El­derly artist Wu Bid­uan holds first retro show of his works

China Daily (USA) - - LIFE | CULTURE - By LIN QI

Wu Bid­uan is hold­ing his first ret­ro­spec­tive ex­hi­bi­tion at the Cen­tral Academy of Fine Arts in Bei­jing, where the 90-year-old taught for sev­eral decades un­til his re­tire­ment in 1988.

A noted lithography artist, Wu pro­duced many iconic works, in­clud­ing a por­trait of New China’s found­ing fa­ther Mao Ze­dong, in which he in­cor­po­rated the style of tra­di­tional Chi­nese New Year paint­ings; a por­trait of Zhou En­lai that res­onated with the pub­lic af­ter the premier’s death in 1976; and Sun­flower Field, in which Wu talks of social trans­for­ma­tion af­ter the re­form and open­ing-up.

The on­go­ing ex­hi­bi­tion, ti­tled In­cised Traces, cel­e­brates the artist’s ver­sa­til­ity in sketches, il­lus­tra­tions, comic strips, wa­ter­col­ors and ink paint­ings. His artis­tic ca­reer span­ning seven decades is typ­i­cal of a lot of artists of his gen­er­a­tion, who de­voted their time to por­tray­ing com­mon peo­ple’s lives.

Wu’s first as­so­ci­a­tion with art can be traced back to his stu­dent days at the Yu­cai Mid­dle School, founded by the famed ed­u­ca­tor Tao Xingzhi in Chongqing in 1939. It took in many refugee chil­dren like Wu, who es­caped from their home­towns dur­ing the Ja­pa­nese in­va­sion.

Wu joined a paint­ing group in school, in which he stud­ied sketch­ing, draw­ing and col­or­ing, and was in­tro­duced to Western art. He cre­ated his first pub­lished work at age 15, a wood­cut ti­tled Bloody Ac­cu­sa­tion that ap­peared on Xin­hua Daily, the first news­pa­per pub­lished by the Com­mu­nist Party of China.

The wood­cut re­pro­duced a tragic scene of chil­dren killed in Ja­pa­nese bomb­ings of Chongqing in 1938. Peo­ple’s ag­o­nies back then led Wu to cre­ate more such art­work through­out his ca­reer.

A grad­u­ate of the erst­while North­east As­so­ci­ated Uni­ver­sity, Wu went for ad­vanced stud­ies to the Ilya Repin State Aca­demic In­sti­tute of Fine Arts, Sculp­ture and Ar­chi­tec­ture in St. Peters­burg from 1956 to 1959.

Fan Di’an, head of the Cen­tral Academy of Fine Arts, says Wu took on a re­al­is­tic style that is vis­i­ble in his lith­o­graphs of both Chi­nese lead­ers and or­di­nary peo­ple, such as farm­ers, fac­tory work­ers and sol­diers.

The cur­rent ex­hi­bi­tion shows Wu’s car­i­ca­tures in the 1940s crit­i­ciz­ing op­pres­sors and wa­ter­color works of Chi­nese sol­diers he cre­ated on the front line of the Korean War, as well as the prints and il­lus­tra­tions for a Chi­nese ver­sion of The Iron Flood, a novel by the late Soviet writer Alexan­der Ser­afi­movich.

“I’m sat­is­fied withmy paint­ings of Zhou En­lai, not only be­cause I was then (in the 1970s) tech­ni­cally ma­ture, but also my heart was filled with rev­er­ence and af­fec­tion for him,” Wu says.

The show in­cludes his col­ored ink paint­ings that re­flect Wu’s ma­jor break­through since the ’70s, ex­hi­bi­tion cu­ra­tor Guo Hong­mei says.

Among the works is Li Zicheng March­ing to Bei­jing, a col­lab­o­ra­tion with an­other painter Lu Hong­nian in 1973. The 4-me­ter-long paint­ing de­picts the rebel leader, whose armies over­threw the Ming Dy­nasty (1368-1644), be­ing greeted by his sup­port­ers in the streets. It is now a col­lec­tion of the Na­tional Mu­seum of China in Bei­jing.

Wu’s many ink works were in­spired by his ex­ten­sive trav­els across the coun­try. His land­scapes of the Three Gorges along the Yangtze River, which he vis­ited in the ’70s, re­flect the changes in the area over the years.

“I was over­whelmed by their vigor and mag­nif­i­cence. I didn’t feel con­strained by any­thing. There was only na­ture and me, and I drew it with all the skills and emo­tions I had,” Wu re­calls.

Gao Rong­sheng, a for­mer stu­dent, says Wu keeps a low pro­file although boast­ing great ac­com­plish­ments, and the ret­ro­spec­tive will tell the youth that work­ing hard is how an artist can carve out a niche.

Wu says: “Areal artist should con­trib­ute to the age he lives in, and owes a sense of re­spon­si­bil­ity to so­ci­ety, es­pe­cially to the young stu­dents of art.”


Wu Bid­uan (right) is show­ing his sig­na­ture works, like TheIron Flood (left), in Bei­jing.

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