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Wu Weishan: The Contemporary Sculptor Resurrecting Chinese Culture

CultureArtWu Weishan: The Contemporary Sculptor Resurrecting Chinese Culture

Wu Weishan, the renowned sculptor and director of the National Art Museum of China, was born to a scholarly household in Dongtai, Jiangsu. He developed a deep passion for painting and calligraphy at an early age. His interest in art blossomed when he was just a fifth-grade student, and he began to learn how to draw and paint. Wu’s earnest attempt at depicting a path in front of his home demonstrated a talent that surprised his teacher.

Even as a young student, Wu was interested in more than just creating art for art’s sake. He was also called upon to paint slogans and cartoons on streets promoting various activities in his town. “I liked to draw the farmers in town and from nearby villages. While drawing my pictures, I didn’t see them as models for practice, but rather as people who I could communicate and empathize with. In their faces and expressions, I could sense the pulses of life,” Wu recalled.

In 1979, Wu left his hometown and arrived at Wuxi Arts and Crafts College. It was there that he began to prepare for his future as a sculptor. With hard work and dedication, he eventually earned his entry to the Fine Arts Department at Nanjing Normal University, majoring in oil painting. During his time at the university, Wu was exposed to a wide range of artistic styles and techniques, which helped to shape his own unique artistic vision.

After graduating from Nanjing Normal University, Wu’s career as an artist began to take off. He quickly gained recognition for his sculptures, which are known for their powerful sense of presence and attention to detail. Wu’s work often draws inspiration from Chinese history and culture, as well as from his own personal experiences and observations.

In addition to his work as an artist, Wu has also played an important role in promoting the arts in China. He has served as the director of the National Art Museum of China since 2012, and has worked tirelessly to promote artistic education and cultural exchange both within China and on the international stage. Through his efforts, Wu has helped to create a vibrant and dynamic artistic community in China, one that is deeply rooted in Chinese traditions while also embracing new and innovative approaches to art.

In 1991, Wu Weishan created a large oil painting titled “Season of Harvest,” which received widespread critical acclaim. However, it was a later opportunity that would prove to be life-changing for the artist. Lin Changwu, the eldest son of renowned calligrapher Lin Sanzhi, invited Wu to create a statue of the late master in a cursive style to be displayed at the Lin Sanzhi Memorial Hall.

A year later, Wu completed his first sculpture portraying a Chinese cultural icon. In the statue of Lin Sanzhi, Wu captured the calligrapher’s spirit through the depiction of his wave-like eyebrows, rugged and angular lips, and outsized earlobes. Critics applauded his achievement, noting how Wu had reproduced the otherworldly spirituality of the calligraphy master.

The success of the sculpture led Wu to consider his social responsibility as an artist. Living in a society undergoing rapid transformation due to the expansion of a market economy, Wu realized that a nation’s rise would require both material and spiritual resources. He decided to create sculptures of iconic figures from Chinese culture, using the medium to “resurrect” outstanding individuals from history.

Through his sculptures, Wu sought to honor these cultural icons and inspire future generations to carry on their legacies. In addition to Lin Sanzhi, Wu has sculpted many other notable figures, including Confucius, Laozi, and Lu Xun. Each sculpture captures the essence of the subject and brings their spirit to life in a way that is both realistic and transcendent.

Wu’s commitment to preserving and promoting Chinese culture through his art has made him one of the most celebrated sculptors in the country. His sculptures have been exhibited in galleries and museums around the world, and he has received numerous awards and accolades for his work. Through it all, Wu remains dedicated to his mission of using sculpture to celebrate the richness and diversity of Chinese culture.

With each new sculpture he creates, Wu continues to inspire others to explore the limitless potential of art as a means of preserving and promoting cultural heritage. His work serves as a testament to the power of art to transcend time and place, and to the enduring relevance of the cultural icons he seeks to honor. As an artist, Wu Weishan has made an indelible mark on the world of sculpture and on the cultural landscape of China.

Wu Weishan embarked on a mission to preserve China’s cultural heritage by sculpting iconic figures from the nation’s history. Starting with renowned figures such as writer Lu Xun, painter Qi Baishi, ink wash painter Huang Binhong, and artist Gao Ershi, Wu began his quest to “resurrect” China’s outstanding individuals from the past. Wu’s sculptures of these historical figures were praised for their ability to capture the essence and inner spirit of each subject.

In 1994, Wu started working on a statue of the philosopher Confucius. Inspired by ancient grotto sculptures, Wu adopted an “old approach” to sculpting that emphasized the relative proportions and depiction of the inner spirit rather than anatomical accuracy. Over the next two decades, Wu created dozens of Confucius statues for display at major cultural and educational institutions worldwide.

In 2003, Wu’s artistic achievements were recognized internationally when he was awarded the Pangolin Prize by the Royal Society of Portrait Sculptors in the UK. Wu’s work “Sleeping Child” had caught the attention of Anthony Stones, the president of the society, during a cultural exchange event. Wu’s receipt of the esteemed award was a recognition of his contribution to the field of art theory. His theoretical system of artistic creation, which he called “freehand sculpture,” required artists to capture the subject’s spirit and essence, emphasizing the harmony of nature and humanity.

Wu’s artistic talent was not limited to sculpture. In 1991, he created a large oil painting titled “Season of Harvest,” which won critical acclaim. A year later, Wu completed his first sculpture portraying a Chinese cultural icon, Lin Sanzhi, capturing the spirit of the calligrapher in his work. The success of the sculpture led Wu to recognize his social responsibility as an artist in a society rapidly transformed by a market economy.

Wu’s passion for art began at an early age, born to a scholarly household in Dongtai, Jiangsu. As a fifth-grade student, he learned how to draw and paint and was called upon to paint slogans and cartoons promoting various activities in his town. Wu’s artistic talent was evident in his earnest attempt at depicting a path in front of his home, surprising his teacher with his skill.

Wu’s dedication to preserving China’s cultural heritage through sculpture has resulted in dozens of sculptures of Chinese cultural icons displayed around the world. Wu’s theoretical system of artistic creation, “freehand sculpture,” has had a far-reaching influence in the art world, emphasizing the importance of capturing the essence and inner spirit of the subject. Wu’s contribution to art and culture has been recognized with numerous awards and accolades, cementing his status as a renowned artist and director of the National Art Museum of China.

Wu Weishan’s sculptures have gained global recognition since 2012. In September of that year, his works were exhibited at the United Nations Headquarters in Manhattan, New York City, where the UN’s eighth secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, praised them for embodying both the soul of a nation and the soul of all humanity. That same year, the same exhibition opened at the Palazzo Venezia in Rome.

In 2020, one of Wu’s works, “A Dialogue Across Space and Time,” found a new home in Vinci, Italy, following the 500th anniversary of Da Vinci’s death. Since then, his works have been displayed in various countries, including Greece, Germany, Ukraine, South Korea, Japan, and Singapore.

Wu’s artistic career includes over 600 sculptural works, numerous theoretical treatises, more than a thousand public exhibitions and academic lectures, and countless works of calligraphy and paintings. With his tireless exploration of both Eastern and Western culture, he has established himself as a contemporary artist with a clear vision of both the new era and the world in general.

Through his art, Wu has also sought to revive Chinese culture, particularly through his sculptures of iconic figures. He has developed a unique approach, called “freehand sculpture,” that emphasizes capturing the spirit of the subject and representing its essence, rooted in Chinese philosophy and the harmony of nature and humanity.

Overall, Wu Weishan’s global influence as an artist has continued to grow, with his sculptures becoming a symbol of both Chinese culture and the universal human spirit.

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