My recent interview with a great Chinese artist Guan Weixing.
Dear Mr. Weixing,
Dear Mr. Weixing,
first I would like to express my deep admiration of your Art. I have been enchanted by your perfectness in watercolor since quite some time. Now I have a chance to share this treasure with my readers in Russia and abroad. I am so grateful that you agreed to answer my questions.
Mr. Weixing, would you consider your art approach more western or traditional Chinese painting? Can you explain your vision of the transition of the western and traditional watercolor painting?
I think my art approach goes to the west, because the language of watercolor art is originated from the west. Only the pure western language can be easily understood and accepted by the western audience. Just as the title of an American report says,”Chinese artist Guan doesn’t speak English, but his works does.” However, as an artist bleeding the blood of the Chinese nation, it is natural for me to merge the Chinese traditional painting idea into the watercolor art. In a word, the approach is western while the emotion is Chinese. The works has a strong flavor of rural life, and has become a unique art different from others in the world.To be honest, the outcome is the natural result of a powerful synthesis of cross reference, but not the simple mixing or splicing. In that case, that will lead to neither fish nor fowl.
You are director of China Fine Arts Association, vice president of Chinese Watercolor Association, juror of National Watercolor Exhibition. It should take a lot of time and responsibility. You still keep on painting a lot. How you can find time to be so productive?
As a popular artist, we have to take a lot of responsibility, and of course it will take a lot of time. However, time is mere elastic and it can be squeezed. If you neglect it, it will fly away from you; if you catch it, it will help you succeed. For example, there are 52 weeks a year and you will have two days to rest, you will lose around 100 days. If you make good use of them, you can enjoy another season of time. For almost 30 year I have never rested. Then I have got those works today. By the way, we can have rest and exercise to change during the creation work. Sometimes I can play some easy computer games.
Most of your models are sim ple Chinese people. There is a big variety types. Where do you find them? Do you paint them in your studio or while you are travelling?
Yes, they are just common people, therefore I have to go to their life to look for them, understand them, find their inner world of feelings and inner beauty. To be honest, nowadays, the life pace is fast and doing drawing is impossible on the spot. Therefore, taking a quick picture becomes the main means of gathering figure materials. When I get back to my studio, I will look through them one by one. Then through their features and characteristics, we can express our feelings inside.
Take “Widower” for example. The person is an ordinary farmer. I know nothing about his story. He may not be a widower. But his particular glaring reminds me of the familiar middle-aged men, married or unmarried in the village where I spent my childhood. In their eyes always flashed some peculiar looks, showing an unnamed desire. So, I used the look in the quick picture to express this kind of people well known by me for a long time. I joined them together and created the” Widower” in my heart.All in all, only when I am excited about subject do I begin to put efforts into it. I won’t start without my excitement.
What generally inspire you as an artist?
Love of nature, love of us human beings and love of life.
Do you have a daily routine or every of your day is different? Can youdescribe one of the most typical of your days?
Generally speaking,I have two routines: in the studio and outside. To work in the studio takes the largest part.
In the studio(kind of fixed):
Get up, exercise and breakfast
8:00 start to work in the studio, make good use of the natural light to paint.
12:00 lunch, then nooning (essential)
14:00 go on with the creating
17:30 come to an end
In the evening I no longer painting, but prepare the material, watch TV, surf the internet, and sometimes answer people’s questions online.
First you were studying the oil painting. How did it happen that you changed it to watercolor media?
I started oil painting but watercolor is my first love. It is the quality of the watercolor medium that makes me realize that it can offer more than just a tool for field sketches. Just like other media, it can produce great works, especially watercolor figures, sometimes so ravishing and fascinating of peculiar impression that no other media can show. Take “Village woman” by a Romanian artist. The way is skillful and baptized, without any letup. The colors are of incredible richness and luminosity, just like a brilliant glittering precious stone. “ Portrait de Sofia Loukomskaya”, by Russian artist Valentin Serov, used various ways such as wet-in-wet, wet-on-dry, lifting out, scumbling and so on. And it has a variety of color layers with rich connotations and lasting appeal, charming and beautiful, just like a defectless gem. “Our Daily Bread” by Swedish artist Anders Zorn is of precise and stable construction and with lots of exquisite colors, so perfect, just like an impregnable fortress ( as the peak of perfection). “The Bathing Woman on the Beach”by English artist William Russell Flint is so skillful with water that the sea looks so vast, so soft and so refreshing. “The Drifter”, by American artist Andrew Wyeth, forms stable shape and fashion, just like a sculpture with melancholy from innermost. Anybody cannot help feeling moved about it. These works with universal praise display quality of watercolor, no others. The feelings, the elegancy and the charm are peculiar to watercolor. And the florid colors, radiant and enchanting light, the impressive flavor, the degage brushstrokes, and the water free from inhibition, like moving poems, surge the viewers’ hearts.Besides, the field belongs to the brave, because of the extreme and mysterious hardship and the lower rates of success. I enjoy the challenge. It is appealing. I want to prove to the world it is not fair to regard watercolor as a pleasant pastime on a level with flower arranging. I want to see what watercolor can do in inventive and creative ways. If the special expressive force can be fully mastered, it will certainly add to the art garden, and add an unusual beauty to man, and the painter will enjoy a lot from the work.
Can you tell the main rules of watercolor painting?
