Pioneer of local silkscreen block printing
While silkscreen block printing was used in pop art in the age of the Lost Generation in the United States to describe certain popular and commercialized values, Zhu Yinneng (1935-2021) and generations of Songjiang silkscreen block printing artists grafted the Western art technique onto the region's folk culture to honor tradition.
In the 1980s, the success of farm paintings to illustrate and enrich rural life in the neighboring Jinshan area sparked citywide modeling. Zhu, then a cultural worker at the local cultural center in Songjiang, and his coworkers wanted the area to have a nourishing rural art form as well, but with its own unique features.
While running an errand in the Jiashan area in neighboring Zhejiang Province, Zhu happened to see some workers using the silkscreen block printing method to produce ad banners. Inspired by that, in 1984 he introduced the art technique to Songjiang to help local farmers express their life styles.
The art form, which uses sensitive papers to produce negatives and a tailored machine to produce silkscreen blocks, differs from ordinary Chinese farm painting in that subtle patterns formed through paints filtered through a silkscreen are reflected on the final works.
Along with his colleague Zhou Hongsheng, Zhu launched silkscreen block printing classes in rural areas in Songjiang, including the Tianma Hill area, Yexie Town and Huayangqiao Village.
"Master Zhu, a teacher to whom I am greatly indebted, used to ride his bicycle from his home near Xinlin Temple in downtown Songjiang to the training center in Huayangqiao Village. At that time, the road was a rugged pebble-paved one. As farmers, we had to work in the day time, so the classes were always set in the evening," said Qian Bingrong, a folk artist who was among Zhu's first students. Zhu also helped him launch China's first farm painting exhibition in Qian's farm house.
As the local art form began to prosper, Zhu was also selected as chief of the cultural center. However, he quit his position and chose to become an art teacher at the Songjiang Normal School.
Lu Yongqing, a 1988 graduate of the school, said he previously attended Zhu's silkscreen block printing class every Wednesday for six months even though he had already graduated from the school. Lu is now chief of the silkscreen block printing studio of Songjiang Cultural Center.
"A lady from Wenzhou City of neighboring Zhejiang Province, one of Master Zhu's students at the normal school, phoned me one day and asked whether she and 20 or 30 of Zhu's previous students at the school could visit the studio and do some printing. Though I apologized to her due to the limited space in the studio, I was deeply moved that Master Zhu's efforts could so everlastingly play a positive role on so many people in their artistic endeavors," said Lu.
After he retired from the normal school, Zhu continued his artistic pursuits by devoting himself to bookplate printing, an art form he managed to practice with limited facilities in his house.
His health deteriorated after his beloved wife passed away several years ago. One month before he passed away in September, Zhu was still sketching in a convalescent home.
"Master Zhu once told me he didn't care about his fame as an initiator of Songjiang silkscreen block printing. He said 'I am a painter. I treat each day of my life as my last day, and feel I'm left with so little time for painting,'" Lu recalled.