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Traditional art - contemporary issues

[ 2010-08-13 10:20]     字号 [] [] []  
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Ji Yunfei's latest exhibit at the James Cohen Gallery in Shanghai features a new series of paintings on Badong, a county in Hubei province near the Three Gorges Dam.

One of the most important pieces is a Chinese watercolor scroll, 3.14-meter long, presenting a panoramic scene of life near the Three Gorges Dam before villages were flooded to make way for the project. Ji made the painting into woodprints, and one of the 108 copies of the print is on exhibit at the gallery.

Even though he began painting images of the Three Gorges Dam years before he actually went to Hubei province, the artist, who has lived in New York since the mid-1980s, was surprised to see things were so different from what he imagined.

This latest exhibit presents a new angle of art by juxtaposing modern themes and contemporary issues with traditional Chinese art.

Born in 1963, Ji enrolled at the Central Art Academy when he was only 15. Bored with systematic training while studying painting in college, the young rebellious student discovered the work of Picasso and Chinese masters like Chen Laolian, who lived in the 16th century.

"That was really great art, and Chen Laolian was so modern," Ji said, recalling his excitement after discovering Chen's work.

Ji's skills in line drawing excelled and, as traditional Chinese art became popular again, he turned away from Western oil painting to Chinese ink art.

In 1986 he moved to the United States and lived in New York City, but couldn't find inspiration.

"For quite a long time, I couldn't produce anything that I was satisfied with," he said.

Emerging from his slump and lack of inspiration, he started to paint contemporary issues using traditional Chinese ink art. The sharp contrast of his subjects and his painting style was a refreshing change for art enthusiasts.

In the late 1990s, he started to work on the Three Gorges Dam, reading about the dam project and its great impact. It wasn't until 2002 he had the opportunity to visit the area.

Ji remembers the bus trip vividly, with winding roads and cliffs, and passengers too busy smoking and watching movies to notice the spectacular views outside.

He went around the reestablished villages in Yichang and chatted with the villagers, asking them where they were from. "Then I'd go to check out the old village on a map. Sometimes it just disappeared from the map," Ji said.

He was angered and disheartened that these small villages were virtually erased from China's memory.

Ji said talking with the villagers changed his understanding of the issue.

He has also been inspired by the people's resourceful and creative nature.

Presenting his impressions from journeys to the area, his new exhibit beautifully uses traditional Chinese ink art aesthetics to depict modern issues.


(中国日报网英语点津 Helen 编辑)

Traditional art - contemporary issues

About the broadcaster:

Traditional art - contemporary issues

Nelly Min is an editor at China Daily with more than 10 years of experience as a newspaper editor and photographer. She has worked at major newspapers in the U.S., including the Los Angeles Times and the Detroit Free Press. She is fluent in Korean and has a 2-year-old son.