China Pictorial (English)

Classic Art: Memories of the Past

These classic works recorded memories engraved in the hearts of the Chinese people and produced a visual epic of spiritual strength.

- Text by Xu Li

Alarge art creation project to celebrate the 100th anniversar­y of the founding of the Communist Party of China (CPC), themed “Remain True to Our Original Aspiration and Keep Our Mission Firmly in Mind,” has been a pioneering undertakin­g in China’s art history. The monumental project attracted the largest number of artists in the history of New China. It represente­d the peak of China’s art creation in the new era and would be embedded in the country’s memory.

This project adhered to a people-centered approach of art creation, kept pace with the times, and passed on traditiona­l Chinese culture while learning from the strengths of various world cultures. It innovated thematic art creation both in form and in content.

Classics with Creativity

The key to classic artistic creations is the artists’ ability and creativity. Classic works showcase the characteri­stics of their times and contribute greatly to the society.

Against the backdrop of the 100th anniversar­y of the founding of the CPC, Chinese

artists created an abundance of high-quality works with different historical background­s and artistic languages. Works such as Setting Sail—the First National Congress of the Communist Party of China, The Founding Ceremony of the People’s Republic of China, and The Fight Against Poverty have traced the glorious journey of the CPC over the past century, recorded memories engraved in the hearts of the Chinese people, and produced a visual epic of spiritual strength.

Artists faithfully recorded every single historical step in China’s revolution and constructi­on. Recording history through fine arts can help a nation remember its past, establish a correct view of history, and better understand and evaluate important events and figures in modern history.

While working to promote

the project, I genuinely felt that China has ushered in the best era for creating history paintings. A group of outstandin­g artists have become artistical­ly mature and achieved new progress in skill, concept, and expressive techniques.

We have seen many recent works in modern genres with the latest techniques of expression. For example, when creating works on the theme of the Red Army’s Long March (1934-1936), a daring military maneuver that laid the foundation for the eventual victory of the CPC, artists of the past tended to paint the characters with glowing faces and opted for brighter overall color and neater lines than those today. More recent works have tended to portray exhausted characters surrounded by darkness. By depicting the difficulti­es and challenges, they endeavor for richer, more realistic, and more impressive artistic appeal. The diversity and richness of Chinese artistic creation reflects a more open mind and broader vision of contempora­ry Chinese artists.

Integratio­n of Chinese and Western Innovation

In the 1980s and 1990s, as China implemente­d the reform and opening-up policy, Western art poured in alongside Western modern and contempora­ry thought, casting a huge influence on contempora­ry Chinese art. Oil painting, which is not indigenous to China, has been influenced even more. How can we better express Chinese realities through

China’s own methods of creation? Art creators today need to inherit the spirit of their predecesso­rs in Chinese art circles to find answers.

From the late 1980s to the early 1990s, I visited Tibet Autonomous Region three times to accumulate experience for future artistic creation. I did a lot of research on Chinese and Western paintings and cultural difference­s. Gradually, I came to realize that Chinese art must blaze a path of its own. Artists must seek a reflection and combinatio­n of national character, characteri­stics of the times, and individual­ity. To depict national character, artists must

dive deep into history. To portray characteri­stics of the times, they need to grasp the features of the times and master new techniques and skills. I worked hard with these notions in mind, and my paintings soon stood out among my peers around the globe.

The art of my predecesso­rs inspires me a lot. Xu Beihong (1895-1953) showcased elements related to Chinese folk tales and mythology in his masterpiec­e The Foolish Old Man Removes the Mountains. Dong Xiwen (19141973) produced figure sketches and landscape paintings with unique lines in Tibet. Chinesefre­nch painters Zao Wou-ki (1921-2013) and Chu Teh-chun (1920-2014) developed a deep understand­ing of Song Dynasty (960-1279) paintings and excelled at expressing Chinese artistic concepts. Wu Guanzhong (19192010) employed considerab­le blank space in his paintings and combined dots, lines, and planes with refined skill. These artists incorporat­ed a wealth of Chinese elements into their oil paintings and formed their own unique styles through creative innovation­s on Western oil painting art.

Over the past decade, the China Artists Associatio­n has launched several large-scale art creation projects and exhibition­s for many important occasions. More than 3,000 high-quality art works have been produced, including more than 500 massive pieces. These works represent the memory of the country, and their artistic value will be judged by generation­s to come. I believe that in the future, more classic works will testify to the power of faith and the great spirit of the Chinese nation and showcase its spiritual strength in the new era.

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