Art Nurtures Life: Celebrating 100 Years of Wu Guanzhong

"I've been practising incessantly. I have not drawn any conclusions, except to say that I have been pursuing this: the feelings of the people, the fragrance of the earth, the styles of tradition, and the formal principles of Western modernity." 

-Wu Guanzhong

"As far as the university is concerned, the significance of the master lies in its academic attainments that promote the progress of human civilization, as well as, in its noble character that affects the human mind. "

-Qiu Yong 

The principal of Tsinghua University

The Academician of China Academy of Science

"Wu Guanzhong set the course for his creative journey when he chose to explore the potential relevance between European modernism and the legacy of Chinese painting and aesthetics. "

-Eugene Tan

Director, National Gallery Singapore

Red Wall, 2003

Oil on board, H39cm × W59.2cm

Collected by National Gallery Singapore

On the occasion of celebrating the centennial of Wu Guanzhong's birth, Tsinghua University Art Museum presents the thematic exhibition, "Art Nurtures Life", to chronicle the great impact Wu Guanzhang has made for the enlightenment of national art education. Other than the outstanding works of art from various artistic periods of Wu's life, this exhibition will also showcase archives, images, essays, manuscripts, and painting tools and materials, and so on. Taking the curatorial approach of combining image and text, the distribution of the artworks will unfold under the guidance of representative discourse. It is combination of an artist's pictorial narration with his thoughts and linguistic expression, where every visitor would conceive the practice of this great artist from outside in.

Snow in Spring, 1996

Oil on canvas, H30cm × W59cm

Collected by Tsinghua University Art Museum

In this exhibition, 110 pieces of Wu Guanzhong's works will be on view, which comes from the National Gallery of Singapore, Art Museum of Tsinghua University and the National Art Gallery of China. The exhibition is divided into three parts, which are, Kite harnessed on a line, Form is an artist’s lifeline and Style as back shadow. Be the works from an earlier period or those done late in life, the works on canvas or on paper, the imageries are clean and clear without exception, who blended the worldly sceneries into humble colors, allowing nature of the mundane world to become the points and lines that resonate with vertigo of life, like the constellations in the universe, the trail left by a comet in the night sky.

1948, Wu Guanzhong at Paris

"Wu Guanzhong was a unique and iconic artist in the history of Chinese art in the 20th Century. He inherited the spirit of Chinese intellectuals' 'support of morality with their iron shoulders' and the mission of 'subverting conventions.'"

-Lu Xiaobo

Dean of the Academy of Arts and Design, Tsinghua University

VP of China Artists Association

"For Wu Guanzhong to become the artist of the people, because he discovered the 'aesthetics of abstraction' of the secret 'formal beauty' in traditional Chinese art and nature."

-Liu Jude

Senior professor of Arts, Tsinghua University

Kite Harnessed on a Line

"I've never given up the view of 'kite harnessed on a line, this embodies the inseparable relationship, the fine line that brings together the works of art to the feelings of the people. Has the line been broken among the new works? I would say, it hasn't! Only that the line was released longer, and stretched thinner, some may have been concealed as remotely controlled. The world is immense, and what does it take to look for those who share your vision? It takes the desire for beauty, the determination to communicate heart to heart – people sharing the same heart, and the heart agrees to the same principle."

Red Lotus1997

Oil on canvas, H66cm × W91cm

Collected by National Art Museum of China

"The experts applaud, the masses agree. I realized these were my wishes, and later concluded as kite harnessed on a line. The kite refers to the work of art, which doesn't have a soul, like trash that would never fly into the sky. The kite is only meaningful once it's flown high in the sky, but the line should not be cut off. This line refers to the line that brings together fate, the other side of the line is the mothership that had inspired the work of art, that is the feelings of the people and the masses."

"Art originates in a consensus, and my pursuit is the one with the world, and more importantly, with the billions of Chinese, this was the impetus for my exploration in the nationalization of oil painting, and the modernization of ink painting, which will never change in my lifetime. To integrate the Chinese sensibilities and people's aesthetics to oil painting, where I subconsciously absorbed the compositions with lines and colors people are familiar with. My oil painting tends to emphasize on the monochromatic, aspire to achieve simplicity and metaphorical meanings, which are inclined to the doctrines of ink painting. Hence, I would adopt the tools of ink painting to express the gloom on my mind."

"I've been practicing incessantly, without drawing any conclusions. I've only felt I had been pursuing the feelings of the people, the fragrance of the earth, the styles from tradition, and the formal principles of western modernity."

-Wu Guanzhong

The Form is an Artist's Lifeline

"Formal beauty is the foundation of fine art. Discovering image and form through observation is the artist's lifeblood. "

"Painting has to be beautiful first, and beauty relies on principles of form and composition rather than on implied meanings and pictorial narratives. With the attitude that I should “save the children,” I have first and foremost proposed the theory of formal beauty. I once commented that fine art practice that does not heed form would be no right practice at all. Many young artists are only concerned with subject matter and theme. They want to paint but can’t do it well, and that’s because the principles of composition have not been unleashed."

Weishan Island, 1962

Oil on board, H39.7cm × W60.4cm

Collected by National Gallery Singapore

"My opinion is clear: there are two aspects to structure. One is the anatomical, which is easy to understand: it's purely scientific. The other is abstract. It refers to stability, movement, turning, distortion, ebbs and flows, density, and other organizational relationships in a work of art. These are all principles that relate to formal beauty."


"The constitutional elements that make up formal beauty often sublimate into the soul of the artwork, where the rhythm between surface, point and line becomes a painting’s essence. The mothership that inspires this rhythm is deconstructed or concealed, and the work of art enters the field of abstraction."


"Form constitutes, for craftsmen like us, the main aspect of our work, as well as our hardship. I am not saying that we should eschew conscious thought, or meaningful content, or the creation of an artistic atmosphere; rather, thought, content and atmosphere are integrated with the essence of form, are engendered with the emergence of form, and, by the same token, disappears with its destruction."

-Wu Guanzhong

Childhood, 2003

Oil on board, H40.2cm × W28.6cm

Collected by National Gallery Singapore

Style is an Artist’s Silhouette

"Style is the artist's silhouette; it is hidden from his sight."


"Style cannot be borrowed. It's a tree, grown from sapling, nourished over time by sunshine and rain, repeatedly battered by wind and snow. Not every sapling will grow into a big tree, neither can it do so in a matter of days, months, or a few years; this is the principle of art, as it is of life. True art embodies life. The discovery and revolutionizing of many approaches and techniques has innovated art immensely, ushering it into a new era of rapid progress. We should applaud the young generation for their courage to seek reforms. However, new techniques should not be equated with style."

"Style originates from sincere emotion. It can never be forged from superficiality and pretense."

-Wu Guanzhong

Edited by Ruohan Zhao