Graffiti artist decorates city despite destruction of work

By Xu Ming Source:Global Times Published: 2016/10/14 5:03:39

Qi Xinghua crouches in front of one of his paintings. Photo: Qi Xinghua

In big cities like Beijing, it is not rare to see graffiti on some deserted wall get painted over without drawing much reaction from the public. But one artist has been so prolific that he has outpaced continuing clean-up efforts, and started to call people's attention to his paintings and street art culture in general.

The artist behind this "silent movement" for street art is Qi Xinghua, a graduate of the China Central Academy of Fine Arts who is regarded as the first artist in the country to specialize in 3D paintings. Over the last few months, Qi has painted more than 10 3D paintings on walls across cities including Beijing, Shanghai and Nanjing. Many netizens say that his cute pandas and fierce lions have impressed them by adding a touch of beauty to their dull city streets.

But to his fans' disappointment, most of these paintings end up being painted over by people in charge of "tidying up the city's looks." Qi once felt sad about the fate of his paintings, causing him to doubt himself and his work. But he eventually came to terms with it, and silently continued painting even though his works continued to be destroyed. He recently completed a painting of a panda on a wall in Beijing.

"Creation always comes before destruction. You cannot stop creating beautiful things just because you know they will disappear. They are worth it even if they exist for just a second," Qi said.

A beautifying project

One of Qi Xinghua's paintings. Photo: Qi Xinghua

As an old scavenger, his body bent double, reaches into a garbage can, a notice on the wall warns those who throw away trash to the can that sharp objects will hurt his hands. Two cute pandas hide behind this abandoned wall, one with angel's wings and the other holding a lollipop, giving a pleasant surprise to anyone who walks in.

These are two of the 10 plus 3D paintings that Qi has created in the past months starting from May. Most of these lifelike pictures were done on old, shabby walls, structures slated for demolition and even underground car parks, adding vivid color to the city and winning the hearts of tens of thousands of people after they began circulating online.

The attention, which came as a surprise to Qi, put the artist under the spotlight almost overnight in China, even though he had already won fame by breaking the Guinness record four times for creating the largest and longest 3D paintings in the world.

These days Qi seldom receives media interviews, but he told the Global Times that his original aim in painting these pictures was to beautify the streets. This February, when Qi went to Dubai for an exhibition, he found that foreign artists can directly work on street walls to create street art, a situation that remains rare in China.

So when he saw those shabby walls and construction sites back in China, he made up his mind to "beautify" them by making them his canvas.

Impressed by his paintings, netizens took photos of them whenever they happened to come across one and posted them online, praising Qi for making the city a better place.

But these netizens never expected that most of Qi's paintings would be destroyed not long after they shared their photos of these works online.

Several of Qi's posts on Sina Weibo say that his paintings are constantly "getting reported." In one photo, the 34-year-old artist sat frustrated next to an old wall among a pile of broken tiles, where one used to be able to see a vivid picture of a crocodile crawling. "The crocodile is gone again," Qi lamented on his Weibo post.

While Qi has continued with his paintings, most of them have disappeared one after another, whether they are cute pandas, lion cubs or mermaids.

Fans of his paintings were outraged to learn the paintings are gone and said so in their posts. "Those in charge of painting over this, please do something about the small ads pasted everywhere that damage the city's looks. Don't destroy such real art works again!"

Seeing his works being destroyed over and over again, Qi was also angry and perplexed at first, even though he told the Global Times that he had expected to encounter difficulties.

Only he knows how much he puts into his pictures. Apart from the money, it takes at least one or two days to complete one painting. To avoid being hassled by security guards, he often paints at night, which means he has to endure mosquito bites while he works.

"I got reported again! Why? They don't clean up advertisements. They don't repair the broken walls, but…" Qi once complained on his Weibo account. Heartbroken, he concluded, "It's not that there is no seed, but that there is no soil."

But instead of giving up, he continued with die-hard persistence. "Even if I am arrested tomorrow, I will still paint today," Qi said on a Weibo post in June. "I hope the city will have some art apart from steel and concrete. I hope to beautify the city's scars like artists in other countries do."

Spreading the culture

One of Qi Xinghua's paintings. Photo: Qi Xinghua

Now, his original aim of "beautifying" the city has turned into a form of resistance against the lack of street art culture in the country.

Despite feeling sad about his paintings, Qi said that eventually the sacrifice will be worthwhile, as they have successfully raised awareness of street art among the public.

"It is probably the first time that street art has attracted such widespread attention in the country," he said.

Like many netizens, he called for society to be more tolerant and inclusive about such street art. "There should be a way to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to paintings on street walls," he noted, adding that some low-level administrative staff in cities simply implement  regulations rigidly.

Qi said he continued to paint because such paintings are not illegal and, as he has proved, are welcomed by the public. "They are, at worst, in violation of certain outdated regulations about the city's looks."

"Like innovation or progress in any field, it is hard to push forward a breakthrough at the start, and it is a gradual process," Qi said, "I will continue to paint [on the street] anyway."


Newspaper headline: Avenue art


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