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Wu Penghui: A Portrait of a Painter

冯发轫 2018-08-14 13:58

Wu Penghui learnt to paint by himself. Twenty years ago, when he started to write, no one taught him either. For him, many things are unteachable. He has a self-described “big head”, two “slim arms” and two “slimmer legs”. His hair is so hard and stiff that it looks like the hair sits on his head, and in sunshine, it reflects a rainbow of colours. Besides, a few bunches of hair stand on his head, according to Lihongqi, another fellow artist. And to Li, Wu Penghui is a great young guy. 

It takes a 40-minute ride to get to Wu’s studio in Shunyi District from 798 ArtDist. Surrounded by farmlands and factories, the studio decorated with cold colour hides silently in a corner. Stepping inside, paintings are piled everywhere, on the wall or piled up on the floor. And I realize it is the summer of Beijing and it is Xiao Wu’s summer. 

Wu is as eloquent as he is evasive, even to the point of stubbornness. 



He is like a hard rock under the bottom of the lake, with no intention to move anywhere despite water rushing by. 

As I try to dig a hole and find a way to explore his inner world, as is my usual sequence when interviewing artists, and I indeed defined him as an artist first. But my attempts were denied. Instead, Peng reverts back to listing names of renowned painters: Dürer, Rembrandt, Rubens, Freud, Bacon, Mao Yan, steering the discussion back to paintings. In Wu’s eyes, he is not responsible for dealing with the issues of being an artist, only to solve the problems of creating. “There are too many questions out there, I don’t want to extend the list.” 


Wu was destined to be a painter but not an artist the first time he picked up a brush. “After two decades of looking and reading, I began to realise what I actually wanted: to create with colours, abiding by the philosophy of painting and laying down the burden of creativity. He knows now that nature is a lot more complicated than our first view of it. 

Now I see much further than before. I just paint the way painters should do, adding personal understanding and thoughts to it. That’s all. People are reminded of Cézanne when they see my first pastel painting. I’m not ashamed of it. Isn’t it a good thing to be like Cézanne?” 



VANTAGE: What does painting mean to you? More freedom or more limits? 

Wu: For many artists, art means little freedom. Look at Freud. He painted painfully. How could art be free for him? He sacrificed a lot and devoted his entire life to painting the sole mission. It is the loss of freedom. 


VANTAGE: Most of your works are landscapes. Why you are so fond of landscapes? 

Wu: I think it’s a naturally selection for me. Many painters are eager to direct to a subject, but for me I don’t like elements of narration. Take traditional Chinese paintings for example, landscapes are often interrupted by people walking, which I think are unnecessary and weaken the overall effect. 


VANTAGE: What does nature mean to you other than subject of painting. Is there any deeper meaning, for instance showing the spirits of painters in traditional Chinese paintings? 

Wu: John Berger said that painters choose forests in which reside their minds. It doesn’t work on me, though. I like sketching, and colours, and then I paint landscapes. Even a pile of garbage, as long as it’s rich in colour and has something attractive, I would paint it on canvas.

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