Lacquer art's plasticity and inclusiveness

Xu Qin
An exhibition of Yin Chengzhong's lacquer art at the Putuo Art Museum features nearly 100 lacquer paintings and sculptures created over the past 40 years.
Xu Qin

An exhibition of Yin Chengzhong's lacquer art, featuring nearly 100 lacquer paintings and sculptures created over the past 40 years, is taking place this month at the Putuo Art Museum, a division of the Liu Haisu Art Museum.

Born in 1952, Yin was one of 13 students enrolled in the oil painting department of the China Academy of Art in 1977, the year after the country's political turmoil came to an end.

Recalling his experiences in lacquer painting at the opening of the exhibition, Yin said: "Maybe everyone would be curious as to why I am showing a lacquer art exhibition instead of an oil painting exhibition. In fact, good art is not decided by the media used by the artist.

"In lacquer painting, I use both lacquer and oil, as well as many other materials. I am obsessed with the plasticity of raw lacquer and its inclusiveness to be able to take in every other craft material from the inside out."

Chinese lacquer, along with Chinese ink, is among the few homegrown artistic media that were relatively untouched or influenced by an external source. Natural lacquer has many advantages. It lasts longer without flaking or chipping, and can remain fresh for years without changing colors.

According to Zhang Xiaoling, curator of the exhibition, Yin is not only a breaker of traditional lacquer craft, but also a pioneer of contemporary lacquer art.

In the process of his creations, he deliberately avoids using traditional craft materials such as gold, silver and mother-of-pearl.

Instead, he uses waste, such as shredded hemp, crushed tiles and sawdust, with lacquer on canvas, wood panels and even aluminum boards, which has redefined the art of lacquer by making it relevant to modern aesthetic sensibilities.

Yin's works are not limited to the meticulous portrayal of objects or in harsh and contrasting colors, but are good at abstracting simple shapes and direct forms of the subjects. He also borrows techniques from other forms of art, such as ink washing, woodcutting and printmaking.

"Combing simplicity and quality in artistic pursuit, the lacquer painting Yin advocates today is simple in image but rich in meaning," said Zhang. "His creative path is almost a condensed version of the development of lacquer art in China."

To Yin, lacquer is the best medium to connect traditional and contemporary art.

"The problems that painting is trying to solve today are very similar to that of the ancient times. The only difference is the education we uphold and the stance we take, and the materials and techniques we use," Yin said.

"Lacquer with its expressive charm that emanates from the depths of history is something that I cannot deny. I will keep doing the same, and I'll encourage my students to do the same."

Lacquer art's plasticity and inclusiveness
Ti Gong

Yin Chengzhong is a professor at East China Normal University's College of Fine Arts.

The Liu Haisu Art Museum is one of the few museums in the city named after an accomplished artist in modern art education in 20th century China.

To some factor of likeness, Yin's exhibition not only chronicles his works in each period throughout his career as an artist, but also marks his contribution – as professor at East China Normal University's College of Fine Arts – in making lacquer painting, once a secondary subject, an independent genre in contemporary art.

Exhibition info

Dates: Through October 31 (closed on Mondays), 9am-4pm

Venue: Putuo Art Museum

Address: 1869 Tongchuan Road

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