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Treasuring the tortoise and painting tranquillity

UNLIKE many artistic types who don't excel in math or science, Wang Guo'an is clever with numbers and logic. "An artist should be smart," says Wang, "otherwise they cannot control the relationship among colors, shapes and content."

He is a reader.

"I am now reading a book about the Decadence Movement in America and another on calculus," Wang says. "Sounds strange but these books help me see the world clearly."

Wang, 51, has been exploring new forms of traditional ink-wash paintings for decades.

The Shanghai native's vase-and-flower series earned him recognition for its Zen flavor fused with modernity.

"Once a Westerner asked where I was from," he recalls, "because he thought it was incredible for a local to paint such a peaceful and harmonious work in this bustling city."

Wang depicts a tranquil world containing an irregular-shaped vase holding casually arranged greens or flowers. The surroundings are vague.

"I used to have a small tortoise at home," he says. "Sometimes it would remain motionless for half a day, but it could reach its destination in another half day. That made me realize that patience and a slow pace are part of my life."

He lives a "tortoise life," secluded in his studio in suburban Songjiang District.

"Sometimes I can stay in my studio for a week without stepping out of my room," Wang says.

About art, he says: "I hate to 'symbolize' an artist. It would be tragic for an artist to paint one symbol all his life."

Wang tries many new things and different media, including rice paper and canvas. He notes that Picasso also worked in different media.

He says he also heeds the advice of Chuang-tzu: "Too many colors would make one blind while too many sounds would make one deaf."

"But gradually I realized that various layers of colors are vital for modern aesthetic taste," he says.

Without losing the sensibility of simplicity, Wang experiments with many colors. Some critics have compared his technique with that of French neo-impressionist George Seurat.

Wang's big hope is for a solo exhibition in an art museum.

"It would be interesting to display my different series at one exhibition," he says. "I would like to see viewers' response to the contrast among them."


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