China Figurative Arts Part II

It has been calculated that in the fifteen years following the founding of the People’s Republic, over 13,000 issues were published with a circulation of 700 million copies: figures indicative of the value also given in China to graphic-visual communication in the context of a phenomenon equivalent to the world of mass – media. Large publishing companies take care of the sector, including the Shanghai people’s art publishing house. It is a genre in which China claims a long tradition, from paintings in illustrative sequences of the Han period (206 BC-220 AD), to the illustrated novel Ming (1368-1644), up to the popular subject graphics of the Ch’ing period (1644-1912). In fact, some contemporary works can be seen under the light of a continuous development of ancient graphics, especially as regards the assembly of the scenes, the re-enactment of figurative stereotypes of landscapes and costumed characters. In particular, the novels of old historical setting, illustrated with adherence to period costumes, reproduce the ancient canons of engraving. An example of this is the work Lo scimmiotto, a partial paraphrase of a classic of Chinese fiction, the Hsi – yü-chi(“Memoirs of a Journey to the West”) of the T’ang era (618-907). Consistently, topical issues are treated with fidelity to the truth of today, according to a photographic realism or that in any case incorporates cuts and editing rhythms of the cinematographic technique, according to standardized conventions, which constitute the Chinese version of the world mass language. and they are also found in posters and in all the propaganda press. It is the production sector that, with oil painting and a part of watercolor painting, is most affected by Western painting techniques, although with artists such as Hsiao Ting and Huang Yang-yü it has welcomed resonances of classical Chinese art and is oriented visibly towards a reinterpretation of socialist realism in the light of the Chinese pictorial tradition.

In this sense there is an internal renewal of the so-called “traditional painting”, the notion of which now seems to be restricted only to the particular techniques of brushes and colors, but to a figurative production which, while including the most typical repertoires of socialist realism, stands in continuity with the classical figurative concepts, both in the construction of the scenes and in the spatial balances of the compositions, and in the delicate annotations of the landscape and floral elements, which imprint romantic stamps on the revolutionary epic or dilute the raw realism of the subjects in soft brushstrokes or scenes of lyrical value. In some compositions, the familiar “porcelain” faces of children contrast with the marked faces of soldiers, peasants, workers; in others, factories invade landscapes, for whose annotations the suggestive foggy backgrounds remain; in both works the fidelity to an artistic vision persists which however is enriched by the realism of shapes and colors, by prospective researches, by meticulous reproductions of somatic features and customs; but if we keep in mind that realism is not a new lesson to Chinese art, we can trust in a quick synthesis that overcomes or resolves the current more negative oleographic effects.

According to, the most recent production collects works by individual artists, such as Kuan Shan-yüeh, Chang Wên-jui, Tang Ta-hsi, Shan Yin-kuei; of collaborations between several artists, as is the case of the young painter Wang Ying-chun who signed her works together with Yang Li-chou; or as is also the case with the series of Cheng Yu-min, Pan Hung-hai and Ku Pan; by Wang Ying-chun and Yang Li-chou; finally of art groups, such as that of the province of Shensi, author of a now famous composition entitled to the Sons of Yenan in conversation with Mao Tse-tung.

Group work is especially inclusive of an artistic activity of a non-professional nature that expands the phenomenon of Chinese art up to mass production, that is, of workers, peasants, soldiers, students, for whom art is an instrument of cultural incentive and expression of ideological grip. In conclusion, an artistic amateurism that historically becomes the heir – albeit far more extensive at the class level – of that of “literate” painters (wên – jên), who have made the most conspicuous contributions up to the modern age to painting Chinese, although in many cases representing the expression of adherence to official cultural values.

No longer the exclusive privilege of intellectuals, the non-professional pictorial activity seems to become today the aspect of a popular art that mostly replicates and details the message of a political commitment addressed by the militant artistic professionalism, which is also explained by the conditioning exerted in art teaching. The contact with the artists who take part in life in the fields or at work in the workshops guarantees the learning of elementary techniques and assiduous guidance in the choice of expressive modes. Traveling exhibitions in rural centers and cities, annual exhibitions, serve as a capillary presentation of these works, while their knowledge also spread abroad thanks to printed reproductions. They have been placed in the pay attention to the traditional technique paintings by Ou Yang, the oil ones by Chang Hung-tsan; the engravings of Hsu Kuang; among the group works there are those in oil by Kao Hung, Peng Pin and Ho Kung-tê, of traditional technique the collective paintings by Yen Sheng, Hou Chieh, Ou Yang. A recent series of fifteen titled engravings having overcome the thousand difficulties, it was presented by a group of engineers who participated in the construction of a railway line and fixed the memory of scenes and related work breaks. These and other works often have the appearance of photographic transpositions and reveal an art that can easily lend itself to being considered entangled in the shallows of realism, however it feeds a social phenomenon of large proportions, when one thinks that even in new industrial centers, such as that of Yangchuan in Shansi, the art groups come to count up to 250 workers. Apparently a much smaller number of amateur enthusiasts attract the plastic arts, and especially sculpture, which evidently involves more complex technical training problems.

China Figurative Arts 2