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October 31, 2010

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Forging lotus from recycled steel

TOWERING, silvery lotus - delicately fashioned from recycled stainless steel - are the emblematic centerpiece of Max Ma's works in the exhibition "Persistence of Time."

Ma, a successful photographer and painter in China's "New Perfectionism" school, also turns his considerable talents to sculpture and art installation.

Ma says he doesn't want to be categorized or restricted by a single form of expression and prefers to be called simply an artist.

His lotus, ancient symbols of purity and renewal, and other painting works were exhibited at the Shanghai Oriental Art Center, along with works by Shanghai artist Wang Yuhong.

The exhibition closes today but Ma's installation will be shown in November in Gallery by the Harbor in Hong Kong.

Ma, a native of Suzhou, says the lotus remind him of the flowers bathed in moonlight at his grandmother's home.

Ma, born in 1972, moved to Shanghai when he was 10. When he was 17, his father gave him a Praktica camera as a birthday gift, and he began taking pictures. In 1993, the mechanics major went to Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, and started his career as a professional photographer, building a name in art circles.

In 1998, he moved back to Shanghai where he runs his own studio. His work is mostly freelance, giving him time to express himself in oil painting and other art.

The former mechanics major also likes to modify off-road vehicles. He speaks with Shanghai Daily.

Q: What made you pick up a paintbrush?

A: I started to learn painting as a child. My father, an oceanography professor, always tried to cultivate my interest in art. As a child I copied the plants and flowers from the "Compendium of Materia Medica" (the encyclopedia of traditional Chinese medicine compiled in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)). Though I take photos at work, I still have my passion about painting. Besides, being a photographer for twenty years, I know clearly that photography has its limitations compared with painting, which are hard to be made up for. Painting has more freedom and is more expressive.

Q: Does photography aid you in painting?

A: Absolutely. Thanks to cameras, I have better ideas about colors and I have learned more skills handling light and shade. I always think a good photographer should know how to paint, and a painter should take good pictures. The two are somewhat complementary.

Q: Your new paintings and art installation all feature lotuses, blossoming and withered. Where does your inspirations come from?

A: I like lotus very much. I can see various kinds of beauty in them, whether they are blossoming in midsummer or dying down in late summer. I like lotus so much that I even sneaked into the garden of my community and pulled out some from it to sketch.

Inspirations are everywhere in life. Sometimes I think they are just like jelly fish. The countless tentacles are all the little ideas and sentiments you gain through observing the life and people around you. When they are accumulated, there come the inspirations.

Q: The impressive lotus installation is made with recycled materials. How did you create it?

A: I spent over two weeks climbing up and down in a recycling station, digging in the industrial waste dumps for suitable materials. I even rasped the materials with a file, and listened to the sound to see if it was the thing I wanted. Workers at the recycling station were shocked, having no idea what I was doing. The most awesome thing is I managed to remove several stainless steel nets from discarded boilers, which are very malleable and made them into the lotus leaves.

To create the leaf veins, I stitched stainless steel wires onto the nets myself. I spent about three weeks doing the installation, my skin peeling because of the electrical welding and my hands pricked by countless steel wires while making the lotus leaves. I wouldn't call these difficulties. I did have a hard time thinking how to make the leaves look natural and vivid. When I figured out, I cried out aloud, and surprised my family. Creation is fun.

Q: What are you working on or planning?

A: I plan to paint something about social issues, specifically mining accidents. They seem to be increasing, especially this year, and this problem needs society's attention.

I recently visited the United States and went to the Grand Canyon. I was overwhelmed by the grandeur of the view and the ancient relics of the Indian tribes so I took a lot pictures and plan to paint something based on them. I've already have this picture in my mind, a gorgeous valley dotted with blossoming calla lilies.


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