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May 31, 2011

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Beauty sparks painter's creativity

WHEN he was young, artist He Duolin was idolized by the young bourgeois who were keen to copy him, from his hair style and clothes to the way he talked.

Now in his 60s, He retains that irresistible charisma and his recent solo-exhibition at Shanghai Art Museum attracted many fans from around the country.

Born in 1948 in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, where he still lives today, He is a representative figure among China's romantic realism painters and is often called China's Andrew Wyeth - a famous American realism painter of the 20th century.

The artist has always been spotted with young, beautiful woman around. And women have featured prominently in his paintings over the years.

The most famous is the gorgeous Zhai Yongming, his ex-wife. Zhai is well-known in China as a poet, scriptwriter and the owner of White Night, a popular bar in Chengdu among poets, artists, writers and architects.

He and Zhai met when they were young. Known as the "golden couple," they were admired by many. They later divorced, but He says they still have a relationship that goes "beyond friendship."

Still, she has been He's muse for years. He has painted her many times, including the masterpiece "Xiao Zhai."

"I can't repeat painting adolescent girls. But Xiao Zhai (his nickname for his ex-wife) is unique," he says.

"I paint her from time to time. Although we no longer live together, she occupies an irreplaceable space in my heart."

Besides "Xiao Zhai," He creates many other paintings and several sketches of his ex-wife.

"Painting is a technical job. If my work impresses you, it is not the emotion or passion behind it, but the effort and time contributed to the painting itself."

His paintings of Zhai also happen to sell for the most money at auctions.

"She has a 'huge box-office'," he says, joking. "It seems many like her image, again proving that she is a beauty and I paint her perfectly."

He is cautious about what he says about Zhai as "she wants to keep a low-profile and have her own privacy.

"We are good friends, or better than good friends," he says. "Our spiritual communication is unlimited."

In his eyes, Zhai's appearance hasn't changed, except for her eyes, in the past two decades.

"She was curious, tender and naive when she was young. Today she is more calm and distant," He says.

He also says that it was more than Zhai's beauty that has inspired him over the years.

"She is a poet. In the 1980s, poetry greatly influenced the level of art in China," he says.

"It is through her that I started to appreciate and love modern poetry. Some of my paintings were inspired by the poems."

He is a rarity among artists in China as he doesn't dabble in installations, multimedia or performance art like many others. He sticks to his classical realist paintings and sketches.

"Some think that easel painting will be dead in the future," he says.

"But I don't think so. I have painted for 30 years and I have kept my original status. When painting, you first need to please yourself then your paintings can please others. Painting is a private thing, and I don't have the ambition to save the world."


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