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OF TRADITION: Shao Yixuan (1886-1954), Zeng Xiaojun (born 1954)
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Shao Yixuan (1886-1954), who spent most of his life as a well known journalist and artist in Beijing in the first half of the 20th century, and Zeng Xiaojun (b. 1954), living and working in 21st century Beijing, are separated by generations but linked by the 2000 year uninterrupted tradition of Chinese painting. Just as the tradition of Chinese painting remains steadfast in the face of a contemporary world that threatens it with oblivion, so too do these two artists find in it a common technical approach and the most perfect expression of their own resolute spiritual attitudes. The exhibition that is displayed at the gallery location and at the International Asian Art Fair on Park Avenue consists of forty paintings evenly divided between the two artists. These paintings use traditional materials for Chinese painting, ink and color on paper, with fine brushwork as the standard of quality. Several paintings are of monumental size.

Four Friends, 52 x 13 1/4 in. Mountain Landscape, 81 x 30 1/4 in. Farmyard, 70 x 27 1/2 in.
Four Friends. Ink and color on paper, 52 x 13 1/4 in. Worry-free old man. Shao Yixuan paints the flower (upper right), Study after Bada. Zhang Daqian (lower right), Qi Baishi paints the banana (upper left), Xiao Sun (lower left). Mountain Landscape, 1953. Ink and color on paper, 81 x 30 1/4 in. The famous mountains and rivers seem far distant. We only want to meet in the deep clouds. Summer, Shao Yixuan at 68 years old. Farmyard. Ink and color on paper, 70 x 27 1/2 in. Shao Yixuan paints.
Shao Yixuan was born in eastern Zhejiang province in 1886 and spent most of his life as a journalist and artist in Beijing. Although not widely known today, in the first half of the 20th century, Shao was recognized as one of the most important and influential artists of his time. He was a close friend to his contemporaries, Qi Baishi (1864-1957), Huang Binhong (1865-1955), Chen Banding (1876-1970), Wang Mengbai (1888-1934), Pu Ru (1896-1963), Xiao Sun (1883-1944), Yu Shaosong (1882-1949), Yu Feian (1889-1959), and Chang Dai-chien (1899-1983). This group of brilliant artists surrounding Shao, a kind of Beijing painting salon, shared intellectual and artistic pursuits and collaborated on paintings. The high quality of the cooperative paintings they created reflects the compatibility of their intellect and talent.

Tremendously influenced by the work of the great 17th century painter, Shitao, Shao Yixuan demonstrates a complete mastery of ancient brushwork techniques from which he creates a distinctive personal style. Indeed, the consummate Qi Baishi was inspired by Shao’s approach to paint, like Shao, the graceful and flowing form of the catfish. Also, Shao shows an astonishing gift in his ability to paint monumental landscapes as high as seven or eight feet, as well as small delicate insect and flower paintings. Probably no other modern master, aside from Chang Dai-chien, has his ability to paint so great a variety of sizes and subjects with as great accomplishment. According to Chang Dai-chien, the technique of Fu Baoshi’s (1904-1965) mountain rocks and trees is derived from Shao, a fact of which few people are aware. Other artists who studied with Master Shao include Wang Yaoqing and Mei Lanfang (1894-1961), one of the most famous Beijing opera singers. Shao Yixuan’s son, Shao Shaoyi, studied with Qi Baishi, while his daughter, Shao Yuxuan, studied with Chang Dai-chien.

The paintings in this exhibition illustrate Shao Yixuan’s scope and development as an artist over a period of thirty years. They demonstrate Shao’s influence in the modern art world and his friendship with the other most important artists of modern China. Shao’s acceptance into the first rank of modern artists is proven by the acknowledgment of his peers. Many of the works in the collection carry colophons by Shao’s contemporaries and are magnificent examples of paintings by these famous artists working together. They are a record of a dialogue that took place among so many great artists and that must never be lost to history. Although Shao died in 1954, he may be celebrated today through the genius of his paintings.

Qin Qiguai, 53 x 127 in. Qin Qiguai
(The Four Trees of the Han Dynasty).
Ink and color
on paper,
53 x 127 in.
Zeng Xiaojun.
Zeng Xiaojun was born in Beijing in 1954, the year that Shao Yixuan passed away. Like the majority of his generation who grew up in the city, he was sent, during the Cultural Revolution, to work and live beside the peasants. The schooling he received was tightly monitored, and it was only self-motivation that enabled him to learn anything intellectually significant. By the time he was high school age, he decided he wanted to become an artist, but his studying had to be done in secret. In 1977, the central Art and Craft Academy became the first art school to open its doors to the public after ten years. Zeng, along with thousands of students, took the difficult examination and made applications. At that time, Zeng was working in a factory two hours outside Beijing. Despite the incredible odds, he was admitted to the Academy. There he studied both Chinese and Western art and had a private tutor for Chinese painting. In 1981, he graduated from the Academy and in1983 moved to America where his work was highly praised. He now divides his time between America and Beijing.

The first impression of Zeng Xiaojun’s painting is the vigorous and powerful presence of subterranean energy evinced solely through traditional Chinese calligraphic brushwork. The inspiration for his art is derived from the Song dynasty monumental landscapes, their reinterpretation in the seventeenth century, and their final reincarnation in the twentieth century painting of Huang Binhong. Zeng’s vision and his distinctly personal style arise from the enormous strength of this centuries-old literati tradition of refining the soul of the artist.

Created by layers of tightly controlled and soulfully sodden brushstrokes, Zeng’s landscapes breathe life and his tree studies transform into mystical worlds. Descriptions like idealistic, yearning, delicate, vulnerable and visionary float like notes from an Aeolian harp, stirred to life by his paintings. Zeng’s untrammeled brushwork, lacking in artifice or trickery, makes a significant contribution to the tradition of Chinese painting today. In addition, he maintains close ties to dancers, singers, artists, sculptors and writers currently living in Beijing, as did Shao Yixuan in the earlier part of the twentieth century. Judging by the Zeng Xiaojun’s accomplishments in creating works of art filled with spirit and life, the future of Chinese painting holds enormous promise for the future of tradition.

© 2005 Copyright for China 2000 Fine Art

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