A sculptor creates visual layers in the human and animal figures that he crafts, Lin Qi reports.
The global economic slowdown and selective demand are pushing auctioneer Christie’s to seek more realistic prices for its treasures.
When Wu Weishan visited Chinese sculptor Liu Huanzhang’s home years ago, the director of the National Art Museum of China was impressed by a great number of statues of people and animals that filled every room and passageway.
“In the concrete forest of a metropolis, Liu builds up in his small space an art world that feels warm and magical,” Wu says.
Now Liu’s world of sculptures has been transplanted to the third floor of Wu’s museum in Beijing, where nearly 200 sculptures and traditional Chinese seal-cutting works are on show.
The exhibition marks the 86-yearold artist’s fourth one-man show at the museum since 1981. It includes 57 sculptures from themuseum’s collection, nearly three-fourths of which Liu had donated just before the exhibition’s opening on Thursday.
Many of the displayed works portray female bodies and animals; in them, Liu infuses the abstract style of primitive carvings and the fullness in volume of Chinese folk clay and wood sculptures. His works do not surprise at first sight, but the longer people gaze at them, the more expressive they become.
A significant feature of Liu’s output is adopting a xieyi (freehand) approach of traditional Chinese painting, which honors the objects’ spirit over their details. He also relies heavily on the texture and colors of the materials to emphasize the temperament of his subjects.
He uses a lot of jade and marble, whose mild touches help to highlight the body curves and gentleness of young women. He chooses woods that have beautiful grain that becomes human hair in his works.
“He treasures the materials he works with as part of the beauty of nature,” says Situ Zhaoguang, sculptor and Liu’s colleague at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing.
“Never has he easily cut off edges that seem unneeded to other artists. He takes great interest in the texture, luster and pattern of every kind of material, and he does his best to present these features that complement the structure of each of his works.”
Liu’s artist friend, Huang Yongyu, says the sculptor changes into “a gentle, attentive mother when working on his stones, wood, mud and jade, and he is patient, persistent and even stubborn.
“Who knows why there is such a profession called sculptor, who’d like to temper his character on stones and wood and create things that look livelier and handsomer than humans,” says Huang.
Liu believes a good sculpture doesn’t tell a dramatic story but depend on its form. “The work speaks with its radiance, size and volume. I attempt to establish a style that is simple and straightforward but not shallow.
“One should think cleverly when conceiving a work. But it’s equally important that he should not sculpt or polish the work excessively. Otherwise, it will end up looking rather awkward and unnatural.”
In his teens, Liu learned to carve Chinese seals, laying a solid foundation for his later studies of sculpture at the CAFA.
He has continued to produce delicate seals and imprints. He incorporates the traditional form of art into the realm of sculpture. He sculpts with precision and calmness — reflecting an intimate connection with his exploration with seal cutting.
Reviewing his artistic career, Liu says: “Sincerity is all the more of a merit for being a man. So it is when doing art.”
Sculptures by Liu Huanzhang mostly portray female bodies and animals in a style which honors the objects’ spirit over their details.
Wood with beautiful grain is Liu’s favorite materials.
Sculptor Liu Huanzhang is holding a solo show in Beijing.