|Havoc in Heaven Artist: Guan Liang [Photo/ english.cguardian.com]
People are always questioning Guan Liang’s paintings: they look just like children’s work, why are they so valuable? Even some great writers applauded Guan Liang’s paintings, and some famous painters exchanged their works with him. The answer comes from the question itself. Guan Liang’s painting is valuable because it’s just like children’s work, with the innocent heart of an art addict.
Guan Liang (1900–1986), courtesy name Lianggong, was an important representative of the first generation of oil painters in China.
Guan Liang was born in Panyu, Guangdong province. In 1917 he went to Tokyo to study oil painting and violin, just for fun at the beginning. Guan Liang was fun-loving since he was a child. He adored Peking Opera and visited theaters when he was very young. It laid the foundation for his unique portrayal of Peking Opera figures.
After returning to China in 1922, he taught at the Shanghai Fine Arts School and the National Academy of Art in Hangzhou. In 1927 he joined the Northern Expedition against the northern warlords, and was in charge of arts and publicity for the Expedition army.
Although Guan began his career as an oil painter, he later focused on traditional Chinese ink wash painting featuring characters from Peking Operas. He is considered the first artist to introduce Western painting techniques to traditional ink wash painting and is known for his unique portrayal of Peking Opera figures. His representative works include Havoc in Heaven and Farewell to my Concubine, both scenes from traditional Peking Operas.
Characters in Guan’s paintings were based on Peking Operas, but are not stictly anatomical or follow the rules of perspective. His painting style is lifelike but unadorned and childish, to catch every nuance of expression in the characters.
Let’s have a look on Guan’s portrayals of Peking Opera figures, and the stories behind the paintings:
1. Havoc in Heaven
The story of Havoc in Heaven is based on the earliest chapters of the Ming Dynasty novel Journey to the West. The main character is Sun Wukong, also known as the Monkey King, who rebels against the Jade Emperor of heaven.