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October 23, 2021

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Finding oneself through healing power of art

Dreams have no age limit. A septuagenarian who reboots her life by painting proves that it is never too late to prioritize oneself.

Meeting the 77-year-old Yin Yufeng at her workshop in the Lingang Special Area, I am soon infected by her energy and passion. Dressed in bright yellow traditional-style clothes and wearing a string of beads, Yin is immersed in creating an orchid still-life painting on a large wooden table.

“I found the plant in an artist’s workshop,” said Yin. “Since I haven’t painted it before, I just brought it here.”

Featuring pumpkins, Hami melons, sunflower seeds, carrots, teapots, pebbles and playing cards, a number of her paintings hang on the walls. All her works are inspired by the everyday things in her life. As the Mid-Autumn Festival has just passed when we meet, Yin’s latest work portrays a mooncake patterned with a dragon and phoenix.

“I paint it before eating it,” Yin said while laughing. “I have painted almost all the things that you see in the workshop.”

Natural and peaceful, her paintings have healing power. They enable viewers to feel the beauty of small things, which we easily ignore in our daily lives. Last year, she was invited to hold a painting exhibition at the Xuhui Art Museum. To many people’s surprise, Yin didn’t engage with art until three years ago.

Born into a notable family in Shanmen Town, Hunan Province, she spent her childhood in the turmoil of civil war. Her father was assigned to Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region as a teacher in a middle school, and Yin and her mother followed him to the land of rugged mountains and vast desert basins.

“The green lawn and the camphor tree in front of our house in Hunan have always been ingrained in my childhood memories,” said Yin.

Symbolizing prosperity and freshness, green is Yin’s favorite color, which she frequently uses in her paintings. She recalls that she wore a green tweed coat on her wedding day in 1963.

Yin and her husband — who was a driver — worked for the same company. At the time, she worked as an electric welder. Lacking proper eye protection, the flash from the welding equipment eventually impaired her vision. However, that hasn’t stopped her from embracing colors.

Invited by her daughters, she moved from Xinjiang to Shanghai in 2017 after her husband passed away. Every part of Yin’s day and routine changed after losing her partner, which had a huge impact on her health. In fact, she almost died twice from heart attacks.

“A person should have a reason to live,” she said. “Previously, my family needed me, and then my husband needed me. However, I had never thought about what I needed until my 7-year-old granddaughter Azi asked me to learn painting.”

Calling Azi her teacher, Yin picked up a paintbrush for the first time on July 28, 2018, the second anniversary of her husband’s death. Her very first painting is of two little flowers that were picked by Azi.

“Azi said to me, ‘Granny, let’s paint. If you don’t paint the flowers, they will wilt soon,’” Yin said. “I began to learn watercolor painting simply because I wanted to make my granddaughter happy.”

At first, Yin didn’t know how to hold a paintbrush or how much water should be added to pigments. In the first month, she lacked perseverance and sometimes became so discouraged she tore up her drawing paper.

After adjusting her attitude for a month, she picked up her paintbrush again. She wakes up as early as 5am. After praying for her husband, having breakfast and taking a walk, Yin spends most of her day painting.

“My personality is stubborn and competitive, and I often argued with my husband and daughters about many minor matters in the past,” said Yin.

“However, after painting, my temper has been tamed simply because I am too busy to care about other things. Meanwhile, I as a student have to be humble. Otherwise, my teacher Azi won’t teach me.”

Yin became fully engaged, with painting bringing her into the present moment and letting her forget the pain of losing her husband and her diseases. In the flow of painting, it is hard to dwell on so many troubles.

I ask Yin which work is the most satisfying, and she confidently answers that every work is nice. The optimistic granny also tells me she thinks she began painting better than her granddaughter after one month of practice. For Yin, her improved painting skills are secondary to the joy that art brings her.

“Painting gives me a window to the world,” she said. “Through the window, I find a lot of fun in the things I missed before, and more importantly, I found myself. When I die, I will tell my husband in heaven that I am able to paint. I guess he will be shocked beyond belief.”


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