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On The East

During the four or five years before the year 2000, I was interested in researching folk art and local customs. I traveled to Hebei, Shandong, Sichuan, Jiangsu, Zhejiang and the suburbs of Tianjin, as well as other northeastern areas. Zibo, Weifang, Gaomi and Yangliuqing were places I lingered the longest and were the most fruitful for me.

I spent extensive time examining traditional folk art, including woodblock prints, cloth dolls, clothing and jewelry, religious articles, childrens toys, etc. These things have long been among the common people and indeed are indispensable. I spent time with these things and the effect was like the long lasting flavor of good liquor. Yet it is precisely these things that possess deep cultural content that are gradually disappearing to the point of extinction; it is a great pity. Our society is in the beginning stages of great development with a powerful economy and urbanization, as well as the assault of strong influences from foreign cultures. Additionally, there is the national tendency neither to protect history nor to respect tradition, which naturally results in the fleeting temporal, existence of traditional artifacts. In the end, they will naturally run their course like the departure of the dinosaur, never to return. Such foolish behaviour will result in irretrievable loss! I remember how pitifully underrepresented folk art was in the supposedly-sophisticated curricula of my elementary school, high school and university. Although books about folk art have slowly surfaced in recent years, none of them effectively conveys the real magnificence of the folk art that is the legacy of 5,000 years of Chinese cultural history. I think it is just like any archeological find: you must brush away the dust with your own hands in order to experience the brilliance of its beauty. Unfortunately such opportunities are increasingly rare.

Those of us who become artists have more opportunities to study and understand the traditional works by masters of classical art. As Chinese, we can be proud that our history of painting is as rich as it is. The technical proficiency of the Old Masters is nothing short of breathtaking. The natural tendency of modern man is to compete always with these masters but never to surpass them. Perhaps they were infinitely more clever, so our efforts to match them are all in vain. Always treading on the beaten path is superficial and certainly not what Im suggesting. I know there are a lot of other contemporary artists quietly researching new work, yet I know that my own train of thought is different. I have one basic critique of the masters: in terms of my emotional response, all of their works are the same. This surprises me.

My goal is to take the treasures of the people in my left hand and the masters of yesterday in my right hand and to clasp them together. I then want to blend them to create the Zheng Xuewu of today.

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