2008-04-11 11:52:08

Wu Guanzhong is a leading master in 20th-century Chinese painting. His distinctive painting style, having successfully assimilated Western techniques of abstraction, is both Chinese in outlook and modern in conception. An intellectual artist who has published many collections of essays and several dozen painting albums, Wu is one of the few Chinese artists to have established a reputation both in China and the West. In 1992 his paintings were exhibited at the British Museum, the first time such an honor has been accorded to a living Chinese artist. Wu was born in Yixing, Jiangsu Province, in 1919. In 1936 he enrolled at the National Arts Academy of Hangzhou, studying both Chinese and Western painting under Pan Tianshou (1897-1971) and Lin Fengmian (1900-1991). In 1947 Wu traveled to Paris to study at the Ecole Nationale Sup¨¦rieure des Beaux Arts on a government scholarship. He admired Utrillo, Braque, Matisse, Gauguin, C¨¦zanne and Picasso, but especially Van Gogh, to whose grave he made a special pilgrimage. Back in China in 1950, Wu began introducing Western art to his students at the Central Academy of Art in Beijing. But the Academy was dominated by Soviet social realism and he was branded "a fortress of bourgeois formalism". Refusing to conform to political dogma, he was transferred from one academy to another, painting in his own style. At the start of the Cultural Revolution in 1966, he was banned from painting, writing and teaching, and in 1970 was sent to Hebei province for hard labor. Later, traveling all over China, he found inspiration in the beauty of nature. Like Van Gogh he painted not just the form, but "with his feelings". Wu's paintings have the color sense and formal principles of Western paintings, but a spirit and tonal variations of ink that are typically Chinese. Natural scenery is reduced to its essentials - simple but powerful abstract forms. In rows of houses built along the contour of the hills, Wu discovers abstract patterns, the white houses with black roofs standing out against the soft grey tones of the mountains or water. In all his work, objective representation loses its importance, overtaken by the beauty of the abstract forms, lines, colors and subtle ink tones.