Master of hand-painted silk Xu Qing

Xu Qing is painting the cover of a fan.

Xu Qing (续清), who was born in 1954, is recognized as one of the most accomplished traditional art masters in Beijing. Currently, she is a member of China Arts and Crafts Society and Beijing Arts and Crafts Society. Xu is especially famous for her hand-painted silk work, which has been designated as “intangible cultural heritage of China”. spoke to Madam Xu at her studio in Beijing Bai-gong-fang (京城百工坊).

Learn from the best

The 61-year-old master hails from an artistic family and started to learn traditional Chinese realistic painting from an early age. Her first teacher was her father, who was one of the disciples of the most successful Chinese painter Zhang Daqian and Tian Shiguang.

“There are some moments in your life which transform your future,” Xu said. “Both my father and I used to think I would not become an artist, since I was not the most talented kid when I was young. Ironically, my turning point came during the Cultural Revolution. Back then, the Gang of Four labeled intellectuals as the ‘stinking number nine’ and tortured them for 10 years. As a result, the Chinese literary and art industry was almost crushed. As a professional painter, my father’s career came to a standstill. During those hard times, the only meaningful task left for him was to teach me how to draw. His diligence, earnestness, carefulness and brilliance influenced me deeply and then I made up my mind to become a painter just like him.”

“I believe the only common denominator of success is hard work. I might not be the most gifted but was the most passionate student,’ Xu said. Guided by her father, after 10 years of practice, Xu finally made great progress in Chinese realistic painting.

Creativity based on knowledge

After the reform and opening up of China in the 1970s, as the economy recovered, literature and art industry greeted a favorable turn in the 1980s. Many writers and artists with creative power emerged during this period. Xu is among the most successful of them.

The master soon realized that the only way to promote traditional art like Chinese realistic painting at that stage was through innovation. “Creation should not be highfalutin art-about-art. Creative expressions must be based on solid foundation of profound knowledge, she said. With her father’s inspiration, Xu started to draw on Chinese silk and crafts, which significantly increased the portability and flexibility of traditional Chinese ink and wash.

Different textures of material have different features, which made the process more difficult. After countless attempts, Xu and her father finally developed their own method to stabilize the color on the fabric. Their works were well received by the market, and especially endeared by the westerners. Xu’s art was highly acclaimed as“brush embroidery” because her works better revealed the exquisite characteristics of Chinese realistic painting.

One of Xu Qing's paintings

Promoting Chinese traditional art

Xu achieved big success and gained instant fame in the industry with media spotlight, including interviews by CCTV. Pictorial coverage of Xu’s work was carried by the Xinhua News Agency, China News Agency and Beijing International Press Center of BOCOG. Celebrities including Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee, Serbia's first lady, and the mayor of Greenwich were all amazed by her hand-painted silk work. Museums from all over the world have held exhibitions of her work.

Despite the great success, Xu has a surprisingly simple life. Her pieces are quite valuable on the market, yet she and her family lead a plain life. “Traditional Chinese realistic painting requires fine brushwork and close attention to detail, thus I usually spend months on one piece,” Xu said. “A good reputation is much more important to me compared to money and fame, so I take every piece of work seriously.”

Xu’s success proves an old saying: genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration. Her achievements also underline the importance of the traditional arts.  

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