Mar­ket pres­sure

A sculp­tor cre­ates vis­ual lay­ers in the hu­man and an­i­mal fig­ures that he crafts, Lin Qi re­ports.

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - Con­tact the writer at linqi@chi­nadaily.com.cn

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.”

PHO­TOS PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

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.

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