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Of traditional ink and modern fantasies

THERE'S a real gender-gap in 1980s generation painters Lin Qing and Wang Yanling. He paints airplanes, submarines and cockpits; while she paints herself as a doll-like mannequin, writes Wang Jie.

While most of her art school classmates switched careers after graduation, Wang Yanling didn't change.

"Imagine surviving with a degree in traditional ink-wash painting in modern society?" says the 28-year-old. "In fact, I should have been the first to 'escape' from that art major."

During her college days, she rebelled against everything. "But that didn't mean I don't appreciate traditional art," she is quick to add. "I know I can never achieve the skills of bygone masters on rice paper."

Wang says she was "an inferior student," often cutting school to play bass in a band.

"I am even more surprised than my teacher to see myself now," she says. There came a day when rock 'n' roll wasn't enough.

"I realized how important technique is in music," she says. "There's a big gap between an amateur and a real professional."

For a time she was aimless in life and art, as reflected in her series, "The Invisible Rebecca."

"My English name is Rebecca," she says.

Wang paints little-girl mannequins suspended against a black background on rice paper. She goes beyond the boundaries of tradition, creating a world of distinctive figures, colors and shades. There are also unicorns, cartoon horses and jokers.

"I don't think traditional ink-wash painting is outdated," she says. "It's only that artists today can't fully grasp its essence."

At first her painting was a release of emotion, then as her technique evolved, she refined her work to focus on the abstraction and purity of brushstrokes.

"I am no longer emotional in my paintings. I see things as a big vision, instead from the angle of an individual."

She is now working on a new series.

"I can't show the work right now, because I am still practicing," she says. "I used some color to interrupt a large field of black hues. The colors vary depending on the viewing angle."

Now working as a professional artist, Wang say she can barely make ends meet by teaching on the weekends.

Most of the time she works in a rented studio on the outskirts of the city. "Lucky for me, my parents are very supportive."

Although Wang is gifted in art, she admits it is difficult for her to develop social connections.

"I am not good at meeting and chatting with curators and collectors," she says. "I know sometimes a network is more important than one's painting. But that's really not my personality."

She is not certain about her future, but says, "God makes its own arrangement, I just let it be."

'Many people are unable to understand my art'

There's a strange floating blue object in the middle of Lin Qing's otherwise black canvas, perhaps a boat or an airplane, or an abstract figure.

"Many people are just unable to understand my work," says the 27-year-old artist. "Sometimes I have to pretend that I don't care, but I know, at the bottom of my heart, I do."

Despite rare public exposure and no fixed collaboration with a gallery, Lin still pursues art. "Art is the thing that enlightens my life," he says.

By day he is assistant curator of the Xuhui Art Museum. By night, he is an artist.

Born in 1982 in Shanghai, Lin started to learn painting at the age of three.

"At that time I was a naughty boy and my mother didn't know what to do with me. She thought painting might give me a quiet time."

And it did. Since then, he was engrossed in representing his world of model ships, submarines, aircraft.

He enrolled in the printmaking department at the Fine Arts College of Shanghai University.

"Print wasn't the right kind of media for me," he says. "The whole process of making a print really consumed many things."

His print background can be seen on his canvas.

Today he still paints simple or abstract vessels and aircraft that evoke a boy's models, though without a draftsman's precision. The hues are dark.

In one painting, models are arranged on a table. Ships and planes appeared to vintage, many are seen through fog and mist; a submarine on the surface is hit by a bomb, a small airplane crashes, an auto is a crumpled wreck.

Lin says he likes to create something "real" in an abstract way, like an aircraft's cockpit with its dials.

"The subject of boats and airplanes is not chosen because they used to be a boy's favorite toys," Lin says. "For no apparent reason, I prefer to arrange the objects like a miniature garden."

Lin admires Italian artist Giorgio Morandi, who focused on still-lifes, repeating them until he settled on a few three-dimensional shapes in subtle shade. Some critics said he achieved an Oriental Zen, without having been to Asia.

Lin works in a small rented studio near the art museum where he works.

"The best enjoyment for me is to lock myself into my studio after work. This is a purely isolated world of my own."

As for the future, Lin says: "I hope to step on the right track. After I reach 30, I hope that I can live on my art."

Wang Yanling

1981 Born in Shanghai

A postgraduate of Fine Arts College at Shanghai University

2003 Shanghai Young Artists Exhibition at Liu Haisu Art Museum

2007 Paper Box Exhibition at Yichao Gallery Lin Qing

1982 Born in Shanghai

Graduated from Fine Arts College of Shanghai University

2004 National Art Exhibition at Shanghai Art Museum

2008 Hand and Handle Exhibition


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