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Exhibition shows how a modern master let nature nurture his art

By Lin Qi | China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-01-14 09:14

A landscape by the artist.[Photo provided to China Daily]

Learning from and copying the style of the masters has always been a normal and legitimate undertaking by art students as they try to see the bigger picture, literally, and hone their style and construction. But this approach does have its drawbacks, not least because it may see students trap themselves in a style they are not comfortable with at a cost to their own originality.

Technique, of course, is important but so is the message a student's art should portray. One artist who understood the pitfalls of this approach, but was determined to evolve, was Li Xiongcai (1910-2001). At the tender age of 16, Li joined the studio of Gao Jianfu, the founder of the Lingnan (Canton) School of Painting, in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, to improve his classic ink art.

It is said that every day, Li was asked by Gao to climb up into an attic where he would copy ancient Chinese paintings for hours. Gao would then remove the ladder to the attic so that Li could focus entirely on his work. Under Gao's instruction, Li copied hundreds of famous paintings produced over the centuries.

But Gao knew that technical mastery was only part of the process Li needed to go through to become a true artist. Gao also wanted his talented student to open his eyes and mind to new ideas.

Gao often took Li to the outskirts of Guangzhou and other parts of Guangdong province to make sketches, to work free from academic restraints. And he also provided financial support to Li to further his studies in Japan where decades earlier, Gao himself had also lived and broadened his vision.

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