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"I started learning art in 1969 at the height of Cultural Revolution. At that time big-character posters were everywhere on the street. We were in Grade 5 of our primary school, but then classes got suspended because of the Revolution. At that time we figured we could go on the street to copy big-character posters and this required good calligraphy skills. My father was then the leader of the army that guarded the city I lived in. He introduced me to Lin Junxuan, who was the most well known calligrapher in Foshan. I learnt calligraphy from him."
How is it like to be an artist today, as supposed to two decades ago?
Whether it was in the past or today’s world, it is not easy to be an artist. Back then, art was always created to serve other purposes. For example, [I started learning art because] I wanted to join the Cultural Revolution and be a Red Guard. As I grew up and got acquainted with avant-garde art, the society forbad that. You could only do socialist art taught by the academies. Now people have accepted contemporary art, it has gotten even more difficult. Because apart from challenging the norms, there is a problem of art language. Therefore the issues art raises help to improve the society at different times. Actually, I like this kind of challenge. I like constantly challenging myself. So I think it’s very lucky for an artist to be able to challenge oneself.
You come from China, lived in Germany, and now reside in France. How does this experience shape your art?
Even when I was in China back in the 80s, I had already stopped considering myself as a Chinese artist. At that time the atmosphere was comparatively open. After the Cultural Revolution, we were the first to go to university. Under the influence of various ideas, we consider that there was more to our mission than changing China. So it was really open. I kept this attitude from the 80s when I arrived in Germany in 1988 and later moved to France. Because we are now faced with all sorts of problems. If you only look at today’s society from a Chinese perspective, then what you see would be very limited. Of course I am from China, more specifically from the Canton area. Coming from the Canton area again implies different things. Then it becomes very interesting.
What does your art draw inspirations from?
I have always used ink brushes to create my art. I first picked up the ink brush at the age of three, and it has been 54 years since. Therefore I have become very used to this medium. Using ink brush is very special, but many fail to acknowledge that. They only see drawing with ink brush as a Chinese tradition. Actually there is more to it. Ink brushes are cheap to get and easy to use. Anyone can pick up an ink brush and draw like an artist. With this medium, we can realise Beuys’ belief that “everyone is an artist.” For content I usually choose subject matter that tend to be more problematic, probably because I am under the influence of German Romanticism.
What makes a good artist?
I think a good artist should be true to himself/ herself. Because it is not possible to ask the others to act in your way. Similarly, you cannot ask the whole world to adapt your likings. The most important thing is still introspection, not focusing on the outer being but the inner soul. So if one is introspective and true to oneself, that person already possesses the basic qualities of a good artist. It takes time. It takes a century to determine whether one is a good artist. If an artist is still praised in a hundred years time, then for sure he/ she is a good artist. If not, even the most famous artist or those who produce the most expensive works, they still might not be a good artist.
What is your advice to emerging artists in China?
This links to the last question. It takes a century [to determine whether one is a good artist]. It should be different if every artist’s creations are based on how they would be perceived in a century’s time. Nowadays, everyone focuses on short-term results, such as auction records in the last few years. Again, this is a question you have to ask yourself. According to my experience, it is about cultivating your artistic expression, then eventually realising it on your works. This is what I am comfortable with, and sounds about right. You shouldn’t put up an exhibition casually. More importantly, you shouldn’t create works just to meet market demands.
Any views or opinions in the post are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the company or contributors.
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