ARTIST Wei Guangqing takes classic texts like "Sun-tzu and the Art of War" and "The Book of Family Names" and replaces the ancient words with catchy pop art for modern China, writes Wang Jie
The city of Wuhan, though not a magnet like Beijing and Shanghai in the Chinese contemporary art scene, is the cradle of some heavyweight artists.
Zeng Fanzhi and Fang Shaohua left the Hubei Province capital on the Yangtze River to pursue bigger art dreams. Today they are big names.
However, some artists, like Wei Guangqing, chose to stay put, working in a far less spectacular pond, where the pace is slower. Now he's a big name in Wuhan.
"I admit that big cities offer more opportunities and exposure to artists," he says, "but art itself is more important than place. I don't believe that place counts heavily in one's success."
Wei has been a pioneer in Wuhan's contemporary art scene. His painting exhibit "Old Scriptures" is underway at ShanghART Gallery at M50.
The exhibition gives Wei's take on Chinese moral classics like "The Zhu Family Instructions," "Sun-tzu and the Art of War" and "The Book of Family Names."
Wei takes these ancient illustrated books and replaces the original text with painting, while retaining the original illustrations and manipulating them with the flat pastiche technique of pop art.
Wei, born in Hubei Province in 1963, graduated from the oil painting department of the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts in 1985.
Gaining recognition through his "Red Wall" series, Wei was a pioneer in Wuhan's art scene.
"I like to live and work in this city (Wuhan), as I am not pushed," he says.
"Instead, I can slow down my pace to think about art."
In his "Red Wall" series, Wei fuses and juxtaposes ancient Chinese cultural symbols with modern Chinese or Western elements. The red walls, a Chinese icon, frame tableaux featuring Hong Kong and Hollywood movie stars.
This time the red wall becomes the patterned background on which Wei places the illustrations from the ancient book of morals titled "The Zhu Family Instructions."
The classic described a meritocracy of family ethics and culture and helped people understand ethics, decency and propriety. It was used by ancient philosopher Zhu Bolu to educate his children, teaching them to be content with their lot, to be diligent, thrifty, friendly and to respect elders. He used simple language.
"Today as China is in the process of globalization," Wei says, "few people would think of using the book to teach their children. I try to put the classic into modern time and context."
Wei takes a similar approach in his series "Sun-tzu and the Art of War" and "The Book of Family Names."
The 2006 "Art of War" series draws on the 2,500-year-old primer for military strategists, politicians and philosophers. It uses 13 woodblock prints from the ancient text, combined with Wei's visions of globalization and China's relations with the rest of the world.
"I prefer to 'dig out' my inspirations from the wisdom of our ancestors," says Wei. "I cannot help but marvel at their incredible achievements in philosophy, military affairs, politics and education."
The 2007 series "The Book of Family Names" tells the stories of the famous ancients with well-known family names. Bright-colored characters of modern family names are the background of traditional black and white prints.
"I seem to be a person shuttling through the time tunnel," Wei jokes, "but I like the feeling. In the flow of history and time, many things vary yet the core is unchanged."
Date: through April 8, 10am-7pm
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