Art & Artists Artists & Collections Artists Gu Yuan

Gu Yuan

1919-1996

SUMMARY

Gu Yuan’s work is a social history of revolution and development in 20th century China: the construction of base areas, the War of Liberation, the Five-Year Plan, the Great Leap Forward…the magnificent historical narratives were depicted by Gu Yuan in his wood engravings and watercolor paintings in such a detail, that they were transformed into care about ordinary people. The political theme was thus transformed into a “lyric poetry” (Ai Qing).

In 1938, Gu Yuan arrived in Yan’an, and went to the third phase of Department of Fine Arts at Yan’an Lu Xun College of Art in the following year. In 1942, Mao Zedong published Talks at the Yan’an Forum on Literature and Art, in which he called for teachers and students of the Lu Xun College of Art to walk outside the “little college”, and spread the literature and art among the masses. Gu Yuan thus transformed many engraving forms and styles, including the intaglio method, which originated from Western Europe, into relief method that characterized Chinese folk New Year paintings and traditional Chinese wood carvings. He created many works with clear outlines, easy to understand for peasants, and of the spirit that “art serves the people”.

The combination of art career and the Party’s revolutionary cause is the character of many Yan’an artists. Both a soldier of the nation and an individual artist, they worked hard to balance between revolutionary narrative and individual expression, to create works that both match political ideology and are rich in artistic beauty. Such balance was demonstrated in Gu Yuan’s work through his observation of the local conditions and customs. Through sentiments and flavors of life, Gu blurred political ideology in his detailed depiction of real and unadorned social relationship.

After 1950s, due to the improvement of creative environment, and the artist’s belief that “colored image is more suitable for depicting the inner beauty of the working people”, Gu Yuan increased his watercolor painting creation. In these colorful yet plain landscape paintings, the portrayal of people still remained. In his Ink and Wash Paintings of Gu Yuan published in 1985, Gu wrote: “I rarely paint landscape paintings without people in it…Art comes from life. I always go into people’s life for interesting, healthy and positive subjects.”

Until his death in 1990s, Gu Yuan had been carrying on the simple creative style, as he believed that the art that reflects life and moves the society forward would always be new art. Such idea lasted for his life after he attended the Yan’an Forum on Literature and Art in 1942. Even today, Gu Yuan’s idea still inspires us to think about all kinds of questions about forms and functions of painting.

Gu Yuan’s work is a social history of revolution and development in 20th century China: the construction of base areas, the War of Liberation, the Five-Year Plan, the Great Leap Forward…the magnificent historical narratives were depicted by Gu Yuan in his wood engravings and watercolor paintings in such a detail, that they were transformed into care about ordinary people. The political theme was thus transformed into a “lyric poetry” (Ai Qing).

In 1938, Gu Yuan arrived in Yan’an, and went to the third phase of Department of Fine Arts at Yan’an Lu Xun College of Art in the following year. In 1942, Mao Zedong published Talks at the Yan’an Forum on Literature and Art, in which he called for teachers and students of the Lu Xun College of Art to walk outside the “little college”, and spread the literature and art among the masses. Gu Yuan thus transformed many engraving forms and styles, including the intaglio method, which originated from Western Europe, into relief method that characterized Chinese folk New Year paintings and traditional Chinese wood carvings. He created many works with clear outlines, easy to understand for peasants, and of the spirit that “art serves the people”.

The combination of art career and the Party’s revolutionary cause is the character of many Yan’an artists. Both a soldier of the nation and an individual artist, they worked hard to balance between revolutionary narrative and individual expression, to create works that both match political ideology and are rich in artistic beauty. Such balance was demonstrated in Gu Yuan’s work through his observation of the local conditions and customs. Through sentiments and flavors of life, Gu blurred political ideology in his detailed depiction of real and unadorned social relationship.

After 1950s, due to the improvement of creative environment, and the artist’s belief that “colored image is more suitable for depicting the inner beauty of the working people”, Gu Yuan increased his watercolor painting creation. In these colorful yet plain landscape paintings, the portrayal of people still remained. In his Ink and Wash Paintings of Gu Yuan published in 1985, Gu wrote: “I rarely paint landscape paintings without people in it…Art comes from life. I always go into people’s life for interesting, healthy and positive subjects.”

Until his death in 1990s, Gu Yuan had been carrying on the simple creative style, as he believed that the art that reflects life and moves the society forward would always be new art. Such idea lasted for his life after he attended the Yan’an Forum on Literature and Art in 1942. Even today, Gu Yuan’s idea still inspires us to think about all kinds of questions about forms and functions of painting.

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