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November 18, 2013

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Exhibition features works of 96-year-old master

A Chinese-American artist, author and scholar, 96-year-old Paul Pei-Jen Hau is considered a trailblazer in Chinese art, on a par with Picasso in the Western world.

The master, student of famed literati painters Huang Binhong and Zheng Shiqiao, and close friends with prodigious artist Chang Dai-chien, has been recognized for his successful fusion of Eastern and Western aesthetics and his commitment to furthering the Chinese arts outside the country’s borders.

Hau is exhibiting his latest works and classical works at Zhejiang Art Museum.

Critics say he unites Chinese ink traditions with modern Western artistic techniques and presents magnificent and simple paintings that bring Chinese art into a new dimension.

At the opening ceremony of his exhibition, Hau said, “Western art techniques have inspired me a lot. However, Chinese painting focuses on connotation, and that is the thing I never give up.”

The show boasts almost 100 of Hau’s pieces, a major part of them done during 2001-2003. The rest are his latest pieces, done in the past two years.

“My works before were comparatively cautious. Now I am more bold and unrestrained, no rules, no discipline,” the master told young art students who surrounded him at the exhibition.

The nonagenarian artist reached a new height in his 90s with his abundant works and renewal of his art concepts, “which is a miracle and fortunate for Chinese art,” says curator Shu Jianhua.

Hau’s art: home in my dream

The works created a decade ago are borrowed from the Hau Pei-jen Art Museum in Kunshan, Jiangsu Province, and the new works were brought by Hau from America. He has been living in Los Altos, California, since 1963.

At the opening ceremony, Hau donated 10 works to the Zhejiang Art Museum, including one of his signature works, “Donglin Temple in Lushan Mountain,” painted in 2010, a four-piece wall-size painting dominated by contrasting splotches of red and green paint bidding to overwhelm the delicately drawn trees and houses.

Hau’s art style is very distinct, featuring strong color contrasts and bold structures. That genre, unlike traditional Chinese art, was a result of brainstorming between Chang Dai-chien and Hau.

Hau recalls that once Chang met Picasso and asked him if he’d seen Chang’s paintings at an exhibition. Picasso said that he had not seen any Chinese paintings.

“We have to change,” Chang told Hau later. “The color of Chinese paintings are light and weak, our paintings get overwhelmed by Western paintings of rich and strong colors.”

Starting in the late 1950s, Hau began incorporating bright and varied colors in these landscapes, and the paintings went from being grounded in realism to taking on impressionistic qualities. Meanwhile Chang also started his blue-and-green splash ink and color works.

But the works of both masters still continued to respect time-honored traditions. Hau’s subject matter continues to be soothing, idealistic scenes of his ancestral homeland from life long ago.

“All my works, including paintings and articles, can be concluded in four words: home in my dream,” he says.

But Hau is more than a painter. He is also one of the founders of modern Hong Kong literature.

Coming from a family of artists, Hau showed interest in art, music, poetry and politics in his early years. He was educated at the National University in Beijing and then studied sociology at Kyushu Imperial University in Japan.

He has also published three novels, a history of sociology and a text on the principles of Chinese art. He was even among the group that wrote the Constitution of the Republic of China (1912-49), led by Chang Chun-mai, a prominent Chinese public intellectual and political figure.

He is founder of the American Society for the Advancement of Chinese Arts and has exhibited at Deyoung Museum in San Francisco and the San Jose Museum, both in California, as well as several museums in China.

He has taught Chinese brush painting in Palo Alto, California since 1957 and is an honorary professor of the Tianjin Institute of Art in Tianjin, in north China.

The artist has donated many of his works to the country of his birth. The biggest donation was in 2002, when he gave over 200 his paintings and 40 works from his collections to Kunshan, Jiangsu Province.

The collections include paintings by Chang Dai-chien and another renowned artist, Fu Baoshi. The Kunshan government established the Pei-jen Hau Art Museum to exhibit these works. Earlier this year, Hau donated 70 of his works to Liaoning Museum, in his hometown.

“Not a day passes that I don’t miss China,” Hau says.


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