Chinese disabled artist of traditional Chinese art painting, Shuai Liu, with a short video online featuring his unbowed life as a young artist, attracted the eye of you and Chilture.
After two and half hours’ train ride from Beijing, followed with another two hours’ travel on bus, going through sandstorms and the acrid coking smell in the air, Chilture’s team arrived in a typical backward village in north China, set with high and low tile-roofed houses and some bare-looking two-storied buildings.
With some inquiry, we made it to Shuai’s home, an even-roofed single-storied house, which later we knew was build for the wedding of Shuai’s elder brother, his only sibling, who had been the bread-earner of the family and was killed in a traffic accident in 2005 on his way to prepare things for his wedding. In a moment of deep dejection, Shuai’s mother tried to take her own life but was pulled back by Shuai’s imploring eyes. Shuai’s father, in his 60’s, hair all blanched and hunchbacked, has also been tremendously hurt by his son’s death and didn’t speak a single word until we left. Shuai then comforted and promised to his parents: ‘Without my brother, I would sell my paintings one day to support you.’
* Shuai is creating Chinese painting meticulously with his left hand, as his right fingers can’t stretch out at all.
* Chinese landscape painting: Taoism / Tao: Landscape is a typical theme in traditional Chinese watercolor painting. This one features an ancient scholar living in solitude, possibly in south China as seen in this painting, practicing the principles of Taoism-action through non-action, naturalness, simplicity, spontaneity, and the Three Treasures: compassion, moderation, and humility
Shuai was suffering from cerebral palsy and confined to a wheelchair since his childhood. Despite many adversities of life, Shuai has never yielded to it. Being not able to attend school, he asked his mother to borrow textbooks to teach him to read. Then he got a dictionary and started teaching himself. A well-thumbed dictionary was still seen beside him on his bed when we first arrived. Propping himself up on his elbows in bed, he was reading amongst some wasted painting slips.
At the age of 10, Shuai started painting when one day his father picked up a crayon in the street and brought to him back home. “I soon lost myself in the pleasure of painting and found it a way to express my inner world,” Shuai told us.
When he paints, he has to sit in his shabby wheelchair and have his atrophied legs tied to the wheelchair with the help of his father. “I can’t stretch out my fingers fully and my hands tremble when painting so I have to lay my wrist on an ink box.” Shuai said, “I’m left-handed as my right hand is much worse than my left one.” For all these limitations, Shuai paints three to four hours every day.
Shuai mainly works with black and colored ink and uses both the two main techniques in traditional Chinese ink painting-Shui Mo, freehand or watercolor or brush painting, and Gong Bi, meticulous or court-style painting.
* Landscape Chinese Painting/Trees Chinese painting: Awaiting the Return of Father
* Chinese figure painting: Shuai’s father is husking corn in the yard.
Shuai teaches himself Chinese painting by reading theory and instruction books, copying excellent outstanding artworks in history and the present day, videos online and could occasionally receive instructions from some visiting renowned painters from his county.
* Chinese Girl Painting: Picture of Listening to Spring
Traditionally, as a painter of Chinese brush painting, the artist must be versed in literature as well if he wants to be an accomplished painter as Chinese painting has long been a means to expressing thoughts of great scholars down the ages. Shuai knows this well. He reads in a wide range and keeps writing down his thoughts. Here is a short note by Shuai: “Immersed in the painting for over a decade, how many hot and cold times have gone? Fingers tremble with the cold bed in winter and in summer shirts get wet and dry. Every single dot and line are painted in heart. My brushes and ink move and flow as days extend.”
* Chinese Crane painting: Cranes, said to be the national bird of China, symbolize good luck, longevity, peace, elegance and faithfulness, and is a typical subject in traditional Chinese paintings.
Shuai gets his inspirations of Chinese paintings from many different sources: a memory, a vision, an image, others’ paintings, a villager, his mom and dad, a cat or dog, swallows nesting under the roof of his house, and even himself. Therefore, the subjects of his Chinese art painting vary significantly.
Shuai does very well in exploring and developing his own features of Chinese landscape painting with green and blue colors.
* Chinese Landscape Painting with green and blue colors: Elegant Gathering of Friends.
In spite of years of obscurity and the isolation of his village, Shuai has successfully held a small exhibition in his county and won a second prize in an arts competition for the disabled in Hebei Province.
Today, Shuai has been accepted as a member of Chilture Studio of Disabled Artists. Chilture will do its best to assist him in realizing his wishes of holding a formal exhibition, having a collection of his Chinese ink painting published and getting instructions from great masters of Chinese brush painting.
For more inspiring works of this artist, please visit this webpage.