His style is simple and his ink-wash paintings are often compared to ancient masterpieces for their lightness. Nonetheless, in just a few years, Lao Shu has managed to win the hearts of many, thanks in no small part to Chinese social media.
His popularity stems from the fact that his art is far more profound that what it seems, and reflects what most people want today, a slower-paced, leisurely life. Not bad for somebody who is not a professional painter!
Born in 1962 in Shandong Province, Shu, who real name is Liu Shuyong, is indeed first and foremost a professor at the Culture & Media School at Central University of Finance and Economics in Beijing who needed a few decades to find his own style. When he first started to paint in 1979, his figures all had clear, expressive faces but at the time art critics merely saw his works as copies of the great masters Qi Baishi and Pan Tianshou. After a long hiatus away from painting, the Chinese artist picked up a brush again in 2007 after his father got stomach cancer, to deal with insomnia and escape reality. That is when he came up with his signature character, Mr. Minguo, a man with no facial features, wearing a Chinese long gown and a Western bowler, against different backdrops.
Posted online for the first time in 2011, this character quickly helped the artist gain more than 1 million followers on Sina Wibo, China’s answer to Twitter, and soon after reach an international audience.
Each work is accompanied by a short calligraphed poem that tackles mundane subjects from our daily life such as the “Monday Syndrome” or “Waiting for the annual bonus”, all drawn using a brush and ink.
For instance, in one painting Mr Minguo is standing on a hill, above a river. He carries a branch from a peach tree, full of blossoms, and the accompanying verse says: “Waiting till the spring breezes blow, I’ll shoulder flowers to see you. I want to tell you all my regrets and my faults. Our love is everlasting in my heart.”
Asked to describe his art, Lao Shu once said “I paint because I personally need to express that internal world. Not for anyone or for anything. I only need to be responsible for the specific life of my own. Just like that, safe and sound.” Somehow, in the process, he has also succeeded in creating , with his paintings, a peaceful universe for all of us that eases the stress modern life brings.
The exhibition “ Lao Shu – Un monde simple et tranquille” runs until the 20th of April at the Musée des Arts Asiatiques in Nice
Musée des Arts Asiatiques
405, Promenade des Anglais Arenas
Lead image courtesy of and © Sylvie Balavoine; photo of Musée des Arts Asiatiques sign © RIVIERA BUZZ