Last September, in order to collect materials for my major themed creation, I went to the suburban areas of Xining, Qinghai Province for sketching a large quantity of figures and landscapes every day. One day when I completed my sketching, I found a man still squatting near my painting box. Unlike other curious onlookers who would at most stay there for half an hour then leave, he seemed to have squatted there for the whole afternoon. From the information of his long hair, mustache and eyebrow, I could tell that he might also be a painter. I greeted him with a smile, and he stood up smiling. He helped me collecting the painting brushes and the painting box, and helped me carry the heavy box to the gate of my hotel. To thank him, I invited him to a simple dinner at a small restaurant near my hotel.
I learned that he really was an art lover, named Wang Kefu. He told me that he has painted the traditional Chinese painting, copied over 50 pictures by Van Gogh, at least 100 pictures of horses by Xu Beihong. In order to grasp the posture of the sheep, he even slept in the sheepfold for three nights¡ His biggest dream was to join the Artists Association to approve his ability. And that became his biggest motive to practice his painting skill. In order to have more time to paint, he even quitted his job at a mutton processing factory¡.
Talking about his job, his tone became slower, and it seemed to him a heavy topic. He said he and his mother lived on his salary after his father died. After the daily necessities, he could have some money for the paints and canvas. However, the job in the factory was really busy, and he had to work at night often. If he didn¡¯t have a good sleep at night, he would feel muddled and couldn¡¯t paint well. He hesitated for a year whether to quit the job or not before he made up his mind. His mother wept for several days after she got to know the information. He had to find some odd job to keep the living.
The topic wondered for a while before we talked about my job. I told him that I was preparing for the creation to depict the lives of minorities. He suddenly asked whether it would be an innovation to paint with cow dung. I said that it seemed that some one abroad used to paint with elephant dung, but no one at home. He seemed to have been encouraged and felt that his efforts were not of no use. He was so happy that he lighted another cigarette, and said that he was the first one in China to paint with cow dung and straw. He thought that if you want to make art, you must be unique, just like Van Gogh.
He became talkative after several cups of liquor. He said that his father had died of anger with his younger sister and brother-in-law who were both scumbags. I asked why, he recounted their stories. His sister found her boyfriend. His parents didn¡¯t approve her boyfriend, because he didn¡¯t have any job, but just idled about the street. She then attempted to commit suicide twice. So there was nothing to do but agreed. When she got married, they were not keen on it, and didn¡¯t buy her much dowry. After their marriage, his brother-in-law came to quarrel every day, saying that her family hadn¡¯t enough and good dots. He claimed that the dots were inferior goods bought from roadside shops. The peddles of the bike fell off after tens of meters, the sewing machine stopped functioning, the assembly chest could not been assembled, the electrical fan lost one blade, the electric cook was no good, the two thermoflasks were broken, and even the money for the motorcycle were given by the family of the bridegroom¡. Half year after their marriage, his brother-in-law moved the electrical fan, the bike, the sewing machine and the chest to the yard of Wang Kefu, asking his parents to change them. But they had passed the warranty time, so those things were piled in the yard for two months with erosion of rain and wind. But worst thing was that his sister and sister-in-law moved away after a quarrel without notice. Wang Kefu and his parents had no information, no telephone number about them. His parents hated her for her cold heart, and wept the whole day. His father had suffered from diabetes already, with that blow, he fell ill and never got recovered.
Seeing Wang Kefu was smoking with his head dropping, I didn¡¯t know how to comfort him. He seemed to have read my mind and smiled suddenly and mysteriously. He told me that he had stopped the chairman of the Artists Association at the gate of the Artists Association three times, because he had written a dozen of letters to him, but with no reply. The last time he stopped him was in a restaurant where he was drinking mutton soup. The chairman appreciated his paintings and gave his comments, pointing out the strength as well as the shortcomings. The chairman said that he was weak at the shaping. He even painted a hand of the chef who made noodles on the paper for wrapping the deep fried dough sticks, and explained the structure of the hand. He promised the chairman that he would not stop him again, and they agreed to communicate with letters from then on.
