The story appears on

Page A9

January 4, 2012

GET this page in PDF

Free for subscribers

View shopping cart

Related News

Home » Feature

Erasing all the stereotypical labels

ARTIST Chang Qing burst onto the scene in the mid-1980s and became a hot item before deciding to move out of the spotlight. Now the "arrogant" painter is back and as opinionated as ever, writes Wang Jie.

Famous writer Eileen Chang once wrote it's "better to get famous early." Artist Chang Qing did so, becoming famous at the age of 21. It was back in the 1980s, when he was a third-year academy student. He shocked the art community with his canvas titled "The Bowl" at the First Chinese Oil Painting Exhibition in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province.

His style of painting shabby cases, old ceramics, furniture and ancient books was soon imitated by other artists though none could match his creations.

"I think deeper than them, that's in my paintings," Chang says.

The 46-year-old admits he is arrogant, but understands the importance of being humble.

"Yes, I am an arrogant person inside," Chang says. "In my eyes, there are two types of people. One is born to finish a mission, the other is born to pass days. Obviously I am in the first category...

"But even as a kid, I realized how important it is to be humble, or at least pretend to be humble in China, otherwise you will die hard."

Chang has many strong opinions about art and can even come across as abrasive when talking about his work.

After taking the art world by storm, he was eventually tired of being in the spotlight. He retreated from public sight for the past decade, a time of dramatic changes in the art community.

Now Chang is back.

His solo-exhibition titled "A Dream for Ten Years" changes the stereotypical image others have about his work.

His former still life depiction of items on canvas has been replaced by spontaneous and wild brushstrokes on paper.

In this exhibition, Chang uses watercolors, gouache paint and crayon to draw frogs, chickens and dogs.

"I never deny that I am a born art genius," says Chang. "I am the kind of person to 'announce something' rather than 'study something'."

However, Chang says he was fed up with being labeled an artist who was superb in the realistic technique.

"Let me use this example. I have five facets, but I only showed one to you, how could I bear others categorizing me into just one," he adds.

The Chengdu native says he was especially angry when the media and art critics misinterpreted his early paintings as nostalgia toward the old days. Some even criticized his paintings as too "commercial."

"What I really wanted to express in these still life paintings is the perplexity prevalent in this particular period of Chinese history - the Republic of China," he says. "Before the Republic of China, ancient China was akin to a donkey. But it was gang-raped by the Eight-Power Allied Forces, then it became a mule as the Republic of China. Yet can we erase the 2,000 years of feudalism?"

By changing his materials from oil to watercolors and gouache and altering his subjects from old things to animals and fruit, Chang has reinvented himself and forced others to erase all the previous labels.

Xu Jiang, president of the China Academy of Art, says Chang is a "genius" who can "master a new technique issue in a whistle." Chang graduated from the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou in 1989 and now teachers there.

"When I was a sophomore, my teachers were murmuring behind me, 'Jesus, he already knows how to paint, what else can he learn here.' But I tried to ignore their words."

As a teacher, he feels it is more important to spread art than to create it.

"Take a look at the country's current education system, this is my responsibility," Chang says. "I don't like the word 'art.' Actually we didn't have the word 'art' in Chinese history, what we had was musical instruments, calligraphy and paintings. Ancient China advocated cultivating one's moral character and perfecting one's moral integrity.

"Globalization, which is such a popular word now, in my eyes, is the loss of Eastern civilization to Western civilization."

Perhaps this provided the motivation to draw two huge portraits - one of the highly regarded Chinese painter Qi Baishi, the other of British artist Lucian Freud.

"They are the representatives of two civilizations," he says.

The two works have been chosen for the China Art Exhibition at the 2012 London Olympic Games.

"The spirit of Olympic Games is also the spirit of Western civilization. We also didn't have a word for sports in ancient China. Our ancestors taught us to keep quiet both spiritually and physically," he says.

Chang says ever since he can remember he has loved to paint and that when he was a young boy his paint brush and paint were his favorite toy.

"I was very mature as a child," he says. "Chinese traditions were already deeply rooted in my mind."

As for the time when he burst onto the art scene while still a student, Chang says even Chen Yifei, a legendary figure in the Chinese art world, visited him.

"I still remember when Chen saw me, he said only one word in Shanghai dialect - 'old'," says Chang. "Because others found it almost unacceptable that this painting was done by such a young man."

These days, Chang is content to paint and teach and not worry so much about everything else.

"When the outside world is filled with hustle and bustle, I am painting and reading in my studio," he says.

"To tell you the truth, I don't have any jealousy toward today's high-profile art stars. Every dog has its day."

Date: Through January 31, 10am-5pm

Address: Bldg 8, 2361 Yangshupu Rd


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend