From West Lake to Seine, the Unbroken National Root
Art Exchange VOL.02/2013|By Xiao Feng
Zhao Wuji Lectured in Training Class in 1985
Moonlight Random by Zhao Wuji
Landscape in Hangzhou by Zhao Wuji
Unknown by Zhao Wuji

  • Zhao Wuji Lectured in Training Class in 1985
  • Moonlight Random by Zhao Wuji
  • Landscape in Hangzhou by Zhao Wuji
  • Unknown by Zhao Wuji
   

Born in Beijing in 1921, Zhao Wuji grew up in Nantong City Jiangsu Province. After his entry into National Hangzhou Art College in 1935, he furthered his study under the guidance of many tutors such as Wu Dayu. In 1948, he moved to France and was engaged in his painting creation for a long time in Paris. In his 60th anniversary recollection exhibition held in National Art Museum of China in 1999, then French president Chirac particularly wrote the forward in praise of his art that has root in both China and France and absorbs varied essence from both cultures. In 2002, he was elected as Lifetime Member of Art Academy of Institute of France and conferred with Medal of Honor. As a famous contemporary artist, Zhao Wuji is the first Chinese artist that enters Western mainstream art history and a master with a significant influence on the world art circles. Regarded as a banner of Chinese arts in the world contemporary arts, he is strongly recommended and acclaimed by the global counterparts. Combining the contemporary painting style and color technique of oil painting from the West with traditional cultural connotation from China, he creates a different painting space with unexpected colors, momentum, rhythm and light and shadow, which is called representative of Western Contemporary Lyric Abstract School. On April 9 this year, Zhao Wuji passed away in Switzerland. 

In October 1983, as then President of Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts, I invited Mr. Zhao Wuji to hold an exhibition of his works in Hangzhou. This exhibition was greatly successful and the Chinese colleagues were all subdued by his abstract art in combination of the particular oriental implications and Chinese characteristics. Afterwards, we got the permission from the Bureau for External Relations of Ministry of Culture and invited Zhao to give lectures and hold the study group in his alma mater again after an elaborate organization. He gladly accepted it and told me, “When I studied at the academy, the conditions were harsh. I could get used to them. So, it is okay for me to stay at the academy instead of residing in the hotel this time”. 

We had planned to organize a small-scale study group within our academy. Unexpectedly, all the other academies across China vied with each other in expressing their wishes to send representatives to this group at this news. Moreover, France TV 2 also came along with Mr. Zhao and gave the full coverage of his lecture in his homeland. 

During the course of lecture of one month, Mr. Zhao shared his art ideas and practical skills that he had accumulated for half a century with students without any reservation. When students expressed their wishes to draw the foreign models with the tentative feelings, Zhao’s wife Francois volunteered, “I can be your model.” At that time, some students thought that the abstract art was just a bold act and its painting could be drawn at will. Mr. Zhao remarked humorously, “My dear students, this is my wife. I got married with her because of her beauty. If you painted her to be ugly, I would not choose her as my wife. The abstract art cannot be possible without the basics of shaping and beauty as well. It requires the proven basic skills, absolutely not the act of drawing at will.” Students benefited greatly from these words and later compiled a book entitled The Notes of Zhao Wuji’s Lectures in China. 

Mr. Zhao was very rigorous during the lecture while he established very good relationship with them after class. We headed students to visit all the ancient sites in Hangzhou. He recalled that he once drew paintings in a house by the West Lake. During his days in Hangzhou, he was very happy. Before his departure for France, he specially presented his draft of wash painting for Fragrant Hill Hotel to me, which I have still treasured so far. 

After Mr. Zhao returned to Paris, our communication still continued. Every year, he would send books and greeting cards to me and presented the best printing machine to the Department of Engraving. In his words, he would provide everything that the alma mater was in need of. 

A teacher of our academy once went to hold an exhibition in Paris International Art City. Mr. Zhao had waited for him at the exhibition hall an hour earlier. Zhao said, “The traffic of this hour was terrible. I worried that I might be late, so I came here just by subway instead of driving a car.” Every time we visited Paris, Mr. Zhao would cordially take us to visit his studio and share his ideas of creation with us. While we were walking along River Seine, he said emotionally, “I would never forget that I am an oriental artist during my life time. Chinese nation has a history of 5000 years with an extensive and profound culture. If we can absorb and digest them in a good way and try to integrate them with western art, new art forms will emerge. I could not forget those days in Hangzhou in my life. My art is not separated from the alma mater’s training for me and my art could not be severed from the root of Chinese nation”. 

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