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October 26, 2011

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Painter prizes 'peasant' art

WHEN Dilwyn Lloyd first described his reason for moving to Shanghai as a fairy tale, it seemed like it might have been a joke. It wasn't.

In fact, it's the kind of story you really only see in movies or read about in books.

About a year ago, he says, he got together with his first-ever girlfriend - his girlfriend from when he was nine years old. The two had a mutual friend but neither of them realized that they both knew him, until he suggested that the two of them meet.

They did, and they clicked immediately.

She lived in Shanghai, he lived in the United Kingdom, and some months later, when Lloyd had an opportunity to fly to Hong Kong, they decided to meet.

"We said, 'Why don't we meet up in Hong Kong?' And we did and kind of got things back together," he chuckled. "So I decided to just go to China."

A fairy tale, indeed.

"Yeah, it's a little strange," he adds. "It's a bit mad and a little fairy tale but it's really good and really lovely."

So in the spring of this year, Lloyd, a social services professional-cum-artist from the United Kingdom, moved to Pudong New Area. Apart from a year and a half in Spain. This is his first time living outside of the UK, and, he says, it's the furthest east he's ever been.

As first, he says, it was very strange and very different. But he's getting used to it quickly, adding that every time he comes back from a trip home, he likes China more.

"I came back over (after the last time traveling to the UK) and I actually felt like I was coming home, which was a very strange experience… it is a big step, but then the world is there to be lived in, isn't it?"

Now Lloyd lives in a quiet part of Pudong, which he says suits him. There are fewer expats. He goes out at night to watch couples waltz and tango. And "in terms of setting up and working within the arts in this area," he says, "I would expect to see this flourish."

That's important because along with working with families in crisis in the UK, and children dealing with attention deficit disorder here in Shanghai, Lloyd has a background - both personally and in his education - deeply rooted in art. It's something that he's always done on his own, and eventually managed to link with his social services job as a tool to help the people he works with.

"I'd like to try concentrating on that a bit more as it fulfills my own sort of humanistic interest of being a facilitator with people who have difficulties," he explains. "But it also fulfills something else that I'm passionate about, which is art and creativity."

Recently, that creativity has been influenced by traditional Chinese peasant painting - a style of art that Lloyd says many in the West consider naive or childlike because of its bold colors and fairly straightforward images.

"I really hate those terms," he says. "I think they're really offensive for addressing the use of color and composition (because the paintings) speak very loudly and profoundly about issues that affect us daily."

And that's exactly what drew Lloyd to this art form in the first place: it's a reflection of real life, which Lloyd describes as a sort of celebration of the day-to-day.

Folk art influence

"They look at very normal, everyday aspects of life… it's linked to the things that you have to do to survive but they're able to celebrate that in some way," he explains. "The style in which they paint really excites me."

The folk art draws influence from, and has similarities to other artistic styles including batik, embroidery and wall paintings. It became particularly popular in China during the "cultural revolution" (1966-76), and Lloyd is one of the first and only foreigners in Shanghai to really latch onto it. It reflects his own graphic and illustrative painting style, he explains, as well as his personal interests: the ordinary people "as opposed to the intelligentsia or the high-brow of the art world."

Lloyd was first introduced to this specific painting style during his time studying art in university, but says there wasn't anything that particularly drew him to it until he found out more about similar movements closer to his own backyard.

Societies like the Ashington group in northern England - a small group of miners with no formal artistic training - met regularly for classes and used their own creations as a means to understand and appreciate other pieces. They became especially popular within the British art scene in the 1930s and 1940s, and were the first Western art exhibition in China after the "cultural revolution." And just like Chinese peasant art, these pieces reflected the artists' lives and emotions.

Despite that, Lloyd says peasant art still isn't taken very seriously in the West. In China, however, it's a completely different story.

In the Western world, Lloyd explains, art has become something that's been "intellectualized to the point where it excludes people; we look at art as being something of a luxury or something that can only be enjoyed by people of certain intelligence or social background."

But in China, art has always been a core part of society.

"Here it's allowed to flourish and it's encouraged and it's financed. It is an established and relevant part of Chinese culture, so there's progression within it."

Even Lloyd's own art could be considered an example of that progression; he uses the same elements, but with his own twist.

"It's a bit like fusion cooking," he says. "East meets West somewhere along the line, but I'm not making food."

While Lloyd doesn't yet have a studio, he has converted his spare bedroom into a workspace. He says he's hoping to find a proper spot somewhere in Pudong that could double as a gallery, but until then he wants to continue working with kids and maybe even teaching some art classes.

For him, one of the best things about art here is that it's so integrated in the community.

"I find that very enthusing that artists have become valued members of the communities in which they live. (That's) allowed them to pursue (it more)."

Since moving to Shanghai, he says, he's learned a lot and "part of that is because of the vibrancy within the movement (here)… it is continually evolving."

Dilwyn Lloyd

Nationality: British
Profession: Artist
Age: 44

Self-description: (I gave this one to my girl friend as it's beyond me) Typical artist type; prone to shyness, easily hurt, very caring but with a very black sense of humor.

Strangest sight: The Bund Sightseeing Tunnel.

Motto for life: To each according to need, from each according to ability.

Worst experience: Childhood sexual abuse.

How to improve Shanghai: Pedestrianize the Nanpu Bridge.

Advice to newcomers: If you are lacking a sense of humor, find one sharpish!


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