Wu Guanzhong is widely recognized as a key figure in contemporary Chinese art. Recently one photographer is paying tribute to the painter with an exhibition at Tsinghua University Art Museum, featuring Wu's portraits between the 1980s and the 2000s.
The pieces on display reflect Wu's work and travel around the world - from Southeast Asia to Europe. From 1985 to 2000, Singaporean photographer Chua Soo Bin followed Wu Guanzhong, documenting his life and career. For more than a decade, Chua captured candid and committed moments, including Wu's zealous quests across streets and mountains in search of materials and inspiration for his artwork.
Among them are some photos recording the artist doing sketching on a boat in Bangkok in the 1990s. Su Dan, curator of the exhibition, pointed out, "Sketching is very important for artists, as it is a way of accumulating details, learning about local culture and understanding nature. In these images, we can see Mr. Wu's state of concentration, whether he's sitting on a boat or squatting on the deck. His eyes are always fixed on his subjects."
Wu was very critical of his work. He produced a large number of paintings but tore up many of them.
Two photos on display show that Wu was tearing his paintings in his Beijing studio, but many people didn't believe the artist would destroy his artworks. "It used to be a rumor until it was later confirmed. I think he had a great artistic personality because he dared to destroy his own work. It was a kind of strictness and criticism of his achievements. Only those who can examine themselves can make continuous progress, and I think that's where Mr. Wu's greatness lies," Su Dan told CGTN.
Besides his work process, some photos allow people to see the artist's human side. Three photos shot in Bali in the 1990s show that Wu was surrounded by beautiful women and it seems that one of his arms was around a lady's waist, which Su Dan said this is a reflection of the magnanimity and transparency of the artist's character.
There are over 60 black-and-white photographs on display at the exhibit. Chua's last portrait of Wu was in 2008 during a visit to the artist's home in Beijing.
The late artist was a master at melting the merits of Chinese and Western art. It's often said, Wu tried to fuse the sense of color and composition from the Western oil painting with a spirit of Chinese ink painting. Many say it was partly the result of his study abroad - 3 years in Paris, between 1947 and 1950 - had a tremendous influence on him. He had published dozens of painting albums. In 1992, he became the first living Chinese artist to exhibit artworks at the British Museum.