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Xianliu Village: Home of China’s Oil Painting Tradition

CultureArtXianliu Village: Home of China's Oil Painting Tradition

Xianliu village, located in the Tunchang county of Hainan province, is a picturesque location surrounded by lush green forests, fertile farmlands, tranquil lakes, rolling mountains, quaint bridges, and meandering streams. At the village entrance stands a stone tablet bearing the inscription, “Xianliu village, hometown of oil painting,” which speaks volumes about the village’s artistic heritage.

For decades, Xianliu village was home to many who painted with oils. During the harvest season, villagers worked hard in the fields. But in their spare time, they would pick up their paintbrushes and create oil paintings that captured the essence of village life, expressing their deep love for their hometown.

The oil painting tradition in Xianliu village began in the 1980s when a villager named Chen Youjun learned the art form. Inspired by his newfound passion, he founded the Tunchang Yanpuxuan Fine Arts School in 1984, which offered one- to two-year oil painting training courses for local residents. The school proved to be a huge success, educating more than 6,000 students over the years.

Many of the graduates of the Yanpuxuan Fine Arts School went on to pursue successful careers in the field of oil painting. They have become known for their unique “Tunchang style” of painting, which is characterized by its bold and vibrant use of color, skillful brushwork, and vivid depictions of rural life.

The natural beauty of Xianliu village has been a constant source of inspiration for these artists. They have captured the serene landscapes, bustling markets, traditional festivals, and daily life in the village through their paintings. Their work has not only celebrated the rich cultural heritage of the village but also attracted numerous artists from all over China.

Today, Xianliu village remains a hub for oil painting in Hainan province. It hosts many exhibitions and events throughout the year, showcasing the works of local artists as well as those from other parts of China. The village has become a popular tourist destination, drawing art enthusiasts, nature lovers, and history buffs alike.

The oil painting tradition in Xianliu village has become an integral part of the village’s cultural identity. It has helped to preserve the traditional way of life while also embracing modern techniques and styles. The Yanpuxuan Fine Arts School and the artists who emerged from it have played a vital role in nurturing and promoting this artistic heritage, ensuring that it remains a vibrant and thriving part of Xianliu village’s cultural landscape for generations to come.

In 2011, the government of Tunchang county, Hainan province, established an oil painting street approximately 10 kilometers away from Xianliu village. This street, also known as the “production workshop” of Tunchang oil painting, is lined with 24 oil painting studios that display a variety of classical and modern oil paintings, including figures and landscapes. These paintings are sold both domestically and internationally.

Due to preferential policies, such as low rent for commercial real estate, many painters have been attracted to set up shops on the oil painting street. There are currently a total of 48 studios, mostly in the form of family workshops, employing 110 painters, many of whom graduated from the Tunchang Yanpuxuan Fine Arts School.

Zheng Hui, a 33-year-old painter, returned to Tunchang in 2015 and opened a studio on the oil painting street. She notes that she feels less stressed working in her hometown, partly due to the local government’s favorable financial support policies.

In 2022, 11 instructors from the oil painting committee of the Hainan Artists Association came to Tunchang’s oil painting street to provide technical education to more than 40 painters and primary and middle school art teachers in sketching. The education included instruction on brightening up works through the application of colors and selecting painting elements with specific effects in mind.

Zheng participated in the event, creating sketches of landscapes and figures under the guidance of the instructors. She feels that her creativity has improved as a result and is now creating art with Li and Miao ethnic cultural themes, as well as marine and tropical characteristics. She hopes that her paintings will have the opportunity to be featured in an exhibition.

The oil painting street in Tunchang has become a hub of artistic activity and a popular destination for tourists interested in the unique Tunchang style of oil painting. In addition to the studios, the street also features galleries, souvenir shops, and cafes, creating a vibrant and dynamic atmosphere.

The establishment of the oil painting street has helped to promote and preserve the traditional art of oil painting in Tunchang, providing a platform for local artists to showcase their work and attract new talent to the area.

The success of the oil painting street has also had a positive impact on the local economy. It has created jobs, generated revenue, and attracted investment to the area, helping to boost development and prosperity in Tunchang county.

the oil painting street in Tunchang has become a shining example of how the government can support and nurture the arts, helping to create a thriving and sustainable artistic community that benefits both artists and the local economy.

Over the next three years, the oil painting committee plans to continue providing instruction to Tunchang’s oil painters and inviting them to showcase their work at exhibitions in major cities like Haikou and Sanya in Hainan. This initiative is a great opportunity for local artists to gain exposure and recognition outside their community and expand their horizons.

However, the Tunchang Yanpuxuan Fine Arts School, which once provided oil painting training courses for local inhabitants, stopped enrolling students in 2018 and eventually closed in 2020. This closure has left a void in the community and halted the development of new talent in the industry.

In response to this, Chen Chuantao, the son of the school’s founder, established the Liuhe Painting Society in April 2022. The organization aims to teach children in Xianliu Village oil painting for free, with the help of volunteers. Chen Chuantao believes that fostering talent is key to the development of Tunchang’s oil painting industry.

Twice a week, the Liuhe Painting Society offers oil painting lessons to a class of children from Xianliu Village Primary School. These children’s parents are mostly migrant workers who left the village to work in big cities. The free lessons not only provide an opportunity for these children to learn a new skill, but also offer a chance for them to connect with their cultural heritage and develop a sense of pride in their hometown.

Chen Yating, a second-grade student in the village, is one of the children who took classes with the Liuhe Painting Society. She finds oil painting to be an emotional outlet that helps her appreciate the beauty of life. “I can quickly observe and spot good things around me, and record them with my brush,” she says. “I think my hand-eye coordination has improved too.”

The Liuhe Painting Society is also planning to hold exhibitions to showcase the children’s artwork and promote the development of Tunchang’s oil painting industry. This initiative has the potential to inspire more children to take up oil painting and foster a new generation of artists who can carry on the legacy of the Tunchang style.

The government can also play a role in supporting the development of the oil painting industry by providing more resources and funding for talent cultivation and exhibition promotion. This can create a favorable environment for artists to develop their skills, showcase their work, and contribute to the cultural and economic development of Tunchang and Hainan province as a whole.

Overall, by investing in talent cultivation, promoting exhibitions, and creating a supportive environment for artists, Tunchang’s oil painting industry can continue to thrive and contribute to the cultural and economic development of the region. The Liuhe Painting Society’s efforts to teach children oil painting for free is a great example of how the community can work together to foster new talent and preserve their cultural heritage.

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