‘Oil paint­ing is not just a busi­ness— it’s the thing I love most’

China Daily (Canada) - - CHINA - By ZHOUMO

It’s been 17 years since Wei Hai­han ar­rived in Dafen vil­lage as a re­cent grad­u­ate of the Guangxi Arts Univer­sity and des­per­ate to ful­fill his dream of be­com­ing a work­ing artist.

“The vil­lage was quite dif­fer­ent­fromwhaty­ouseenow. The in­fra­struc­ture was un­der­de­vel­oped; the roads were nar­row and dusty, and our work­places were small and sim­ple. But it was a good time for us painters,” re­called the 37-year-old, who runs an art gallery and a fac­tory in the vil­lage.

Be­fore the 2008 fi­nan­cial cri­sis, Wei’s fac­tory re­ceived nu­mer­ous or­ders from buy­ers in the United States, Europe and theMid­dle East.

“We shipped 10 or­more­con­tain­ers of oil paint­ings to overseas mar­kets every month, each worth about 200,000 yuan ($30,000). This year, we are only send­ing three con­tain­ers a month.”

The oil paint­ing in­dus­try has not re­cov­ered en­tirely from the cri­sis, and now it’s deal­ing with an­other blow — the do­mes­tic eco­nomic slow­down and fall­ing de­mand from ho­tels and gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials, which were once ma­jor cus­tomers.

A few years ago, a large num­ber of painters left the vil­lage af­ter be­ing hit hard by the fi­nan­cial tsunami. Wei was also un­der great pres­sure. He was find­ing it in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult to make a liv­ing from his art, so he de­cided to leave.

He sold his apart­ment in Shen­zhen and trav­eled to an in­land city where a friend had recommended him for a job. How­ever, Wei quickly dis­cov­ered thathe­was­work­ing­foran il­le­gal pyra­mid sales op­er­a­tion, so he re­turned to Dafen to re­sume his ca­reer as a painter.

At one time, most of Dafen’s artists made money by copy­ing mas­ter­pieces by the great fig­ures ofWestern art, such as Da Vinci, Van Gogh and Pi­casso. Now, as the busi­ness cli­mate grows more harsh and cus­tomers’ de­mands rise, many painters have started pro­duc­ing orig­i­nal art­works.

Wei now paints still lives fea­tur­ing vases and flow­ers at his work­shop near the vil­lage en­trance. The prices of the paint­ings in his work­shop range from sev­eral hun­dred yuan to 6,000 yuan. Although sev­eral peo­ple stopped to ap­pre­ci­ate his crafts­man­ship, none of them bought a paint­ing.

“In the past, we could sell a wall of oil paint­ings on a sin­gle day at week­ends. Those days have gone for­ever,” Wei said.

De­spite the chal­lenges, he is de­ter­mined to stay this time. “It is nor­mal that busi­ness has ups and downs. The slug­gish mar­ket has cer­tainly af­fected Dafen’s painters greatly, but for out­stand­ing painters, there is still amar­ket to help us sur­vive. More im­por­tant, for me, oil paint­ing is not just a busi­ness — it’s the thing I love most.”

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