Paintings of President Xi soar in popularity

By Zhang Yu Source:Global Times Published: 2018/8/28 20:23:56

A growing number of artists have been painting pictures featuring Chinese President Xi Jinping as the protagonist

While most paintings are based on journalistic photos, many artists add their own artistic interpretation to the original scene

Visitors look at Border Defense in the Snow, an oil painting by artist Wang Jisong exhibited at the National Art Museum of China in August 2017. Photo: VCG

Chinese President Xi Jinping kicks a football vigorously. In the background, dozens of people, dressed in traditional ethnic costumes, cheer and wave the Chinese national flag.

One of the first paintings that feature President Xi as the protagonist, this uplifting oil painting, entitled Chinese Dream, Soccer Dream and painted by Jiangsu artist Wang Yi, went viral on Chinese social media and was exhibited in the Art Museum of Suzhou Art Academy in 2015.

"I started painting the picture right after I saw the news photo of this scene on in February 2012. I was excited to see Xi kicking a football, and his posture was very professional," Wang, aged 55, told the Global Times.

In addition to the famous soccer painting, Wang painted a picture depicting the historic meeting between Xi and Ma Ying-jeou from Taiwan, in Singapore in November 2015, and is planning to create a series of paintings of Xi under the theme of the Belt and Road initiative.

Wang is among the first of a growing number of Chinese artists who combine art and politics by painting pictures of the president. The genre, which includes smaller portraits and large-scale group paintings, has been increasing in popularity in recent years, and has been exhibited in national museums, appeared in magazines and spread widely on social media.


Based on photos

Like Chinese Dream, Soccer Dream, the majority of paintings of Xi use journalistic photographs of the president as a reference.

Xi'an artist Wang Haili's oil-on-linen painting Warmth, for example, depicts a scene in which Xi talked with family members of Shi Qiwen, a villager in Huayuan county, Central China's Hunan Province, on November 3, 2013. It was during the visit that Xi first put forward the concept of "targeted poverty alleviation," according to the Xinhua.

An introduction of the painting on the painter's official website reads, "The work combines the techniques of Western painting and the features of traditional painting, allowing the picture to bear national characteristics and the spirit of the times."

Military painter Wang Jisong's 2014 oil painting Border Defense in the Snow depicts Xi, dressed in a military outfit, talking with garrison soldiers on duty at a border post in North China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region in January 2014. Xi visited soldiers ahead of the traditional Chinese New Year.

The work, currently owned by the National Art Museum of China in Beijing, has appeared in many exhibitions. According to the museum website, "The painter is precise and meticulous in his portrayal of the characters, and pays special attention to lighting, the characters' emotions and their relationships. The artist focuses on the interaction between the leader and the PLA soldiers, showing his care for them in daily life."

Other notable paintings of the genre include Zhu Ke's portrayal of Xi working together with locals during a trip in 1989 when he was secretary of the Ningde Prefectural Party Committee, Fujian Province, painter Chang Qing's painting of Xi visiting Peking University in 2014, and artist Wang Junying's oil painting of Xi and his wife Peng Liyuan.

Artistic changes

As photos have become ubiquitous, the motivation for artists to paint the Chinese leader is no longer mere literal representation. Many artists, through artistic rendering of the pictures, add their own interpretation to the original scene.

Wang Haili's painting Warmth, for example, is characterized by its change in lighting and addition of villagers to the original photo.

 In the news picture by Xinhua, Xi is surrounded by villagers as well as village officials.

Wang's painting, while keeping the main characters in the photo, added more children and villagers wearing traditional costumes to the painting.

"The painting artistically moves the characters that appeared in other scenes during President Xi's visit, enriching the picture's characters," an introduction on the painter's website reads.

In the Xinhua picture, the brazier in front of Xi and the villagers is not lit. But the artist lights the brazier in his painting, creating a lighting effect reminiscent of Western masters such as Rembrandt.

"The coal fire lights up the leader and the villagers, who are holding hands together and talking cordially. It's a natural and touching representation of the leader's care for the people. It shows his true yearning to bring them more help," an introduction on the painter's website reads.

Wang Yi, the painter of Chinese Dream, Soccer Dream, based his painting on a picture of Xi's Ireland visit in February 2012. During the visit, Xi kicked a Gaelic football in Croke Park in Dublin. Xi kept the photo on a shelf in his office and it appeared on TV while Xi was making a New Year address on the last day of 2013, Xinhua reported.

In the news picture, Xi was kicking the football in front of a group of Chinese and Irish officials, all in suits. Wang painted two versions of the photo. The first, done in February 2012, was a realistic rendering of the photo. In the second painting which he painted in June 2013, he replaced the officials with Chinese ethnic minorities in different traditional costumes.

"When I first painted it in February 2012, Mr Xi was the vice president. After he was elected the president, I painted it again in 2013, changing the background to China's 56 ethnic groups to symbolize how Xi will lead our entire nation to thrive," he said.


Newspaper headline: Leading in art

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