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Who needs galleries? See my art on public buses

ASK 20 people on the street about Peng Mingliang, and one might give the right answer.

That percentage is embarrassing for a celebrity, but it's quite high for an artist.

Instead of learning of him through museums or galleries, many people get to know about oil painter Peng and his art from the advertising posters on sightseeing buses, posters on lamp posts or billboards on highways.

Many Chinese artists choose not to cooperate with galleries, and Peng is one of the flashier ones who attract a lot of attention, much of it critical, perhaps jealous. The abstract painter refuses to cooperate with any gallery in the city.

Peng promotes and sells his own art to the public, a strategy that is surprisingly successful.

Now driving a BMW, Peng shuttles between his downtown and suburban studio.

He totally enjoys the fruits of his art: a rich life and freedom.

"One midnight when I was dining with a friend in a small restaurant, a waitress suddenly approached me and asked, 'Are you the famous artist Peng Mingliang? I know you'," says Peng who's in his 50s and still keeps fit.

"At that moment, I was elated."

However, success didn't happen overnight.

In fact, Peng seems to be a "lonely planet" in the art circle.

Most of his peers look down upon him because he paints what they call "vulgar female curves" to please the market.

"Many of the buyers are golden-collar workers with good educations. Do you think those people - 'the cream of society' - are stupid enough to buy shallow art with no depth and taste?" he asks. "No one would waste their money on something worthless, it's just that simple."

Last year, Peng had a solo exhibition at the Formula One race track in Jiading District. He was invited by officials.

"Who else was invited? See, that's the best response," he says.

Peng knows all about the nasty things rivals and detractors say behind his back.

"But I don't mind," he says. "I am a tolerant person. I can understand why they say bad things about me. For example, the steep rise in the price of my paintings may cause jealousy."

A painting today sells for 10 times what it would have fetched several years ago, he says.

A Shanghainese, Peng has two sides. He is shrewd and strategic in business, negotiating advertising and communicating with collectors. At the same time, he is passionate about his art.

"Because of my family background, I was shunned by the other kids when I was a small boy," Peng recalls. "Perhaps that experience enables me to easily see through to the inner side and darker side of other people."

In 1993, Peng went to Singapore to further his studies, which he calls "an unpleasant journey."

Pleasant or not, living and working in Singapore for two years widened his vision of the outside world and sharpened his goals.

When he returned to China, he secluded himself in his suburban studio.

"I changed my art style and produced a cluster of paintings in three years," he says.

Then he left the studio and began to build and promote the brand "Peng Mingliang."

"There's not a single artist who doesn't want to sell paintings, including van Gogh and Picasso," he says. "It's hypocritical if someone says he cares little about sales. Sales is not simple profit but represents recognition by society."

In the current financial crisis, art sales have declined for Peng and others.

"There were not many buyers in recent months," he says, "but I am not worried. In fact, I'm a bit tired of the cycle of painting, bargaining and selling every day. I see this as a long vacation so I can prepare my next solo exhibition."

Peng says he is a survivor.

"Did you see the art market for oil paintings here in 1995 when I was back from Singapore?" he asks. "There was almost no market. I survived during that period - nothing could be worse.

"Now I'm waiting for the next art boom. Believe me, it will come in two or three years."


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