Welcome to “Artist Spotlight”, a new column where each month we will be showcasing awesome artists (and their work) from yesterday, today, as well as upcoming artists you should know tomorrow! From fine art and illustration, children’s books to animation, comics and videogame concept art, hey maybe even fashion, we’ll aim to showcase the best of the best, especially underrated or unsung artists whose praise is long overdue. We’ll even dive deeper with occasional interviewers and questionnaires with the artists themselves.
Our first spotlight this summer is Wang Shuhui (王叔晖) (1912-1985) a Chinese Gongbi (meticulous brushwork) and Zhongcai (heavily colored) figure painter and illustrator who rocketed to fame in the 1950’s and 60’s China while at People’s Fine Arts Publishing House for her designs and artwork. While she is well known in China, she is not very well known in America. We’d love to change that.We were first introduced to Wang Shuhui at the People’s Fine Arts Publishing House booth at BEA 2015 this past May where we were captivated by a reprint of her 1954 illustrated version of Wang Shifu‘s Chinese classic romance, The Story of The Western Wing (traditional Chinese: 西廂記; simplified Chinese: 西厢记; pinyin: xīxiāngjì; Wade–Giles: Hsi-hsiang-chi) also known as West Chamber. Since we had never seen her work before, we asked about her and learned she was quite the artist and had a full and interesting life.
Shuhui got her start in illustration at the age of 15 studying at the Chinese Painting Research Institute where she was tutored by other traditional Chinese artists such as Wu Jingting, Xu Yansunand Wu Guangyu. While she pulled heavily from the traditional Gongbi tradition, she in particular also embraced lots of Western painting techniques into her work, including a deeper layered perspective and composition and more balanced sense of anatomy and proportion. We were also told that she was bent on producing authentic coloring for her costumes, studying actual ancient art and documents to make sure her period dress was correct. The ultimate result is a very unique and sensitive look blending the best of both art forms and traditions.
Shuhui’s body of work consist mostly of portraiture of characters from classic literature and history, focusing in particular on delicate but strong heroines or “ancient beauties”, but also used her portraiture skills for lianhuanhua (Chinese picture-story), sequential full page illustrated “comic books” of an often established classic narrative, functionally lying somewhere in between a graphic novel and a picture book. These were an immensely popular art form in the 20th century and are experiencing a revival in interest.
Her 16 page West Chamber is one of five lianhuanhua she produced and perhaps her most well known. Upon publishing it was an international best seller at the time and was later a winner of the first National Comics Award specifically for lianhuanhua in 1963. It was, and still is an object of immense pride for the company. She subsequently attempted in 1957 to do a 128 page version of West Chamber but the resulting oeuvre was seen as contentious during the Cultural Revolution so reputedly 118 of the pictures were destroyed, with the ten surviving illustrations currently housed at the National Art Museum of China.
Shuhui never married, working from a modest bedroom studio with a tiny desk until retiring in 1981 after completing new artworks for a series of West Chamber stamps which were published in 1983. She died in 1985.
We were extremely captivated by her work and we hope you’ll explore it. While English results are few, by googling her name 王叔晖 you get many examples and galleries of her work.
Like the artist spotlight initiative? Let us know about any artists both old and new that we should profile!
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