Author’s Words

In Northwest China, on a golden day in the fall, my parents took me to a local Kazak folk event, which I rendered to paper after I got back home: two brightly dressed beautiful girls with fluttering white feathers tucked in their hats. My parents were pleasantly surprised that I could draw! I was only five then, and I have never stopped painting ever since.

My father graduated from Harbin Institute of Technology in the l930’s, and then furthered his study in the United States, Germany and the former Soviet Union. He had given up numerous attractive job opportunities and chosen to step on the hardest way engaging himself in extending railways and roads to the backlands of China and doing what he could to make China prosperous and powerful. He and his fellows worked closely together, developing one backland after another. They are our trailblazers.

My mother, a major in Chinese literature, took care of our big family in support of my father‘s special career. Although born into a noble family, she toughed it out all those days, making our home as warm as those days were not. Wherever we settled down, she would take out her cherished trunks, wrap them up and arrange them into comfortable and beautiful “sofas” She would put fragrant flowers in bottles and glasses… and would preen us up with embroidery and knitting of her own making. She herself has always been clean, tidy and charming.

We have grown up amidst our father‘s diligence and lenience and our mother’s intelligence and beauty.

When I was six or seven years old, my parents took me to Dunhuang at the invitation of Mr. Chang Shuhong, the then president of the Institute of Dunhuang Studies. The Mogao Caves seemed to me like a fairyland, where the colorful and vivid murals glimmered and glittered, so splendid, so bright that I had to close my eyes and hold my breath to keep myself from getting dizzy.

Many young promising artists gathered then and there to make painstaking efforts to safeguard these art treasure. Those artists are now the backbone of the Chinese art circles.

There in Dunhuang, I would kneel on tall benches and lean against tables to watch those artists copying the murals onto semitransparent paper, drawing outlines, adding touches, applying golden paint where needed.

I looked with wonder at the sculptors copying Guanyin Statue onto clay, representing the dignified smile of Guanyin so vividly.

I watched with admiration the artists Chang Shuhuang and Dong Xiwen portraying my parents with paint and chalk, turning out such lifelike representations.

Everything there fascinated me and led me into a dreamland. As if possessed by a supernatural being, I followed the lead of those artists and kept drawing what I saw and the images of what I heard.

During my childhood, whenever my parents took me to visit their friends, I didn’t play the “Soldiers Catch Thieves” game with those my age. Instead I would close myself off in the studies and greedily read the books there. Many words were new to me, but the pictures took root in my head. I had heard long before of Michelangelo’s David, Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper and Raphael’s Assumption of the Virgin. I had also learned about numerous Chinese and overseas actors and have retained their images in my memory until now.
Although deprived of many necessities of living, my parents managed to buy the paper, paint and books that I needed, and even had the Willy Paintings Album produced for me to practice painting.

And so, as my parents moved around following different job assignments, I traveled around China, which built up the knowledge and experience conducive to my art career later. Finally, we settled down in Beijing.

I followed the common schooling path of most Chinese children: elementary school, middle school and high school, but my fine arts results exceeded the results of other students in every school, and so every school recommended me to some part-time fine arts training courses. ln particular, the weekly “High School Studio” of the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) provided me with formal training, which helped me understand the how and why of sketching.

In the second year of my high school days, I set my mind to devote the rest of my life to art. My father the scientist didn’t force me to follow his path, and my mother and sisters all encouraged me to pursue what I held dear to me.

I completed my high school studies in 1957 and my favorite CAFA offered only five fields of study at that time: canvas painting, sculpture, Chinese painting, block print, and fine arts history. The Sculpture Department that I wanted to enter would accept only seven students. What a competition!

After seemingly endless ordeals and eliminations, I emerged as one of the lucky seven.

The Beijing-based CAFA hosted most of the then renowned art professors. It was an ideal place to study and learn.

After the famous sculptor-professor Liu Kaiqu had taught us for one year, the equally famous sculptor-professor Hua Tianyou took over as our teacher until we finished five years of college study. Both of them had studied in France and had achieved much as sculptors, but they opted to give up their own sculpting career and make more sculptors out of their students.

Our sculpture course followed the western system: training us to master realistic skills through the study of anatomy,structure, proportion and perspective. We were also supposed to explore the personalities and internal feelings of different individuals and represent them as vividly as life. After these studies, when we once again examined the Chinese sculpture heritage, including the representation of the profound and profuse internal worlds of human beings through simple and concise techniques, we sensed a sort of wonderland encouraging wild imaginations but not mortal efforts of representation.

I have been pursuing my art career since I graduated from CAFA in 1962 (including the days after I came to America in 1981)Art production is my whole life, not just a means to make a living. My solid schooling in my motherland built up my confidence in going my own way.

The visual arts fall into many categories, which are closely related but have distinctive features. Sculpture is a three-dimensional art, but not all three-dimensional objects are sculptures. Sculptures, whether concrete or abstract, must give people a sense of volume, weight and dimensions. That “ sense” is very important and should be full, vigorous, integrated and solid. That “sense” is also what I try to embrace in my works.

For example, in my work Dancer, the body of the dancer is plump and solid, but the sense of movement of the overall composition, the turning and flowing lines, and the pervasive verve make her nimble and elegant.

My modernistic (not abstract in my words) work The Dream, rather like a monolith, is both a chubby woman and a piece of cloud fleeting before our eyes.

With the above examples I just want to show that I pay great attention to the form of sculptures, but of course, the content is more important.

