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February 26, 2012

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Ink-wash artist is a stickler for tradition

ARTIST Shao Zejiong draws inspiration from the ancient literati.

He says the great dynasties provide "nutrition" but that he adds fresh "oxygen" to his work.

Shao paints traditional ink-wash scrolls and sings Peking Opera in his 40-square-meter-studio, filled with furniture and old ceramics reminiscent of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

"I belong to the rare group among the young generation who respect and admire traditional Chinese culture," says the 37 year old. "My studio is a perfect refuge to escape all the temptations of an urban material life."

An elegant and peaceful aura pervades Shao's traditional scrolls, as if someone was playing a flute in a mountain forest.

"This is the art I have pursued," he says. "Much of my inspiration comes from masterpieces created in the Tang (618-907), Song (960-1279), Yuan (1271-1368), Ming and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties."

But Shao never copies these masterpieces.

"With today's new aesthetic system, I need to absorb what they created, refer to it and interpret it in my own creative way," he says.

The impressionistic hues and carefully designed tableau draw on some Western techniques.

Born in 1975 in Shanghai, Shao learned to paint as a boy.

His passion for art and tradition led him to apply to the ink-wash painting department at the Fine Arts College of Shanghai University.

Upon graduation, he went to work as an editor at a local publishing house.

"It's too difficult to survive as a professional artist in the city, in particular as a traditional artist," he says. "Some of my classmates have given it up and transferred to other areas."

But Shao continues to paint, though many of his works are completed after his regular working hours. One piece can take several months.

Because he works in a publishing house, he can read many Chinese and Western art books and illustrated albums that enrich his own work.

"Now some people think traditional ink-wash painting is a cliche, but I reject that. They only say that because they know nothing about traditional painting."

Shao says an exceptional traditional ink-wash painting contains humanity, calligraphy, great technique and literature.

The ancient paintings of the literati demanded considerable attainments beyond painting.

Sometimes an ancient artist was a poet, calligrapher and philosopher at the same time.

"The charm in these paintings cannot be easily accomplished without a solid understanding of history and great technical skills," Shao says. "The more you see and read, the more you like this ancient art genre."

Compared with the prosperous contemporary art scene in China, what Shao defends may seem arid and outdated.

"Some artists, including me, have little exposure to the public," he adds. "But we never lose hope or faith, because tradition is not dead, it is still living in our hearts and in our art."


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