Xu Xi Paints the World -- From Broadway to Siberia
About Xu Xi
"People are wondering what future direction Chinese ink painting will follow.
How Chinese painters can break through from the bondage of traditional Chinese
paintings and add their own refinements to win world wide recongnition and
appreciation is a goal I am sure I share with most of Chinese painters working today."
-- Xu Xi
New York... The morning breeze, the neon-light-dressed skyskrapers, she is pretty.
The museums, the libraries, and the world-renowned universities, she is deep and cultural.
From point to point, New York is the center point that people coming from and going to
any corner of the world would have to make a stop over to, she is aloft. The constant
fast pace throughout the year and the forever jammed highways, she us busy and hard-working.
The symphonies, rock and roll concerts that people can hear from music halls, theaters
and playhouses at night, she is leisure. The Christmassy Time Square, holiday fire works
and parades, she is festive. The shocking poverty, the high crime rate and the seemingly
forever unresolved social problems, she is really shameful and sorrowful. With the Statue
of Liberty, symbolizing human rights and freedom...guarding the habor, she is steadfast.
New York...she is character that has a vast accumulation of attributes and complexities.
-- Li Shan
The preceding words express, with compassion and eloquence, an affinity for and
understanding of New York on wourld expect from a George Gershwin or a Damon Runyon.
Ironically, they were composed by a person who has lived in New York for only four years
-- Li Shan, a famous traditional painter born in Chin Tao in 1926-best friend and mentor
to the artist Xu Xi who, in an equally short residence here, has transcended the stark
reality of the cityscape into suites of paintings that glow with the touch of his teacher's
enlightenment, passed on from one world traveller to another. Without such sensitivity,
no matter how skilled the cratfsman, failure, or even worse, mediocrity, would be unavoidable.
From a pre-War apartment overlooking Brooklyn's Sunset Park where he resides,
by combing elements of East and West with his own personal need to be both original and
authentic, Xu Xi embraces the phiosophy of the Chinese poet who knew "Poetry is actually
everything but the poetry itself."
Balancing an emotional affinity for his subject matter with a virtuoso's technique and
the required discipline of a master, Xu Xi has gained a world wide following. Born in 1940
in Shaoxing in southeastern China, Xu Xi was trained for a career in the sciences. By the
age of twenty, however, he shifted to art and two years later graduated from the most
selective art school in the country (only one per cent of all applicants were admitted)
the Zhejian Institute with the school's highest honor. At 22, he published a bold woodcut
in the "People's Daily" newspapaer which was widely reprinted in China and beyond. With
this bit of fame for encouragement, Xu Xi continued his studies with trips to local
hospitals to better understand anatomy and, of course, many expeditions into the countryside
for field sketches. The wanderlust has remianed with Xu Xi to this day and his fearless
forays around the world have provided the artist with matterial for his life's work.
Before settling in New York, Xu Xi had been to the Alps, Northern Canada, "and even further
away, to Siberia, for my snow pieces. I had been to Hong Kong, Vienna and Chia Ling Kiang
for my theme of the night." While natural phenomen (as a yongman, Xu Xi was preparing for
a life in the natural sciences)--rain, snow and night are recurring motifs in his work--
Xu Xi has ventured to Tibet with the resulting collection of paintings revealing the depth
and universal feeling of the native inhabitants of that special land. In their first year
in America (Xu Xi arrived here in 1989) they have travelled the nation and his
paintings of a pastoral countryside contrast and complement his a well-known Manhattan scenes.
While there are successful artists who find a safe harbor and stay with it for the sake of
commerce--long-after any new concepts can be drawn from the subject-for Xu Xi it is not the
actural physical or subject matter that is critical to his work.
"How to creatively convey my spirits into my painting has long been my desire," wrote Xu
Xi in a recently published monograph. Though he speaks few English words, verbal
communication with Xu Xi transcends simple language. An endless flow of ideas from Xu Xi
are universally understandable--from an idea about a new painting to what to eat for lunch.
Fortunately, Hong Yu is fluent in English and able to convey her husband's deepest thoughts
to an interested party.
From his Brooklyn apartment, Xu Xi travels the world both physically (he is currently in
Hong Kong where his work, at the Sotheby's Acution House, is selling for top prices) and
ethereally, so that from his sketches and experiences, he can creat on rice papaer or canvas
what his soul desires--moving pictures of a fleeting moment caught in time. "Only when I
allow myself to walk in the pouring rain, can I then have my piece of rain done."
There have been thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of artists, who have sought to
immortalize a thought or moment on papaer, canvas, woodblock or cave wall. "We had seen
many paintings of green grass, streams and lakes before," remarks Mr. Lee. "But not until
Monet's masterpieces were the vivid liveliness of such scenes evident in art. We had seen
many forests, bushes and skies before. But only until Vincent van Gogh was the firing
inferno via his daring adoption of color brought into the picture. Whe we examine the
(Chinese) art history, there are only a few who stand out, who can hope to achieve what
van Gogh and Monet did as the great masters."
How Xu Xi and Li Shan --two men from the other side of the world--can not only adapt to,
but fall in love with, such a place, reveals much about what comprises a truly artistic
nature. While most of the millions born here do take the island somewhat for granted, to
Xu Xi and Li Shan, Manharttan becomes a livebeing--to Li Shan, Manhattan is "she"; to Xu
Xi, his paintings are "My Story of Manhattan."
Xu Xi's current collection of work is a wrap-up and a starting point for him. At the
height of his creative powers, Xu Xi paints the Hong Kong Harbor, an American field, a
snowy village, a South China town and the Li River with equal grace. A personal identity
is gleaned from traditional components, years of study and equal years of a rich cultural
life. Before immersing himself in painting Manhattan, Xu Xi and Hong Yu spent all their
spare time attending concerts, plays and art and ceramic exhibitions to "fan the flames of
my creativity." The two are constantly exchanging insights from the fields of music and
fine art, which not only inspire Xu Xi, but have interested Hong Yu in painting (she has
already had two successful exhibitions in New York).
Time will tell whether it is Xu Xi's destiny to find a niche in the history boods beside
the masters of the ages. Along the way, however, he is leaving strong imprint on the
contemporary art scene. With boundless energy, a fervent desire to acheive and a
sensitivity and knowledge that blends thousands of years of cultural tradition with the
instant history of the modern world, Xu Xi is at the vanguard of an artistic link between
an ancient culture and the age of sound bytes, color faxes and global warming. After a deep
look at his paintings, is this not a comforting thought?
About Xu Xi