This is a companion piece to ChengduLiving’s Portrait of a Chengdu Artist: Luo Fa Hui. Here I put together some excerpts from an interview back in October. Stay tuned next week for more Chengdu artist love, both here and at ChengduLiving.com
On China’s Future:
There’s hope. China’s is moving forward in a good direction, not moving inward like before. Now a lot of us have the opportunity to sit down with rich, powerful people. This is an historical trend, not something a political party can control, so that gives us a lot of hope. Slowly things are starting to change, slowly human rights and ideas are gaining respect. The level of freedom is rising and getting broader and broader. If I look at the changes of the past 30 years, at my own experiences of China then and now, there is no comparison.
On the impact of art on society
There is an impact, but different from that of the West. Those touched by art here are part of the elite. China uses a business standard (to judge the value and impact of art). China doesn’t have an art management system or a widely accepted set of standards. The “business standard” has influenced a lot of people, most people. The standard is often set by the auction. Contemporary art needs professional knowledge. A lot of people are missing a support system (that helps to understand and value art). We do not have a complete body of knowledge. Univeristy students are just listening to their teachers. Society is not a classroom. Our society must be a classroom, in order to establish enlightened trends.
On the Chinese education system:
If China is to have an enlightened and healthy education environment and society, I want it to develop indigenously. My child is young, I let him grow up naturally in this environment (荷塘月色, He Tang Yue Se outside of Chengdu). But as soon as you leave here, that natural environment disappears. Those in China who (raise their children in China then) send their children abroad, fail to provide a complete environment for their children. Some issues and problems are inescapable, you must face them.
On Chinese media:
Mainstream media has a large impact, artists are just a single point. The mainstream media has to help diffuse ideas. The moral character of today’s media has certain problems, they are heavily influenced by politics. They fail to let the public know about the current situation. The media should initiate cultural events to help increase the public’s cultural awareness. An artist like me can only do my own thing.
On Chengdu’s cultural environment:
A lot of cities are trying (to be as culturally aware as Chengdu), but they don’t have enough good artists. Of course, big cities like Beijing and Shanghai have large artist communities with a sizeable impact – they have galleries, art dealers etc. Few cities have such a large public interest and participation in the arts like Chengdu though.
Chengdu has a cultural background and a diverse cultural foundation. There is a strong level of communication among domestic and international artists here. The income disparity in Chengdu is also not as wide as in some other places, a lot of entertainment options here cross social boundaries. (Bosses and peasants both love to eat hot pot). Everyone goes to check out the exhibitions in the East Park. Chengdu is a migrant city; it can accept others easily. Xi’an for example, has a strong cultural background, but the potential for contemporary art there is low.
When you arrive in Chengdu you’ll feel that the people here are easy going. They have smiles on their faces. In the 1970s and 80s we drifted through a lot of cities and everyone’s expression was so serious. When we got back to Chengdu it seemed as if enveryone was having fun, everyone was happy.
Here I am an artist, but then I leave my home and sit with bosses and businessmen, I am nothing, but they respect me. To be respected as an individual artist and man of culture, this type of consciousness still exists in Chengdu. I like the fact that this still exists. In other cities, artists only hang out with artists. I have businessmen and officials in my circle of friends; they’re willing to sit with me and willing to be my friend. This is very valuable in today’s China. It’s enlightened, it’s natural. In other cities artists and businessmen can sit together, but there may be some other things going on, issues of benefit, not purely friendship.
In Chongqing, artists also only hang out with artists. If you put on an exhibition in Chongqing, there might not be much of a social impact. But in Chengdu, all members of the public will show up and sympathize with your work. This is ideal.
On the next step:
Here in Chengdu I will live and work. The future, ideally, will see me using up the rest of my years making good paintings. Anything else takes up too much time and energy, I am not interested. When you reach my age, one has a clear idea of what one should do – do that well and that’s enough. Outside things are uncontrollable, forget about them. Put your heart into finishing your work.
Photos by Jeff Weil.