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  Chinese Way>Life

Luo Zhongli: Capturing Rural Life on Canvas

2013-01-09 09:33:16


Famous contemporary oil painter Luo Zhongli is perhaps best known for his masterpiece Father. In it, the sun baked face of a Chinese peasant, delineated with realism and painstaking clarity, dominates the canvas. This iconic piece won Luo top prize at the Second National Youth Arts Exhibition in 1980 and has become a milestone of contemporary Chinese portrait painting.

Luo Zhongli’s Father, a large oil painting themed on Chinese peasants.

This year one of Luo’s more recent works, painted in 1997, fetched RMB 4.6 million at China Guardian’s spring auction. Mother and Son depicts a full figured mother and her son bathing by a river in a green and fertile valley. Luo has presented a moment of intimacy to his audience, with the potbellied child lying prone on his mother’s knee as she pours water over his hair. The style is more impressionistic than his earlier piece, but the same sense of immediacy remains.

Born on the outskirts of Chongqing in 1948, Luo has a deep affection for rural China and its residents, which have remained a major theme in his body of work. After graduating from the affiliated middle school of Sichuan Fine Arts Institute in 1968, Luo moved away to work in a steel factory in a mountainous area for 10 years. In 1978 he took the first national college entrance exam after the destructive years of the “cultural revolution,” and was enrolled by the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute, where he stayed as a teacher after graduation. In 1983 he got an opportunity to study at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp in Belgium. He later returned to the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute, where he now holds the position of president.

Luo was still a student at the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute when he created Father in 1980. The typical face of a Chinese peasant that he depicted in a photorealistic approach has deeply moved Chinese people over the years. Luo painted this “father” with relentless accuracy, showing every characteristic in sharp relief, including the chapped lips and deep wrinkles on the subject’s swarthy face. You can even make out the veins that protrude from his forehead and rough hands. The painting now resides in the collection of the National Art Museum of China, which is considered a great honor to painters young and old.

The dimensions of Father, 2.8 m by 1.78 m, is significant. “At that time, artists would normally only paint celebrities such as state leaders on that large a scale,” Luo said. “But I dedicated that space to a farmer, symbolizing the commencement of the time of people.” However, in the early years of the opening-up and reform old values and aesthetics still held strong, and politics overshadowed every aspect of society. Critics were sensitive about the depiction of China, and some accused Father of neglecting the progress in the lives of Chinese peasants after the founding of the RPC. Under pressure, Luo added a ballpoint pen pushed into the peasant’s headdress above his left ear to add a suggestion of economic advance.

In the 1980s, two of Luo’s other paintings, Spring Silkworms and Praying , were also awarded national prizes. Like Father, the two pieces are photorealistic depictions of Chinese peasants and traditional Chinese rural social and cultural life. Spring Silkworms shows an old woman feeding silkworms in a flat basket. Luo considers the piece as the companion piece to Father , as the two together show the traditional Chinese agricultural images of men working in the fields and women weaving. Praying depicts an old woman, with her eyes closed, burning incense and praying devoutly. Her wrinkled face and rough hands suggest that she has endured much hardship but her peaceful facial expression shows that she has borne hardships humbly, putting her faith in God to guarantee the safety, peace and harmony of her family.

Luo Zhongli is a productive painter and his paintings have been popular on the auction market. His Kid besides a Countryside House created in 1989 sold for RMB 38,000 at Christie’s spring auction in Hong Kong, which was mere pocket change compared to what some of his other pieces are valued at. Today, the estimated market price of Spring Silkworms is about RMB 80 million, and in 2007 Crossing the River was hammered out at RMB 17.6 million, the highest price any of his paintings have achieved to date.

By the end of August 2011, 784 of Luo’s pieces had been put on the auction market, 581 of which fetched a total of RMB 422 million. Few painters have achieved such popularity among China’s art collectors. Moreover, Luo’s works have been collected by many art institutes, including the National Art Museum of China, Shanghai Art Museum, Harvard University, Singapore Art Museum and the National History Museum in Belgium, enabling people the world over to enjoy his vision.

Source: China Today