Ideas come first in my work. That is, I first decide what to do and what to express, and then consider what form l should use to best represent my subject. The form as I mean it here, includes technique, style, composition, scale, and material (stone, wood, bronze, etc.).
In my wood carvings, for example, men or old people are engraved in bold lines, with the traces of different knives reserved to highlight energy, roughness or vigor. But the wood carving A Rich Harvest (p.34. 35)showing a Uygur girl picking grapes is shining and richly ornamented, using light-colored basswood.

I hope form and content are a happy marriage in my works.

Content is closely linked to the artist s experience and the age the works are intended to represent. Everyday life is the constant source of inspirations. I have been to factories, mines, villages, farms, and China’s border areas Xinjiang and Tibet, and I made good friends with the local people.

I once lived along the ancient Silk Road during my childhood. One day, I saw a wooden door open on a loess slope, the door frames enclosing a blue sky and a sun-tanned, bearded and head banded youth leading a camel out of the door. His clothes were shabby but nevertheless colorful… a perfect vivid illustration from The Arabian Nights!

The Arabian Nights, Andersen’s children’s tales, Greek mythology, and Roman legends were my favorite readings during my childhood. The miracles and beauty in The Arabian Nights stimulated my wild imaginations, and the looks, garments and lifestyles fascinated me. My motherland China boasts a vast expanse of land, which feeds peoples as beautiful as those in The Arabian Nights.

To satisfy my curiosity for mysteries, I was able to get near the people of different nationalities in Xinjiang, talk with them and make friends with them. They were well polished both inside and outside. They were honest, guileless, sincere and kind. They and I had common ideals and wishes. I fell in love with them. That’s why I contributed multiple works to the Uygur, Kazak and Tajik peoples.

I had also spent an entire year in Tibet, the ridge of the world, and made many good friends there. We ate together, lived together and cut ice to open aqueducts. I contributed several sculptures and paintings to Tibet also. A veteran Austrian actress was moved to tears by the numerous portraits I completed in Tibet. She said my works unfolded their souls, “l can see you really love them, and you represent them as so beautiful, not just in appearance, but also in what lies in their hearts: kindness, sturdiness, honesty, courage, and diligence”.

Experiencing life may be both direct and indirect. Literature, history, geography and philosophy may help sharpen our insights.

Life is indeed essential to artists, but art is not the duplication of real life itself. It is the magnification and exaggeration of the essence of the reality, so that the art is more real and typical in terms of essence.

The wood carving Kazak Hunter contains a pyramid shape to highlight the bravery, strength and firmness of Kazak people, apposing the eyes of people and eagle to express vigilance and valor.

I read extensively about Dr. Sun Yat-sen before I started Dr. Sun Yat-sen stone carving. In my eyes, he was not only a revolutionary leader overthrowing imperialism, but also an honest, plain and kind (to the extent of credulous) everyman. I hope you can read my mind from the eyes of the subject.

Madame Sun Yat-sen (Soong ChingLing) was strong-minded all her life, refusing to be at the disposal of others. She was also affable and kind and loved the people. I tried to represent the two facets in one sculpture. That sculpture is said by many to be more a generalization of her life than most photos of her.

I sculpted Nurse into a bust with two hands to suit the lobby of the hospital and its surroundings. The nurse is bending to talk with her patient on the sickbed or wheelchair. She is like an angel, warm and kind, but her smile is not as sweet as it is concerned.

In Jesus-The Great Physician, Jesus’ spirit of helping the poor and curing the sick is brought out by the entreating and wishful expressions of the middle-aged woman and Jesus’ gentle touch with his middle finger on the woman’s forehead. The backflowing clothes set out Jesus’ concerned leaning toward the patient. Jesus’ countenance combines sagacity, belief, love…

I didn’t try to imitate the versatile renaissance masters. Not wanting to rest on what I have achieved in the past, I have been groping in multiple directions. I find it is impossible to represent the richness of human feelings in just one form. Certain feelings are best represented through solid three-dimensional sculpture, and others through colors. So I tried every field of art: sculpture (realistic and imaginary), sketches, canvas painting, murals (realistic and decorative), film and drama posters, illustrations in literary works, book covers, interior decorations, stage layout, and caricatures.

I use various art forms to express my feelings. The different forms share the same basic principle. Take caricatures for example. My observations tell me that the distinctive personalities and traits of different people need to be highlighted and magnified while inessential things can be slighted or ignored. It is the same for both sculpted portraits and canvas portraits.

Some people say that a good command of drawing opens the door for “all fields of art” That is not a good generalization.It is true that drawing skill is paramount and basic to all visual arts, but sculpture, canvas painting, poster and caricatures aren’t of the same category of art as drawing. To achieve something in different fields, we need to keep practicing, studying and exploring.

Study knows no bounds. I have never stopped studying, not only visual arts, but also literature and performing arts (music, dance, drama and film). But I clearly know what I need to study and what I don’t need to. What is important is that we should not get lost in this kaleidoscopic world and that we should pursue art with honesty and good conscience.

I’m lucky to have known many artists and amateurs with the same ideals and aspirations as I. Together we set up a hundred-member Willy Wang Workshop. I have volunteered to give lectures there for over twenty years. We come from different countries, but we treat each other like brothers and sisters. We love our “ International Family” , and we hope our efforts may help to make the world better and more beautiful.

Notes depicting my experience of life