Yuan Xikun’s Art Diplomacy
“I have no problem with artists who hide in ivory towers, express themselves in a limited format and produce meager work,” Yuan declares. “But my own philosophy is that an artist should use talent to repay society and address concerns closest to the peopl
At age 74, Yuan Xikun has been hailed as an “art wizard” after creating masterpieces in oil painting, ink painting and sculpture. He has also been dubbed an “artistic diplomat” and actively participated in international cultural and artistic exchange with fruitful results.
Yuan is a world-renowned painter and sculptor, as well as a member of the Standing Committee of the 12th National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, and curator of Beijing Jintai Art Museum.
Welcome to the Jungle
Yuan Xikun was born in August 1944 in Kunming, Yunnan Province. His father, Yuan Xiaocen, was a famous master of Chinese painting, and his mother was a biology teacher. Growing up in such a family, Yuan
was deeply influenced by family tradition and became obsessed with nature and animals.
In 1962, 18-year-old Yuan Xikun enrolled in the high school attached to the Kunming Institute of Arts. A rare opportunity at the school enabled him to accompany a group of literary and art workers on a trip to ethnic minority settlements deep in the mountains, which broadened his vision. He became even more fascinated with nature and animals and continued down the path towards his art career.
As a young painter in the 1970s, Yuan followed an inspection team organized by the Institute of Zoology under the Chinese Academy of Sciences to Xishuangbanna in Yunnan Province to draw animal specimens. He then spent five years living in the jungle—a dense forest along the southwestern border of China. He became completely immersed in the creation of animal paintings.
If the words and deeds of his father and mentor Jiang Zhaohe laid a solid foundation for his traditional Chinese painting creation, the long five years of dedicated practice in Xishuangbanna provided an opportunity for him to build a unique style.
The sketches from this period fueled the rest of his artistic career. For an artist, inspiration—the emotions and impulses of artistic creation— strikes like lightning. In Yuan’s art is the advocacy of “moment feelings,” which embed vividness in each of his works, somthing that is hardly found in traditional paintings. Portrait Diplomacy
In the 1980s, China’s reform and opening up provided artists with rare historical opportunities.
Yuan Xikun climbed to the peak of his career in lockstep with China’s rise after the introduction of the reform and opening up: He frequently traveled abroad and caught global attention with his unique artistic techniques and expressiveness.
In January 1999, Yuan became the first Asian oil painter to hold a personal exhibition at the United Nations headquarters. Many of his oil paintings have been acquired by world-famous museums.
“Mr. Yuan’s greatness lies in the combination of ancient and modern art,” opined the curator of Berlin Museum. “The themes and techniques of his paintings are rooted in the past, but his thinking faces the future. He skillfully
Yuan Xikun with his sculpture, Deng Xiaoping, Chief Architect of China’s Reform and Opening Up.
October 16, 1992: Yuan Xikun paints a portrait of Nelson Mandela, then president of South Africa’s African National Congress.