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December 2, 2010

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Low-key artist likes the simple life

PAINTER Mao Yan has trouble refusing friends' requests for his work while animator Sun Xun likes to tackle heavy themes and add little surprises to his films, writes Wang Jie.

The art industry can be cruel. For unknown artists, the question is how to sell their art.

But for Mao Yan, he has a different problem - how to keep his art.

"It's so difficult to refuse friends or friends' friends," says the painter. "I feel so conflicted, it's like a torture to me. But I finally found a solution - I always keep some corner unfinished, which gives me an excuse not to give my art away."

Mao's superb technique on canvas is widely recognized. He is an expert in transforming realistic and mundane subjects into classical or eternal images. And the visual impact of his work is quite light, almost with no trace of texture. The way he paints is even reminiscent of traditional ink-wash painting.

"Egg white? Are you kidding? I never use it," he says, laughing. "All I can tell you is that the oil I apply is ordinary, available everywhere."

Perhaps this is why Mao was selected to be one of eight artists to participate in the Glenfiddich Artists in Residence Program this year. The program brings together artists from around the world to live and work together for several months. They are each given a cash award and their living expenses are covered.

While in Dufftown, Scotland, for the program, Mao created some paintings - now on display at H-Space on Moganshan Road - of the distillery's workers.

Mao belongs to the group of people born with amazing talent. He was one of four students admitted to the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing in 1987.

"There were thousands of people who applied for the academy that year," says Mao with a smile.

But for all his success, Mao chooses to hide his glamor and ambition.

He keeps things low key both in his daily life and in the art community.

Maybe that explains why he has chosen to live in Nanjing, capital city of Jiangsu Province, rather than Beijing or Shanghai.

Like many of his peers, Mao also savors the solitude of being a "traditional artist."

He once painted a portrait of poet Han Dong, one of his best friends, depicting the man's desolate expression after he broke up with his girlfriend. The painting was exhibited in 1998 in the United States, where the dealer sold it for US$9,000 without Mao's approval.

"I got half of that payment," Mao says. "But this painting has haunted me from time to time, as it was a part of his (Han's) memory, or to be exact, part of myself."

Ten years later, Mao bought this painting back for 2 million yuan (US$300,000).

"In order to avoid the price escalating, I called my friends and collectors before the auction and asked them not to bid," Mao laughs.

Now Mao prefers to stay at his 400-square-meter studio, renovated from an old warehouse.

"Sometimes I don't paint - just read or even do nothing. It's very relaxing."

Mao Yan

Born in 1968 in Xiangtan, Hunan Province

A graduate of the Central Academy of Fine Arts in 1991

Now works and lives in Nanjing


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