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More Pertinent than Picasso


Picasso, eat your heart out!

The largest exhibition by the larger-than-life Spanish Cubist on the Chinese mainland lured nearly 300,000 viewers to the China Pavilion at the Shanghai World Expo site for three months, ending on Jan 10.

But 200,000 more visited the latest retrospective solo show of Han Meilin - the Fuwa designer, who is hailed as the "Picasso of China" - in the 45 days ending on Feb 9 at Beijing's National Museum of China.

The museum's vice-director and exhibition curator Chen Lusheng believes: "Han's art is much easier for local audiences to appreciate and relate to, because it's deeply rooted in tradition and seasoned with modern elements."

Another component of its powerful appeal is the diversity of genres and media.

The show that displays Han's six-decade career is the biggest for a living artist's works in the museum's 100-year history.

The five-part exhibition presents more than 3,200 works in a nearly 6,000-square-meter exhibition area.

The 75-year-old's works cover a variety of media - ink paintings, calligraphic works, sculptures, ceramics and graphic designs. He has also created woodcarvings, bronze weapons, paper-cuts, cloth wall hangings and painted cloth tigers. In addition, there's the People's Liberation Army's uniforms and the interior designs of Air China's new airplanes.

"(But) the exhibition reveals only some of my creations," Han told the museum's overcrowded auditorium on Feb 2.

The museum arranged film screenings, lectures and academic seminars to help viewers better understand Han's life and art.

It distributed at least 5,000 pamphlets about Han and his work every day of the show. It also gave out postcards printed with his works to visiting children.

Visitor Zhang Hanbing says seeing the exhibitions was "overwhelming". "I can't imagine how much energy the artist put in," the Shandong province native says.

Hong Xing, a photographer and travel writer in Beijing, visited twice with her 9-year-old daughter, who is studying painting.

"It's definitely a great primer for people who love art," she says.

Wang Yufen, a retiree who went three times in her wheelchair, wrote in the visitor's notebook about her admiration of Han's strong will to overcome illness and age to continue his artistic pursuits.

"Han has taught me a lesson," she wrote. "Age is not a question. Disease is not horrible. The spirit within is the key to success elderly folks can also make every passing day meaningful."

Han suffered during the political maelstroms of the 1950s and '60s, and endured several chronic ailments for decades. He underwent critical surgery because of heart disease five years ago and considers himself lucky to have survived.

And Han regards the exhibition as a new beginning for - rather than a summary of - his artistic journey.

"Han has long been a phenomenon, who cannot be ignored by the art world," vice-chairman of China Federation of the Literary and Arts Circles Feng Yuan said at Han's Feb 8 seminar.

"He's rarely rivaled for his prolific and versatile creations. More importantly, he's an artist with a passion for Chinese traditions, while his works have won the hearts of art enthusiasts from around the world."

Myriad elements, media and genres define Han Meilin's legacy. But he says his spirit and love of life is his main source of creativity.

Han learned much from his time experiencing people's suffering at the grassroots level, he says.

But he insists: "All of my artistic creations focus on the bright side of human nature and the most beautiful moments experienced by wildlife. In short, I want to give viewers joy and hope in their lives."

By Zhu Linyong