Capturing Huashan Mountain's ever-changing mood

Tan Weiyun
The exhibition "10 Years in Huashan Mountain," by Tian Xuesen, kicked off at Shanghai Powerlong Museum. Tian's lonely art exploration features in 60 oil paintings.
Tan Weiyun

The exhibition “10 Years in Huashan Mountain,” by Tian Xuesen, kicked off over the weekend at Shanghai Powerlong Museum. Tian’s lonely art exploration on the peaks, in the valleys and among the woods of Huashan, features in 60 oil paintings.

The mountain in Shaanxi Province is regarded as a cradle of Chinese civilization and considered the birthplace of Taoism several thousand years ago. From an artistic point of view, the granite mountain stands between heaven and earth.

“It’s powerful and vigorous, a symbol of manhood and aggression,” said Tian, who recently returned from Huashan Mountain, the sole subject he has been painting over the past decade.

The mountain is a popular subject in traditional Chinese ink painting, but is seldom portrayed in Western oil painting. Tian chose an art way that few people tread.

His works reveal the mountain in morning light, sunset glow, winter snow and in spring lushness.

It is somewhat reminiscent of Cezanne’s series of paintings of Mont Sainte-Victoire in different seasons and different lights. Huashan, under Tian’s brush, reflects different moods, sometimes powerful and solemn, sometimes gentle and blithe.

Capturing Huashan Mountain's ever-changing mood
Ti Gong

“Shore of the Sky,” oil on canvas, by Tian Xuesen

For most months of the year, he worked alone by day when the light was good and slept in a van or tent at night, occasionally wakened by birdcalls or the roar of the wind. Often, passing mine workers would flash their torches and peek through the tent on their way to work. Meals were simple — available seasonal plants cooked with a portable gas tank, or just bread, biscuits and mountain water.

Years of living alone in the mountain trained Tian to observe the sky and forecast the quixotic mountain weather.

“I learned when to get back to my home before it started to rain,” the 45-year-old said.

Mountain life is hazardous. Tian has been confronted by wild boars, attacked by wolves and stung by bees, which caused severe swelling for a week, but at the same time he befriended a snake that slithered around a painting site, and chatted with birds that stood on his hat.

After the exhibition, Tian will return to the mountain to continue his art hermit life.

Exhibition info

Date: Through June 14 (closed on Mondays), 10am-6pm
Tickets: 30 yuan
Venue: Shanghai Powerlong Museum
Address: 3055 Caobao Road

Special Reports