Generally speaking, only the capable oil artists can be competent for watercolor. It means it is also essential to have the qualifications of an oil artist. It shows in many aspects watercolor is more difficult than oil. The key is that water, the soul of watercolor, likes to do its own, and flow freely without being compelled. No exaggeration, nobody can control it completely to paint his intention. Besides, the plastic manner of watercolor is different from other paintings’. It uses transparent colors, shaping by successive layers of colors, and upper layers without blotting out the lower ones. Therefore there are two difficulties: the first one is that if you want to use a lot of water, you will not get the precise form and structure, whereas if you use less water, the work is easy to result in dead and dull though with precise form and structure. In one word, being too precise may lead to dead and dull while being too free may lead to empty. The second one is that it cannot be corrected or changed. For example, red cannot be changed into green. In this aspect, it is easy for other media to make use of overlaying. In one word, texture of skin and clothing or vegetation is harder to achieve in watercolor than oil.
Transparency and difficulty are the main rules.
You prefer natural color pigments, sometimes almost monochrome. Is there some special color theory that you have ?
I have no special color theory. Following are my principles.
All the secret of color lies in “contrast harmony”. Specifically, that is “to get color harmony by means of contrast of warm and cold colors”
Warm and cold is the life of color. Colors can sing and come to life through the rich and delicate contrast of warm and cold ones. Otherwise, the work will certainly become warm or cold color and lose its life. Just like the single note in music, it’s dull and lifeless.
Harmony is the sublimation of color. Without harmony, even the richest warm and cold contrast will become a messy massive of different pigments. Just like some high and low notes without a rhythm, it is worthless.
What is more important for you - color or tonal value?
Natural and messy colors are so easy to tell, but the more important is the tone (tonal value) which can express harmony, excellence and emotions, which only the artists can work out.
You are equally perfect in every subject of painting whether it is a portrait, a landscape or a multifigural composition. Do you have a favorite subject?
Peasants. Because I was born into a peasant family. I love their simple looking, goodness, wisdom, and refined way of speaking. From the bottom of my heart I am eager to express them.
Your works look so perfect in technique and emotion. Do you have a definite plan in your mind when you start painting?
Before you pick up your brush, it is very important to think it over. We should learn to house our inspiration and passion in our careful thinking. We should do it in a calm and orderly way, and let your passion run out step by step. We mustn’t take for granted that we can lay about in a disorderly way. In this, watercolor painting is quite different from oil painting. All in all, we must be bold and careful and try to control the painting in any case.
There is so much to think about, and each work is different, but the following are in common.
What is the theme and intention of the work? What moves you most? That is what you will finally reach.
Decide the tone, warm or cold, vigorous or tranquil.
Composition of cold and warm blocks.
Distribution of dry or wet areas.
Which parts should be done only once? Which parts need to be overlaid times? And which parts should remain the most fragile details?
When you know fairly well about it, you can go ahead with the step-by-step procedure.
You use some masking fluid in very tiny objects. Does it mean that before you start painting you have the whole plan of work in your mind?
Excellent details are precious. They will bring profound connotation and graceful artistic quality. Therefore before we pick up the brushes, we have to take them seriously and have the whole picture in our mind with every detail.
Do you wet the whole paper or only the parts you are working on?
Besides wetting the whole paper while framing, I am used to wetting the part I’m working on.
Do you prefer to make a painting in one go or you can make a few approaches to finish a work?
I cannot complete a great painting in one go. I have to work it out using different approaches layer on layer. Only in this way can I make the work expressive, of great artistic value and full of abundant connotation. But the artistic feeling of painting in one go is valuable. If you can express the fluency in one go with the technique of layer on layer, that will be terrific!
If the work goes wrong (does it happen sometimes?) would you leave it for later to see if there is something still to be done?
It is frequent to go wrong, and it is not avoidable. I am often in a terrible fix. To stay calm is what we most need at that moment. I will leave it aside, examine it now and then, think about the way to improve it. Once I get the idea, I will go on with it. In my opinion, during the course of painting, even the work I think ideal can be left aside for some time. Perhaps I can benefit a lot more from it.
Do you believe that watercolor can be corrected?
Absolutely! To be frank, in some way, good paintings are all “corrected”. Each progress, big or small, is made after “correcting on the former stage”. I am really desirous to finish one without any “correct”, but I can’t. It is too difficult. This is watercolor.
What is in your opinion the direction of development of Chinese Art? Is there any danger that it might loose original routs?
These years, Chinese watercolor has been developing very rapidly, and I think it will go along with the world’s trends. It is certain to have adverse impact on the Chinese traditional painting, but we’ll not lose it, because what is accumulated of the national culture in the long history is bred-in-the-bone.
Do you have any message for your Russian fans?
Making friends by paintings. So many fans make friends with me by understanding my works. Many of them are moved to tears. As an artist, nothing can be happier. However, there is a special meaning to communicate with the Russian fans. In the early years at college, I studied Russian painting. Maybe you can still find some influence in my works. Nowadays, some Russian fans promote my works in their websites, e.g. http://www.lookatme.ru/flows/iskusstvo/posts/25053-master-guan-weixing Here I’d like to express my gratitude. Today, through this interview, I can answer some of your questions. These are all very good ways to communicate. The friendship by the way of art will be treasured in our heart. May we work together to make the watercolor world more beautiful and brilliant.