

In Taiwan, Cline studied with master Chinese painter Yang O-Shi for three years, developing her brushstrokes, sense of composition, and confidence. Since she spoke little Mandarin and her mentor spoke little English, her mentor’s philosophy was provided in simple and easy phrases — Some big. Some small. Some close. Some far. Some dark. Some light.

“Chinese painting demands a meditative mind and a practiced skilled hand,” she said. “I can only paint Chinese style when I’m centered and calm. This calmness is needed to portray the flower and its essence to rice paper. This process is what lures me back again and again to Chinese painting. The finished painting is only a byproduct of this process.”

Through layers of Chinese brushwork, decorative work and acrylic paint, Cline paints as a response to the world around her. Her 2018 installation “Our Playground” at the Pratt Museum was her response to climate change, showing the effects of climate change on earth’s water, with aerial views on a time spectrum.

“‘Our Playground’ consists of a trampoline, a symbol of our world, and diptychs on the walls,” she said. “The trampoline is covered with acrylic paintings on panels of images of new roads in the Amazon rainforest. Two children sculptures, made out of plastic wrap, are jumping on the trampoline and one child breaks through and has their foot stuck, which symbolizes that if you keep treating our world just as a playground, and not take care of it, it will break.

“Around the rim of the trampoline are words of climate change causes. On the walls of the exhibit, are 12”x12” diptychs of acrylic paintings on boards of aerial images of water bodies time lapsed so you can see the disappearance of lakes, glaciers, north pole ice sheet and rivers from around the world.”

Born in Montreal, Quebec, Cline’s family moved to Miami when she was 10 years old. She took her first art class, technical drawing for the theater while at Lewis & Clark College in Portland. While in Ecuador studying on a Lewis & Clark school program, she learned about World College West, an undergraduate liberal arts college in California. She transferred schools and earned a Bachelar of Arts in Meaning, Culture and Change.

“I wanted to study how people put meaning into their life, how that’s different in different cultures, and how with that information you can go about social change,” Cline said. “That continues to be a passion for me. In the Jewish tradition of helping people, I believe we are here to be good to others and to take as many opportunities as we can, to enjoy life and grab it to the fullest.”

Cline has exhibited extensively, including in Homer at Bunnell Street Arts Center, Fireweed Gallery, Homer Council on the Arts, the Homer Public Library, Picture Alaska Art Gallery, the Pratt Museum, and Ptarmigan Arts, in Anchorage at Blue Hollomon Gallery, and at the Valdez Museum. Nationally, she has exhibited in Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Brooklyn, New York, and Washington state. She has received numerous awards through the years and in 2018 was named the Jill Berryman Art Educator of the Year by Homer Council on the Arts.

Her work is represented in private collections including in Alaska at the Cordova Museum, as well as in Canada, Ecuador, Japan, Mexico, Pakistan, Taiwan, and throughout the United States.

Eager to share her passion for art, creativity, and painting, Cline teaches classes to students around the peninsula and the state through the Alaska Artist in the Schools program and through Homer Council on the Arts.

“I love teaching kids because they are so excited about life, and ready to learn something and see something new,” she said.

Youth artist Leah Dunn took a Chinese painting class from Cline and is now exhibiting around town and recently received the HCOA Young Artist of the Year award.

In January, Cline exhibited at the Girdwood Arts Center. She just taught a four-day spring break art camp to 25 kids through Homer Council on the Arts. In April, she will exhibit “A Movement of Seasons, Chinese watercolor paintings of birds and flowers at Alaska Pacific University,” teach process art at Soldotna Elementary as part of Bunnell Street Arts Center’s artists in the schools program, and teach a Chinese painting class in Homer.

In May, she will participate in “Changing Landscapes,” a group exhibit at Bunnell Street art center. She will also teach another class in Homer.

Cline is president of the Homer Council on the Arts board, recently restarted the program where eighth graders travel to D.C. during the school year. She organizes the annual Share the Spirit spaghetti feed. She describes herself as an overachiever.

“My parents didn’t graduate high school. My dad was from a poor Jewish family in the clothing business and my mom converted,” she said. “Dad was an entrepreneur and went from nothing to having a home in Montreal and then moved my family to Miami, where we lived in a condo on the ocean. I grew up with the spirit that you can do anything you put your mind to.”

An adventure lover, she has traveled around the world, interacting with other cultures, including working with the Mapuche in southern Chile, bird-watching in Borneo, riding a camel through the desert in Rajasthan, India, and hanging out with Shona stone sculptors in Zimbabwe, to name just a few of her experiences.

“Traveling opens your eyes to who you are as you compare the similarities and difference between yourself and other cultures and landscapes and time to ponder,” she said.

Cline’s journey to Alaska came via Taiwan where she met her husband, Rick. The two moved to Homer in 1995 and have been married since 2000, raising their children, Aiyana and Austin, twins born in 2003, and owning and managing the Homestead Restaurant from 2005 to 2017, alternating their schedules between their kids and the restaurant.

“Alaska was not on my radar at all,” she said. “I remember as a kid not liking cold and snow and being a city girl; I thought there wouldn’t be anything to do. But when I visited Alaska for the first time with Rick, I saw that there were places to eat out and things to do and I thought, ‘OK, I can do this’.”

Between teaching and exhibiting, Cline is eager to continue to work on large-scale paintings where she is grappling with ideas or issues and that invoke a dialogue between the painting and the viewer.

Community members are invited to learn traditional Chinese brush-painting techniques with Cline during her upcoming classes at Homer Council on the Arts. “Chinese Painting: House Sparrow” will be offered April 28, 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. “Chine Painting: Tree Blossoms” will be offered May 19, 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

For more information and to register, call 907-235-4288, visit online at homerart.org or in person Tuesdays to Saturdays, 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. at 355 West Pioneer Avenue.

“Fireweed Field,” a Chinese brush painting by Sharlene Cline, painted 2022. (Photo provided by Sharlene Cline)

“Fireweed Field,” a Chinese brush painting by Sharlene Cline, painted 2022. (Photo provided by Sharlene Cline)