iong Qinghua is considered a “weirdo” in his native Changhe village, near the city ofXiantao in Central China’sHubei province.
The 40-year-old taught himself oil painting at 14 and two years later he dropped out of middle school to paint while continuing to work on a farm.
Later, he took up odd jobs to support his dream of becoming a painter, including working at hardware shops and delivering milk.
When his fellow villagers began to migrate to cities for better jobs, he stayed behind to depict the dramatic changes in the countryside and in people’s mindsets.
He did not sell any work until 2010 when pictures of his paintings went viral.
People were then amazed by the raw, unsophisticated style of his brushstrokes.
The reality of the countryside, which he portrayed, stirred nostalgia for the peaceful, idyllic rural life that is disappearing amid industrialization and urbanization.
Xiong’s second solo exhibition, Immortal Village, ended on Friday at Beijing’s Chen Gallery, in the 798 art zone, where many of his paintings were sold.
Meanwhile, a book on him titled A Wild Potato has been published.
Reacting to compliments like “Vincent van Gogh of China” because of their similar approaches to rural themes, and the fact their work was not recognized for a long time, Xiong says: “I can only laugh off the comparison. I feel a bit embarrassed. People do not know many (Western) painters and mention the few names they can remember when showing praise.”
“Van Gogh died at 37 and sold only one painting in his lifetime while I have sold more than 50.
“In this respect, I think I’ve outperformed him,” he says, laughing aloud.
TraditionalNewYear paintings, or nianhua, and picturestory books first ignited Xiong’s interest in art.
So, when he grew older, he used to cycle several hours to the nearby city to buy books on painting and catalogs. He browsed through materials he could not afford at book stores until the closing time.
Through this, he learned to sketch, work with watercolors and do traditional ink painting.
But it was seeing photos of Pablo Picasso’s cubist works that attracted him to oil painting.
He also studied the works
I can endure suffering. I just can’t stand a life that is neither creative nor interesting. Even when I fail 1,000 times, I still have hope.”
of Marc masters.
He says that studying great painters was his way of developing his own style.
“From the beginning, I never painted to please anyone. Otherwise, I would have been a common rustic landscape painter today.
“People call me a farmer painter. But I see myself as a surrealist,” Xiong says.
In his paintings, imagination flourishes and mingles with childhood memories to show half-real, half-magical scenes of the village Xiong was born in.
The painting Walking Stilts draws on a game played in childhood.
In it, he places boys not in a natural setting but in a universe, surrounded by planets and man-made satellites. The unexpected juxtaposition shows his hope of a brighter future for rural children.
Another painting Unruly Buffalo recalls his early experiences of transporting grain with his father, Xiong Guangyuan, on a cart.
In the painting, Xiong highlights the freedom of rural life with wit and humor:
A rebellious buffalo breaks loose and “flies” into the sky, taking two farmers up and above the clouds.
In his other works, Xiong shows concern for dying folk traditions because of young adults leaving their villages and industrial pollution damaging the environment.
Xiong’s brushwork also embodies sadness and loneliness.
Speaking of his feelings, he tells of his childhood friends who return from the cities and are unaccustomed to the peace of their village homes, which makes him feel sad.
Despite his love for village life, Xiong also could not resist the lure of city life.
After getting married Chagall and other on he in Potato