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Beauty of reduction

Artists revolutionize woodblock printing and provide a lifeline for their village, Hou Chenchen and Li Yingqing report in Pu'er.

By Hou Chenchen and Li Yingqing | China Daily | Updated: 2024-05-25 10:55

Two woodblock prints of the prizewinning Lahu Human Scenery series by Zheng Xu reveal the distinctive ethnic culture in Pu'er, Yunnan province. [Photo provided to China Daily]

The group of artists, struggling to make ends meet, were faced with a conundrum. While their speciality, traditional woodblock printing, was highly satisfying spiritually, it exacted a heavy toll on them both physically and financially, as well as on their environment.

That's because the artistic technique requires a single wooden layer for each color that goes into these multicolored works.

It was in Pu'er, Yunnan province in the 1980s, and the artists embarked on a quest to discover a technique that would vastly simplify their task: a single wooden board carrying many different colors. Soon, they would come up with a style of woodblock art that would revolutionize their art and solve their financial woes.

In fact it may not have been quite as revolutionary as it seemed to them, for decades earlier another artistic master, Pablo Picasso, had played with the same idea in doing linocuts.

"To me a picture has always been a sum total of destructions," he is quoted as saying.

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