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January 17, 2011

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In search of the perfect white wall

STUDYING at prestigious Dusseldorf Art Academy is a dream for many young Chinese painters because it has nurtured many important artists.

But after finishing studies at the legendary school in Germany's Rhine-Ruhr metropolitan area, painter Tai Yi decided to return to Shanghai.

"For a young Chinese artist, there is really little space to develop yourself in Germany," he says. "I don't want to be categorized in the multicultural area."

Tao says the overseas study has broadened his vision of the art world and gave him a systematic knowledge of art history.

"Some people ask me why I still stick to abstract on canvas instead of following the current trend of creating video or installation works," he says. "I think everything needs time to develop, so is art. Just look at the art development in Europe, from canvas to installation there is a process, but in China it happened almost in the twinkling of an eye."

Tao says he refuses to do what it takes to be a "popular artist" in China today.

His canvases usually contain large monochrome blocks of color and the impression is soothing.

"I don't think it is easy to paint such simple big blocks on canvas," he says. "It is far more difficult than you expect."

Tao emphasizes that his paintings should be hung in a "perfect environment." The walls should be "100 percent pure white and the lines of the floor and wall should be clear, straight and beautiful."

He has not yet found the perfect setting in Shanghai.

"It is impossible to find a 'qualified pale white and beautiful exhibition wall' in the city," he says. "If you have seen exhibition walls in Europe, you would understand what I am talking about. Sometimes I have to teach the workers how to paint a white wall, because they have never seen a professional exhibition wall here."

When asked what feeling he wants his works to evoke in viewers, Tao says: "The feeling you have when you are gazing into the sky."

Now teaching in a small college, Tao says although he earns only around 3,000 yuan (US$454) a month, he thinks it's enough to enjoy himself.

He's the drummer in a small band. "It's very exciting, " he says. "I have my bottom line in life - enough to eat."

Tao has another source of investment, Bauhaus-style chairs that he collected in Europe. He also collects the works of young artists he likes.

"Sometimes I use my paintings in exchange and sometimes I have to exchange a chair I collected to those who are not so willing to part with their artwork," he says.


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