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April 3, 2010

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Farmer artist's vivid view of village life

LU Yongzhong's life is simple -- farming and painting. "I prefer to be called 'farmer' instead of 'artist'," the 40-year-old Jinshan native says.

Having been engaged in Farmers' Painting, a Jinshan-grown folk art form created and practiced by local farmers since the 1970s, for more than 20 years, Lu says he is quite happy to remain what he is.

"I'm a son of farmers and the farming life gives me endless inspiration for my art creation," he says.

Fascinated by painting since childhood, the self-taught artist has never left Jinshan.

He owns a 2.6-hectare orchard to grow peento peaches in Ganxiang Village, and four years ago he rented a plot of 5.3 hectares in Shanyang Town where he has his art studio and a farm where he plants vegetables, breeds chickens, ducks and geese, and raises fish.

It is also a place for him to meet new friends, have monthly art salons, teach foreign children the Farmers' Painting style and exchange ideas with other artists.

He is also one of the first artists to incorporate Western oil skills into traditional Chinese painting. "Art has no border. It's all about what you want to paint, not how," Lu says.

His paintings, depicting China's vivid village life, farmers, traditional customs and ancient rituals, are greatly appreciated by Westerners.

During the past 15 years, Lu has held various exhibitions in dozens of countries, such as the United States, France, Germany, Japan, India and many others.

One of his famed oil paintings -- "The Happy Village Families" -- won a place in the Guinness Book of Records in 1998 as the longest farmer painting ever produced.

It is 15 meters long and 65 meters wide and took him five years to finish. Featuring more than 5,000 characters, the painting shows a busy scene of villagers celebrating the Chinese Lunar New Year.

The artist is busier than ever these days as he is preparing work for the upcoming World Expo 2010 Shanghai which opens on May 1.

During the event, Lu will display 20 of his paintings in the Expo Village. Ten have been finished or selected from his previous works, including the Guinness record winner, and he is absorbed in creating the other 10.

In addition, a two-week exhibition of his 50 latest paintings is to be held in the Jiangxi Pavilion.

Lu has already started to incorporate the Expo in his paintings. After December 3, 2002, when Shanghai won the bid to host the 2010 Expo, Lu painted "Better City, Better Life," which pictured a bustling Shanghai with its beautiful skyline and landmarks such as the Oriental Pearl TV Tower, the Jin Mao Tower, City God's Temple and People's Square.

With bright, bold colors and in simple primitive style, the painting was collected by the World Women's Federation. So far Lu has created more than 80 works themed with the World Expo Shanghai.

Recently his first series of "A Xiang's Trip Around China" has been published. The cartoon book in four languages is aimed at introducing China's folk culture -- such as shadow play, kite making and clay sculpture -- to foreigners.

"I'll be painting till the day I die," he says. "Rural village and countryside life are my creation source. I will stay here for my life."


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