Solo exhibition an homage to a master painter

Gu Yuxian, a follower of master painter Wu Changshuo (1844-1927), says he still can't explain why he loves Wu's paintings so much.
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Gu Yuxian, a follower of master painter Wu Changshuo (1844-1927), says he still can't explain why he loves Wu's paintings so much.

Wu, a prominent painter, calligrapher and seal artist is considered a leading figure in traditional Chinese painting in the early years of the 20th century.

Hang Ying, Gu's teacher is one of the third generation of Wu's students.

Gu's solo-exhibition titled "The True Spirit of Nature" is currently on display at a resort hotel in Songjiang District through October 20.

Born in 1963 into a rich family in Suzhou, Jiangsu Province, Gu says his father, an art teacher, taught him painting and calligraphy. He recalls being asked to imitate the script and calligraphy of ancient masters.

"At that time, I was fluent with many different painting styles, but I favored Wu's," he says. "Even today, I can't explain why. It's my destiny, or to be more exact, it was not that I chose his style, but it found me."

Gu rarely takes part in art-related social events but has little difficulty in earning a living from selling his work.

He lives in the suburbs of Shanghai and devotes most of his time to rice-paper paintings.

"I haven't done anything else in the past decades other than painting," he says. "Money and fame really aren't so attractive to me although they are important. But I am already satisfied with what life has given me."

Gu's subjects vary from fish, creeping plants and flowers to birds and insects. He references Wu's freehand brush strokes in the depiction of shrimp, herons, fish and cats.

Usually the animals’ bodies are outlined with several wild brush strokes in different grades of black and gray, leaving a trace of Impressionism. But some realistic brush strokes reveal more details in the heads of the animals he depicts, adding a modern touch to the genre.

"The more I practiced, the deeper I admired him (Wu)," he says. "I still clearly remember the moment when I saw an original plum blossom painting created by Wu at an auction, I was so taken by it that tears came to my eyes."

Wu is known for using a sharp contrast between light and dark and being a forerunner in the use of a red color introduced from the West called "Western red" or yang hong. Art historians also say he replaced the small and meticulous strokes of the time with large and bold strokes derived from calligraphy together with the "Western red" to create paintings that were fresh, full of vitality and obviously different.

"But I am not a copy maker. I want to absorb the essence of Wu's style and develop something of my own," Gu says.

Intertwined creepers that Gu painted recently for this exhibition are filled with motion and rhythm, and drew comments from art critics for "inheriting the real spirit of Wu's freedom in art."

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