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Painting with fire

Updated: 2012-10-09 10:27

A section of Riverside Scene at Qingming Festival


Zhang Yalian working on Riverside Scene at Qingming Festival

German-based painter Zhang Yalian has not had a day of professional art training. He didn’t go to art school or attend any arts classes.

Nonetheless, in recent years, his pyrographs (a genre that uses a heated object as a brush to paint on various materials such as paper and wooden boards) have been exhibited in Hanau Germany, and are celebrated by many local people; some even go to his house to purchase his works.

Zhang produces pictures burnt onto boards by using various types of soldering irons.

The subjects of his creative pyrography are generally Chinese features, such as the twelve signs of the Chinese zodiac; Zhong Kui, a figure of Chinese mythology who is regarded as a vanquisher of ghosts and evil beings; and even the famous painting Riverside Scene at Qingming Festival which has been called “China's Mona Lisa”.

“The Germans are quite interested in traditional Chinese elements,” Zhang said.

Sometimes he adds a little color to embellish the pyrograph. "Westerners are intrigued by color. You know, colors are often very strong in Western paintings.”

Once, his wife’s colleagues visited their house and were thrilled by his art works. They bought some pieces, and the praise of his artworks travelled by word of mouth, until a prominent cultural institution in the area became aware of his works.

They found him and asked if he could give a month-long exhibition of his paintings in their exhibition hall every year before Christmas. "I think it is good to promote Chinese culture, so I said OK”.

At the first exhibition in 2007, he hung a series of paintings featuring the twelve creatures of the Chinese zodiac, with only the title of each painting attached. He found that the audience paid only cursory attention to the works, their hurried glances failing to catch the meaning of his paintings.

“I thought to myself: this is not good enough. So I had my wife translate introductory texts and displayed them below the paintings - like the introductions to western constellations.”

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