Shanghai Daily

Woodcut exhibit blends the genres of the East and West

- Wu Huixin

Founded in the 1930s at the China Academy of Art during a period of war and civil unrest in China, the Muling Woodcut Society attracted a group of prominent painters who pushed creative boundaries and created works that piqued the public’s interest and conscience.

Lu Xun, a key figure of modern Chinese literature, urged artists to produce powerful woodcut print posters to inspire people to resist invasion and enemy forces. The society was establishe­d under his leadership and guidance.

Today, the China Academy of Art’s woodcut art department is still running and is regarded as a hotspot for art students, with a handful of top artists teaching their skills and ideas and passing down the heritage through generation­s.

Professor Wu Jide, a CAA graduate, has been a woodblock printing instructor since the 1980s. A hundred multi-color woodcut works are now on exhibit at the Zhejiang Art Museum till May 25. Visitors can see the influence and spirit of the previous generation while continuing to innovate his personal style.

When Wu studied at the academy, he was heavily influenced by the style of the first generation of contempora­ry masters.

Zhang Yangxi and Zhang Huaijiang were two most well-known masters of contempora­ry China, creating hundreds of prints and other works during the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1931-1945). They establishe­d the department of woodblock-printed painting at the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou, ushering in a new age of instructio­n for this traditiona­l art form.

Wu’s earlier works are stylistica­lly comparable to Zhang’s, whose works elicited sympathy for victims and the oppressed and inspired people to resist. He was inspired by the ancient pictorial clay tablet-style, employing plain, strong lines to convey the environmen­t and facial expression­s.

Later, Wu has explored an elegant and simple style that integrated his personal feelings into nature, blending the genres of the East and the West.

“Wu combines the realistic spirit with the traditiona­l culture. His exploratio­n of ink and color painting broadens the original limitation­s of woodblock print and inspires us,” said Fang Limin, vice headmaster of the China Academy of Art.

Wu shifted the emphasis to the beauty of nature and local life, depicting forests and watertowns using lines, dots and blocks and easing the transition between hues to avoid stark contrast.

“His works reflect his genuine aesthetic reaction to the world. He delivers the best experience with a sympatheti­c poetic style,” said Gao Shiming, president of the academy.

Wu is regarded as the embodiment of his generation because he upheld the spirit of developing woodcuts while insisting on learning from traditiona­l art and Chinese culture, which results in a broader vision in art creation.

The dividing line in his life was 1982. Before that, he printed the styles of Zhang’s. After that, he traveled and learned painting techniques from folk arts and traditiona­l nianhua, colorful, woodcut-printed Chinese New Year paintings that were particular­ly popular among residents in the past.

The exhibition includes a work in the rudimentar­y style of the Diamond Sutra, the world’s first woodblock printed work, which was created in China in AD 868. It is thought to have been a watershed moment in human printing and communicat­ion history. Following that, monochroma­tic woodblock printing gradually translated those talent to copying and printing colorful paintings and books, which eventually blossomed into an important art genre in ancient China.

A multi-colored woodblock print is traditiona­lly created using a dozen separate methods. The time-consuming technique frequently requires months of polishing. The painters devote five times as much time to a woodblock painting as they do to an ink-wash painting, and that’s why they can only complete a few woodcuts per year.

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2. An artwork features the rudimentar­y style of the Diamond Sutra. 3. The painting “Stay out late”
— All photos by courtesy of the Zhejiang Art Museum
1. “Forests in Winter” created in 2018 2. An artwork features the rudimentar­y style of the Diamond Sutra. 3. The painting “Stay out late” — All photos by courtesy of the Zhejiang Art Museum
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A painting of leaves and trees.

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