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November 14, 2010

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Immense Shanghai scroll took 14 years

CHINESE American artist Xu Jianguo devoted 14 years to creating his monumental 6-meter-long color scroll telling the story of Shanghai, his hometown.

"Shanghai: A New Vista" vividly describes the city development from Lujiazui filled with skyscrapers to the tree-lined former French concession. The silk scroll using traditional technique was displayed at the World Expo and a recent solo exhibition at the Beijing Capital Museum.

Xu was trained in traditional Chinese ink-wash painting. In 1984 he went to the US to study painting and absorbed Western sensibilities, especially of color, into his personal style.

On Tuesday Xu will discuss his scroll and contemporary art with a group of Asian art lovers in the city in an event sponsored by Royal Asia Club.

The artist, whose works were featured in both Christie's and Sotheby's Important Contemporary Chinese Art Sales, talks with Shanghai Daily.

Q: How was your painting talent discovered?

A: When I was three or four years old, there was an old door in my room that was covered with blots of mold. But for me the mottles were figures of a tree, a boy's hand, a bunch of flowers ... I painted them everywhere, anywhere I could paint. My mother was annoyed. But a famous painter named Ye Zhihao in my neighborhood praised my "creation" and became my first painting teacher. He gave me a solid foundation in Chinese painting.

Q: Why did you study in America, not France or Italy?

A: I struggled between America and France. France has a classical and mature academic system of art. However, the US, with a shorter history but inspiring cultural prosperity, seemed to have more possibilities, creative space and freedom. Today's Da Diaozi proved that I made the right choice.

Q: Why did you spend 14 years painting the spectacular and costly Shanghai scroll?

A: Three reasons. First, Shanghai is my hometown, China is my motherland. Expressing love for my mother doesn't involve cost considerations. Second, I needed to do something that gave me pride. Shanghai develops so fast. The buildings we see today may disappear tomorrow. Someone should preserve today's rare beauty, just as Zhang Zeduan recorded the prosperity of the Song Dynasty (960-1279) in "Riverside Scene at the Qingming Festival." Third, I am not only an artist but also a father. I want to show my children that it's important to dedicate oneself to something meaningful.

Q: Which Shanghai site is the most inspirational?

A: The Huangpu River in the morning and at dusk. The tone is rather delicate, filled with layered beauty. The Bund architecture, Lujiazui and the river create a charming image.

Q: What inspires you?

A: Daily life. Art cannot exist independent of real life. If a work is too distant from our life and emotion, it's less appealing. So I try to be sensitive to my daily life: a single leaf, touches of pink clouds, even a casual dialogue.

Q: What's the relationship between philosophy and painting?

A: I read a lot of philosophy, especially Kant and Hegel. For me, art is the best channel to reflect thinking and ideas. There's an ancient saying "∫¨μ?"≥??," which means the subtle path of infinity is within every creature and object - through which art shines. Painting of the Song Dynasty reflects this view and I consider that period the Chinese Renaissance.

Q: Any comment on your artistic career?

A: My art life is not always smooth sailing, but I keep dedicating myself to what I love. And I never give up, Hence, I am happy and fortunate.


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