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Beijing show pays tribute to print artist

Time:2019-09-03   Source:China Daily

Wu Shi's 1957 print, Accomplishment, is on show.[Photo provided to China Daily]

At the opening of a Beijing exhibition dedicated to late print artist Wu Shi (1912-98) in 2011, noted author and scholar Shu Yi said Wu Shi's works show an admiration for Qi Baishi, the modern master of classic Chinese art. It was from Qi that Wu Shi inherited the core value of xieyi, a style of drawing the spirit of subjects and privileging the spontaneity of the lines.

Shu also said that Wu Shi was deeply influenced by German artist Kaethe Kollwitz (1867-1945), whose prints advocated care for those in destitution, starvation and the working class.

Kollwitz's works were introduced to China in the early 20th century by Lu Xun, the prominent writer who loved her work very much. He passionately promoted Kollwitz's art to young Chinese artists like Wu Shi, who were inspired to create works concerning social problems and voicing the issues of underprivileged communities.

A visitor takes pictures of Wu Shi's work at the ongoing exhibition.[Photo by Jiang Dong/China Daily]

Shu's comments on Wu Shi well summarized his art, which the artist used to address the needs of his country and its people.

Wu Shi's family recently donated more than 100 pieces from his oeuvre to the National Museum of China. And they are on show at the exhibition, Flames of Art, at the museum through Oct 13.

Wu Shi, who was born with the name Feng Zishu in Hunan province, received formal training in art in Shanghai in the early 1930s. In 1943, he joined the New Fourth Army, which was led by the Communist Party of China. As he fought for his nation, he created prints to show the livelihoods of the people and to encourage them.

He produced a body of work in the 1930s and '40s that encouraged people to stand up to the Japanese invaders and to fight for national independence.

Wu Shi's print work To Fight, done in 1940, is on show.[Photo provided to China Daily]

"Wu Shi worked as an editor at several newspapers during the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1931-45). He published in these newspapers many prints themed on the resistance," says Zheng Yan, curator of the National Museum of China.

"The original pieces were lost, but we were able to find copies, so the audience can get a comprehensive picture of Wu Shi's work during the war," she says.

In the decades after the founding of New China in 1949, Wu Shi turned his attention to depicting a panoramic view of social and industrial construction across the country, and some of his works have become iconic pieces of 20th-century Chinese art.

Two such prints on show are Harvest, which portrays a lively landscape of people resting in an extensive field of wheat, and Accomplishment, which depicts the construction of a bridge.

[Photo by Jiang Dong/China Daily]

Wu Shi taught at the Hubei Institute of Fine Arts in Wuhan after retiring from army. He revisited villages in which he'd once lived as a soldier. There, he used art to showcase the settlements and landscapes-this time, in the form of Chinese ink paintings. Dozens of these pieces are also on show at the National Museum of Art exhibition.

Zheng the curator says the character shi, meaning stone in Chinese, from Wu Shi's name perfectly demonstrates his attitude toward art.

"He came from the village where Qi Baishi lived and said that, as a child, he often watched Qi painting. He chose shi for his name from Qi's name to show his respect for him," she says.

"Also, the character indicates a fighting spirit and integrity, both of which he embraced throughout his life."