Guan Weixing’s Poetic Realism
Guan Weixing (1960 – ) was born in Dunhua in the Jilin Province of China. He is regarded as a master of watercolors, to the extent that his admirers and followers collected the artist’s paraphernalia believing that his brushes are magical. Guan creates breathtaking landscapes of China and portraits of its people. His greatest strength is his recognition and depiction of beauty in the mundane – that is, he paints villagers, laborers, and his local environment in their unadorned, sincere state, thereby facilitating our appreciation of everyday life in China.
Guan Weixing’s watercolors are simultaneously realistic and poetic. He pays remarkable attention to details such as wrinkles, hair, clothing, and the idiosyncrasies of his subjects’ expressions. He painstakingly studies his subjects and portrays every detail – his monumental work Peasants Viewing Opera (200cm x 130cm) took 8 years to create, and this intensive effort is evident in his vivid depiction of the individual expressions and physical features of every single person in the crowd. Despite the dozens of subjects, the work does not look chaotic. Rather, the transparent nature of the watercolor medium combined with Guan’s adept layering and careful attention to detail make it a poetic, moving piece.
Guan’s ability to communicate his subjects’ unique characteristics and auras is remarkable. He makes viewers understand that these are not just figures in a painting, but actual men, women, and children with memories, histories, and feelings. The featured piece – Old Farmer from Shanbei – showcases the farmer’s sun-tanned profile, smiling eyes and deep-set wrinkles. For me, these carefully executed details evoke contentment, wisdom, and inner peace. Guan’s subjects are usually the poor, rural population in China that we often forget or look past, but he utilizes the hazy backgrounds in his works to draw attention to them, thus bringing them forth and asserting their value and individuality as humans.
Do you recognize anyone in Guan Weixing’s watercolors?
Painting the mundane can show the most realistic side of a society. Guan’s works showed the world what many Chinese people look like and experience. Differing from paint’s heaviness and distinctiveness, watercolor adds a little bit gentleness, softness through its blur.