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February 12, 2012

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Reaching the summit of artistic success

ARTISTS Chen Jialing and Xu Huaiyu have used their ink-wash gift to tackle big themes. Chen opts for Anhui's famous mountains while Xu gives a Chinese twist to Niagara Falls in Canada, writes Wang Jie.

Artist Chen Jialing is not afraid of hard work to complete a project he believes in.

At the age of 73, Chen climbed up 12 famous mountains in China within a year to depict these peaks on rice-paper.

"Remember my group paintings featuring 10 scenes of West Lake in 2010? This is somewhat similar, and I bet no other artist has done it before," says Chen at his spacious studio on Yichang Road in Shanghai. "Following my exhibition at Zhejiang Art Museum in 2010, I was invited by Anhui Museum to do a solo exhibition. I considered what to do for a while and then thought of the famous mountains in Anhui Province. I was thrilled by such thoughts and knew I had to do it."

Chen says hiking up these mountains - he climbed one each month - was an unforgettable experience.

However, depicting 12 mountains in large-scale paintings - each piece has a height of two meters and a width of five meters - is a challenge.

"It is not difficult to paint one mountain," Chen says, "but using different brushstrokes to reflect the various characteristics of 12 mountains is unthinkable."

For example, Chen says he used five shapes to capture the clouds around the mountains.

"In my eyes, a mountain is akin to a person with its own character," the painter says. "The knack for this project is to grasp the character of each peak."

A graduate of the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts (now the China Academy of Fine Arts) in 1963, Chen first gained fame for his "Lotus" series in which traditional ink-wash techniques were fused with modern flourishes.

Pieces from that series appear everywhere in his studio - the huge scrolls hang on walls, inside the wash basin or on the shoe-rack at the entrance.

Chen's artistic achievements cover the fields of painting and now ceramics. It was only in recent years that the veteran's interest in "China's china" was kindled. He has his own kiln, named "Ling Kiln," downtown.

Apart from painting and ceramics, the artist's other big hobby is playing mahjong.

"It's good for the mind," he says, jokingly. "I like to play with good friends all night."

Chen often comes to the studio to paint after playing mahjong all night.

"Some are amazed at my energy," he says. "Honestly though, it's a piece of cake because mahjong and painting are my favorite activities. How can you get exhausted when you are doing the things you like?"

It's a common belief in China's art scene that the "golden period" for traditional ink-wash painters arrives after the age of 50, when the artist has gathered enough qi (spirit) in his brush. Chen is no exception to this rule.


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