Cici Lee was born in China but now lives in South Carolina, USA. She was inspired, while on a walk in the countryside of the American South where she now lives, to preserve the beauty of nature - but didn't quite know how. An article about Chinese traditional painting then caught her eye, and she immediately began looking for a teacher. Almost ten years on, her work has been exhibited in major exhibitions in Xiamen and Beijing and she enjoys a global Instagram following.
In Chinese ink paintings, tradition attaches significance to particular flora and fauna, which when painted together should harmonise. Cici chose to depict the Red-billed Leiothrix bird alongside the osmanthus, as both represent loyalty and faithfulness.
The first two characters 癸卯 (gui mao) of the calligraphy indicate the lunar year 2023. The third 夏 (xia) and fourth 月 (yue) represent the summer season. The fifth 希希 (Xixi, the repetition indicated in the calligraphy by two dots), is the artist’s name in Chinese, which means hope. The final character 寫 (xie) references the style of painting. The red stamp is the traditional way of signing a Chinese painting.
Cici began painting to preserve nature’s beauty - inspired by a Chinese painting with birds and flowers, she sought tuition in Xiamen on the south-east coast of China, where she lived at the time. Later, she undertook a live-in apprenticeship in Shanghai at the Mei Ruo Art Institute: “For a month, we all lived together, cooked together, studied together, and of course, painted together. Mr. Mei Ruo was inspirationally talented, humble, dedicated, creative and caring. His final words to me before I left the apprenticeship was, ‘Just keep painting, with all your heart and passion, then you’ll find your way!’”
Cici did just that, finding her first success with a 4-foot painting of Mandarin ducks amid golden leaves, entitled Golden Autumn, which was selected for exhibition at Xiamen Museum. In December of 2018, a 4-foot landscape painting, Autumn Fishing, was chosen for the Beijing 798 Art Museum exhibition. Since then, her Instagram account has blossomed, and Cici has loved finding connections across the world with “people who truly appreciate Chinese paintings and have a profound love of nature, just like me.”
Upon moving to the countryside of South Carolina in 2019, Cici was delighted at the chance to immerse herself in nature and learn more about the wildlife around her. And it seemed that her childhood had followed her there: “We happened to know a relative was trying to get rid of some trees in his backyard. I immediately recognized the osmanthus tree by the leaves, so we transplanted it to our backyard. When it started blooming the first year, the fragrance melted my heart. It’s the same type of osmanthus tree my grandma had! That same delightful scent. I can almost taste the sweetness in the air. Now every season when it’s blooming, I’ll know it by just opening the back door.”
We were delighted to commission an osmanthus painting from Cici. It seemed only right to work with a Chinese artist to pay homage to this most Chinese of blooms. She says: “I was thrilled at the opportunity to cooperate with Ffern and was equally thrilled about Ffern’s perfume after reading the site, seeing the posters, and of course, smelling the fragrances! It’s amazing to read how the perfume is created with special combinations from the natural world. Like with my original goal for my artwork, it’s a work of art itself that respects and promotes a love of nature.”