The Examiner

Chinese Artist Surprises Town With Stunning Scenes of Armonk Drawing

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By Jason Birkelbach

The North Castle Town Board holds Chinese artist Zili He's extraordinary 40-foot drawing of recognizable sites throughout Armonk.
The North Castle Town Board holds Chinese artist Zili He’s extraordinary 40-foot drawing of recognizable sites throughout Armonk.

Armonk is only 40 feet long. What are the odds of someone believing that?

They’re about as low as the odds of a famous Chinese artist drawing scenes of Armonk on 40 feet of paper.

Well, at least one of the two possibilities was worth betting on.

The North Castle Town Board unveiled a 40-foot-long black and white ink drawing of the hamlet at its June 11 meeting. The work captures town features such as the Hergenhan Recreation Center, DeCicco Family Markets and the North Castle Public Library.

“This is nothing that we knew was happening,” Supervisor Michael Schiliro said. “It just fell into our laps.”

The man who dropped the artwork into their laps is Zili He, a highly accomplished artist in China.

“He doesn’t see himself as a famous artist, even though he is,” said Ran He, Zili’s daughter and an Armonk resident. “He’s just someone who loves art and painting and he has extreme enthusiasm towards it.”

He, who’s in the midst of an extended visit to his daughter that lasts about another two weeks, is a top tier member of the Chinese Artists Association, a national academic organization of fine arts. He is also vice president of the WuHou Calligraphy and Painting Institute as well as director of the Chengdu Artists Association.

Zili He speaks little English, but thanked the town board with handshakes and a huge smile that crossed his face.

The modest but proud artist was born in the Sichuan Province of China in 1948. Art has been part of his life since his youth.

“He was very fascinated by colors, from there he started to draw paintings,” Ran He said.

He uses oil painting and traditional Chinese water painting techniques. The Armonk piece is the first American scenery He has painted on such a large scale.

“He loves it here, and the people here. It’s a very neat town,” Ran He said.

Though the drawing took only 10 days to complete, a large amount of time went into its preparation. Visits to different locations in town helped him decide which scenes he wanted to draw.

Next came the preliminary sketches. He drew each area before producing the final product.

Finally, the most difficult portion, according to He, was to seamlessly blend the separate areas of the town into one continuous scene. Once all the pieces fell into place, He created something not only captivating but meaningful to the town.

The town board discovered the drawing almost by chance. He went to the recreation center to observe a senior ceramics program, and while there he drew a panda on a piece of china for the seniors. The members loved it and gave him the china as a gift, then invited him back every week.

Eventually he revealed his work to the program and its director. Much like the panda, He’s work was well-received. Senior Recreation Leader Liz Thomas brought the drawing to Schiliro.

“I was pleasantly stunned,” Schiliro said. “The detail that was taken to replicate everything that goes on in this hamlet, it was just absolutely fascinating to me.”

The town plans to keep the drawing for one year, though officials are undecided where it will be displayed. Then the town will return the work to him.

He said he was pleased and excited to have his work honored by the town. The satisfaction felt when his work is meaningful to others is an intangible aspect of art that, for him, makes it worth doing.

“Even though he is very famous in China, he doesn’t think too much about reputation or money,” Ran He said. “That’s why I believe he can achieve so much, he just enjoys doing it.”

Though He’s accomplishments back home are plentiful, he remains ambitious. He hopes to fuse eastern and western styles of art and believes the Armonk piece is a steppingstone toward that goal.

Next year, he is looking to return to do more drawings of the area, including some work in color.





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