He showed me the pictures of some of his works about local landscapes and figures. There were some mixtures of brown chunks and straws on the pictures, maybe they were the cow dung he had mentioned earlier. He told me that he had experimented many materials, but the cow dung was the most stable and primitive one with the sense of nature. He even used beef as material stick to the canvas, but it resulted to the generation of plenty of maggots crawling here and there. Then he took out a letter from his shirt pocket and handed it to me with the temperature of his body. It was a letter by the chairman of the Artists Association. The edges of the envelop had been worn out, maybe because it was carried with him all the time. Seeing that he had trusted me so, I took the letter out of the envelop and read it.
The letter reads:
Kefu, I have received your letter and carefully studied the pictures you have sent me. You have made a big progress, and hope you will keep going.
You waited for me at the gate of the association, I could understand your feeling. But think of it, there are so many art lovers in Qinghai, and if they all stop me at the gate just as you did, how can I work? Everyday I have many things to day, many letters to reply and many meetings to attend, whether small or big.
Hearing the story of your family, I feel sorry for you, and I am also moved by your persistence. With the young people like you who love arts so much, the future of China¡¯s art business will have a brighter future.
Upon reviewing your new creations, I want to give some suggestions for your reference:
1. You asked me whether the material you used was an innovation, I would express my opinions on this. I think you should suspend the experiment. You chose to paint the panda rather than the sheep and yak for the reason of fashion. There are so many beautiful mountains and rivers as well as simple and honest people in Qinghai Province, pay more attention to them. Life is always the source of art, while art originates from life but above life. Vivid works are realized by the artist¡¯s mastering of the shape and bearing of the object through perseverance and constant practice. It is our caring of the reality rather than imagination without life experience. You need to study, feel and find the life interest and the indefinite beauty contained in the nature, constantly improve your expression ability, and then create new artistic concept and form. The practice of painting with cow dung is only a new way in form, not way of innovation based on the fundamental skill of painting. Hope you can develop your ability to find beautiful things in life, then find and develop the theme so as to make your works with stronger zeitgeist.
2. To be international, you must be national. China is getting stronger and stronger, and as artists, we should shoulder our share of responsibility. Young artists should pay attention to the Chinese traditions while learning from abroad. They should go deep into life, pay attention to the sketching, observe the nature, experience the nature, take the nature as their source of creation, and get the nature sublimed. We are in short of good painters of our own in the plateau area. Hope more and more young people to success and become talented artists.
3. In order to paint well, you must first learn to be. ¡° There maybe no gain after pain, but there is definitely no gain without pain, and that¡¯s the doctrine of learning¡±. A picture is a two dimensional plan after all, to create a rather moving picture, you must first be moved then you can move the others. Hope you will not drift with the tide to pursue wealth and fame. And I also hope you can keep on practicing, absorb all the strongpoint from other artists, get the essence from both Chinese and western arts. You should make more creations and paint more large size pictures, hope you can make bigger progress, and generate the artist works with the spirit of the time and the modern aesthetics.
The above mentioned comments are my simple opinion. If you have different views on them, we can discuss it by correspondence.
There was also an inscription by the chairman of the Artists Association for Wang Kefu: ¡°To be international, you must be national¡± , ¡°Learn to be¡±
After coming back to Beijing, I often think of Wang Kefu, fetch up his dirty hair and his dirty finger nails concealing the paint. And sometime, I even recollect his cunning smiles. To tell the truth, his paintings are common, and the themes are not clear from the aspect of creation. But he has a spirit which has moved me, and makes me admire him. I know that art lovers like Wang Kefu are over the country, they are persistent, but they have little chance. They pay high attention to joining the artist association. I want to take this opportunity to publish several pictures of Wang Kefu, though I can not help him joint the artist association, I believe this will make him happy, and let more people get to know his works. As his pictures were painted with cow dung and straws, I feel they are somewhat similar to those of German expressionist artist Kiefer, so I took the liberty to entitle his works: Wang Kefu, Kiefer, The Works of An Art Lover, I think he will agree with me.