China Pictorial (English)

Wang Tongren: The Ox Painter

- Text by Gong Haiying

“Man should aspire to an ox’s spirit of dedication.”

The Moon Tower in Beijing Purple Bamboo Park is now adorned with an impressive variety of ox paintings all over its walls. The oxen in various positions with different expression­s all seem lifelike. According to the Chinese lunar calendar, 2021 is the Year of the Ox. The venue organized a two-month solo exhibition of Wang Tongren’s ox masterpiec­es to welcome the new year.

Born in 1937, Wang Tongren is a renowned Chinese ink-and-wash painter. When he was young, Wang studied under traditiona­l Chinese painting master Huang Zhou (1925-1997). In 1961, he graduated from the Traditiona­l Chinese Painting Department at the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA). Thanks to tutoring from famous artists like Ye Qianyu (1907-1995), Jiang Zhaohe (1904-1986), Li Keran (1907-1989), and Li Kuchan (1899-1983), Wang acquired a solid grasp of the compositio­n and basic

skills of ink-and-wash painting. Influenced by the popularity of Western oil painting in China, he also created many realistic oil paintings.

After the beginning of China’s reform and opening up in the late 1970s, the influx of Western art ideas sent Wang Tongren, who was then teaching at the CAFA Traditiona­l Chinese Painting Department, into a period of confusion and reflection like it did to many other Chinese artists at the time. He became enamored with the unique charm of Western art, but also realized that art should be based on profound cultural tradition, which fueled a stronger desire to create traditiona­l Chinese paintings.

In the subsequent years, Wang constantly drew inspiratio­n from traditiona­l Chinese arts while seeking innovation, and eventually formed his own artistic language. In 1988, his first painting album was published. In the preface of the album, Huang Zhou wrote: “He has never blindly copied modernist or Western painting styles, but dedicated himself to learning from traditiona­l art and drawing inspiratio­n from real life, gradually forming his own expressive techniques and style.”

Wang excels at a variety of subjects, especially figures and animals. He has also completed notable landscape and flower-and-bird paintings. But most of all, Wang loves painting oxen. Nearly 30 of the 87 paintings displayed at the solo exhibition feature oxen: Some appear good-natured

and diligent, some appear brave and fearless, and others are innocent calves with their mothers. All are lifelike, which has been attributed to the painter’s “careful observatio­n of everyday life.”

In 1979, Wang won global fame for his One Hundred Oxen, which Li Kuchan, a Chinese freehand flower-and-bird painting master, praised as a “pioneering innovation” of traditiona­l Chinese painting.

Wang began to paint oxen in 1962 during a visit to the Tibet-qinghai Plateau to sketch. At the time, he painted many yaks. Touched by primitive and unsophisti­cated local folk customs, Wang made up his mind to “depict the plateau.” In the subsequent decades, he traveled to places including Tibet, Sichuan, and Gansu to paint the colorful lives of Tibetan people. Such works as Lassoing Horses and Returning Home capture the painter’s sincere love of the plateau.

The exhibition also presented a group of figure paintings with a unique artistic touch. Most are portraits, but they adopt different expressive techniques. For instance, A Yemeni Man highlights the subject’s eye expression and facial features. The painter used simple but bold lines to vividly depict a resolute, masculine man.

Keiko Miyano, however, showcases a tender and beautiful Japanese lady with elegant lines and moderate colors.

These two contrastin­g styles manifest the trajectory of Wang’s art creation as well as his pursuits as an artist. The simpler the strokes, the broader the profundity a traditiona­l Chinese painting can capture. Wang has long striven to achieve the goal of “depicting sincere feelings with simple strokes.” He pursues creation of profound connotatio­ns with simple concepts, techniques, and form. His works perfectly combine traditiona­l cultural aura with modern aesthetic concepts, which has earned him a solid reputation both at home and abroad.

Wang also believes that calligraph­y and painting share the same foundation. To enhance the expressive­ness of traditiona­l Chinese painting, he has suggested artists “start by imitating works of ancient calligraph­y masters and continue honing calligraph­y and painting skills day after day, year after year.” This is what he has done over decades. As a result, his painting and calligraph­ic skills continued to improve and more deftly complement each other. Several of his most celebrated calligraph­ic works were also displayed at the exhibition.

Good painting requires a combinatio­n of mind and skill. These paintings don’t just show oxen standing in leisure or a herd of yaks galloping freely across the plateau, but also a down-to-earth and noble painter. “Man should aspire to an ox’s spirit of dedication,” said Wang.

 ??  ??
 ??  ?? Snow Plateau, 133×310mm, 2006.
Snow Plateau, 133×310mm, 2006.
 ??  ?? Mother Cow and Her Calf, 98×186cm, 1991.
Mother Cow and Her Calf, 98×186cm, 1991.
 ??  ?? Deer, 334×339mm, 1981.
Deer, 334×339mm, 1981.
 ??  ?? Ambition to Travel Far, 331×339mm, 2008.
Ambition to Travel Far, 331×339mm, 2008.
 ??  ?? Wang Tongren, 84, remains committed to painting every day. by Ma Gengpingͬ China Pictorial
Wang Tongren, 84, remains committed to painting every day. by Ma Gengpingͬ China Pictorial
 ??  ?? Keiko Miyano, 460×740mm, 1998.
Keiko Miyano, 460×740mm, 1998.

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