Painters’ vil­lage on the can­vas as slow­down bites

Dafen was once a world-leader in the pro­duc­tion of oil paint­ings, but the frag­ile global econ­omy and China’s slow­ing growth is forc­ing artists to adapt to a new re­al­ity. ZhouMo re­ports from Shen­zhen, Guang­dong province.

China Daily (Canada) - - CHINA -

Qiu Ji­wen has worked as an artist in Dafen vil­lage for more than two years. For years, the vil­lage, in the south­ern city of Shen­zhen, Guang­dong province, was one of the world’s largest pro­duc­ers and ex­porters of oil paint­ings.

Although Dafen’s arts-re­lated out­put was worth 4.3 bil­lion yuan ($646 mil­lion) last year, a rise of 3.6 per­cent from 2014, things are chang­ing.

The com­bi­na­tion of an un­cer­tain global econ­omy, China’s slow­ing growth and ris­ing do­mes­tic com­pe­ti­tion has seen de­mand plum­met among reg­u­lar cus­tomers, such as ho­tels, con­fer­ence cen­ters and pri­vate col­lec­tors, and re­sulted in spi­ral­ing sales.

Although his monthly out­go­ings are usu­ally about 4,000 yuan, last month, Qiu earned just 2,000 yuan, far from enough to cover his ba­sic liv­ing costs.

The 30-some­thing pays 1,300 yuan a month to rent a one-bed­room apart­ment, where he lives with his 1-yearold daugh­ter, and spends about 1,200 yuan a month on food, ex­clud­ing baby milk pow­der. He makes his paint­ings in a small space in the vil­lage that he rents for 1,000 yuan a month.

“A monthly bud­get of 4,000 yuan is very small, and I amunable to feedmy fam­ily on such a low in­come,” he said.

Qiu is one of thou­sands of painters in Dafen be­ing af­fected by fall­ing de­mand, both do­mes­ti­cally and in­ter­na­tion­ally. Ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial sta­tis­tics, the vil­lage is home to more than 1,200 art gal­leries and 60 oil paint­ing enterprises, while more than 8,000 peo­ple are en­gaged in the lo­cal paint­ing in­dus­try.

“Busi­ness has de­clined a lot since the start of the year,” saidWeiHai­han, 37, who runs a paint­ing work­shop and a fac­tory in the vil­lage. “Now, we only make 50 per­cent or even less than we made last year.”

An­other painter, who only gave his sur­name as Huang, said he had not re­ceived an or­der for two months.

Oil paint­ings are a lux­ury rather than a ne­ces­sity, and the in­dus­try has been one of the first to be af­fected by the macroe­co­nomic en­vi­ron­ment, while the im­pact of slow­ing eco­nomic growth is ev­i­dent.

“As eco­nomic growth soft­ens, con­struc­tion of prop­er­ties and ho­tels also slows, which di­rectly af­fects de­mand for paint­ings. Mean­while, ris­ing com­pe­ti­tion from other mar­kets, such as Xi­a­men in Fu­jian province, and Viet­nam, has also di­verted some busi­ness from the vil­lage,” said Liu Ya­jing, di­rec­tor of Dafen’s man­age­ment of­fice.

Ac­cord­ing to Wei, ho­tels were once ma­jor clients. “Some­times an or­der from a ho­tel could reach 1 mil­lion yuan or more. But now, in Dong­guan city, Guang­dong, where a lot of or­ders came from, a num­ber of ho­tels have closed fol­low­ing a crackdown on pros­ti­tu­tion, while in other cities across the coun­try, the eco­nomic con­trac­tion has slowed the con­struc­tion of newho­tels.”

Since the gov­ern­ment’s an­ti­cor­rup­tion drive was launched in 2013, the loss of or­ders from of­fi­cials, once a pow­er­ful con­sumer group, has also con­trib­uted to the de­cline, he added.

The de­vel­op­ment of oil paint­ing in Dafen can be traced back to the late 1980s, when a dealer from Hong Kong first brought the busi­ness to the vil­lage. He em­ployed art stu­dents and painters to pro­duce and sell works, mostly re­pro­duc­tions of mas­ter­pieces by fa­mous Western artists such as Van Gogh, Monet and Pi­casso.

As the num­ber of painters rose, the vil­lage grad­u­ally de­vel­oped into a glob­ally renowned pro­duc­tion base for oil paint­ings, at one point ac­count­ing for more than 70 per­cent of the global mar­ket share for art.

In the past, Dafen’s painters re­lied heav­ily on overseas sales, with ex­ports ac­count­ing for up to 80 per­cent of to­tal sales. How­ever, the 2008 global fi­nan­cial cri­sis dealt a ma­jor, long-last­ing blow to their busi­ness. Gov­ern­ment data show that sales of oil paint­ings fell more than 50 per­cent to 180 mil­lion yuan in 2008 from 340 mil­lion in 2006. A pre­vi­ous re­port by lo­cal media said that in the first half of 2012, ex­ports fell 52.3 per­cent from the same pe­riod a year ear­lier.

To adapt to the change, the artists fo­cused their at­ten­tion on the do­mes­tic mar­ket, and now about 50 per­cent of sales are made in China.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.