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February 12, 2012

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Low-key painter loves power of nature

XU Huaiyu is a low-profile artist and his work is seldom shown publicly.

But this didn't stop him from tackling one of Canada's most famous tourist attractions, Niagara Falls, and depicting it on rice-paper.

It was a big challenge as traditional ink-wash paintings are limited in perspective and have a scarcity of hues.

"Yes, at the beginning it was almost impossible," Xu says, "because Niagara Falls, if viewed from a distance, appears like a huge curtain. If I painted it in this way, the splendor and power of Niagara Falls would be lost."

Xu says he tried several methods, for example shaping the horse-shoe falls like that of a bucket.

"But I purposely left some empty space at the top of the bucket so there would be a release for more visual power," the artist says.

Xu has learned the lessons inherited from ancient artists, especially those who thrived in the Six Dynasties period (222-589, a collective period for six Chinese dynasties whose capitals were set in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province).

The landscapes he usually creates are still, elegant and meant to remain unchanged.

Paolo Sabbatini, the former director of the Italian Culture Institute Shanghai, says Xu adds an extra dimension to his work.

"Nature mirrors the inner side of the human body itself, by representing its complications, issues and doubts," Sabbatini says. "Every aspect and facet of nature is imbued with two forces: one positive and one negative, which must be in balance and harmony, for things to be right in the world. The art of Xu adds a third force, which is equilibrium."

Born in Shanghai in 1953, Xu is also a professor at the Shanghai Film Art Institute and a member of the center for artists at the Ministry of Culture of China. He comes from an illustrious family. Both his grandfather, Xu Shumin, and father, Xu Zihe, were famous painters.

Xu Huaiyu graduated from the Fine Arts Department at Shanghai Institute of Applied Technology. Although his works are based on traditional Chinese paintings, his understanding of Western art has enabled him to create a unique style.

The liveliness and majestic ambience found in his paintings often leave a deep impression on viewers.

And true to his desire to avoid the limelight, Xu leaves it up to viewers to find meaning in his work. "I don't want to say too much about my paintings," he says. "If you are a true lover of traditional Chinese paintings, you will have your own thoughts."


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