Chinese treasures take one last trip out of the country

By Kate McElhinney

This weekend, an artist whose works will no longer be allowed to leave China will show some of his last works to leave the country.

Acclaimed artist Hu Jun Di is currently featuring contemporary Chinese artwork at the Hallmark Galleries. On Saturday, May 20, the gallery will host a show where art lovers will be offered a chance to meet the artist and to hear a firsthand explanation of his intricate oil paintings.

The artist completes 10 paintings a year, and with 20 pieces expected in the show, it is a rare opportunity to glimpse a handful all at once.

“We did a show about three years ago here in La Jolla and have had many requests to have him back,” publicist Lenny Schas said. “He’s been very busy. He does a lot of shows in China and elsewhere. It’s very exciting because his work has taken a new level both in China and here.”

In just the past five years, Eastern art has become more affordable when compared to Western pieces on the market. Currently, the Hallmark gallery showcases the largest collection of Hu Jun Di’s originals in the world.

Hu Jun Di’s oil paintings, selling from $45,000 to $85,000, have formed a critical bridge between Eastern and Western cultures. Whereas Westerners today may have difficulty interpreting traditional Chinese art, this new contemporary style is clearer.

According to the artist, 20 percent of his art work is infused with Western style. He uses Western tools but prefers to paint on linen, as opposed to canvas.

“My paintings are unique and all from my imagination,” Hu Jun Di said through interpreter and museum director Michelle Mitchell. “But I study ancient Chinese poets as well as Western style, and I am influenced by Andrew Wyeth’s style.”

Hu Jun Di is recognized for the free and flowing brush strokes found in his oil paintings. This style of painting is fairly new in China, and he is considered one of the first to cross over from the traditional bamboo and rice paper tools.

Using a light and shade contrast technique known as chiaroscuro, Hu Jun Di highlights the Asian people and their environment by illuminating the figure. He said he paints as many as 15 to 20 layers of background on the linen to create a realistic appearance, while the figure’s skin requires 20 to 30 layers. This advanced layering method, according to Schas, is the defining quality that places Hu Jun Di’s paintings above the rest.

“It can hold its own next to a Monet,” Schas said. “You can feel it.”

Hu Jun Di has been approached to have his work in the Venice Biennial, one of the most prestigious and well-known art shows in the world. In the fall, he is scheduled for a joint show with one of the most famous artists in China.

Hu Jun Di said he has been interested in art since he was young. Since he grew up during the cultural revolution, his brother helped him obtain supplies, and he had an underground art teacher.

When the art schools opened up, there were many students clamoring to get in. Only the best made it in those first few years.

The artist’s home town, Leshan in the Seshun province of China, is the setting for most of his art. His work focuses on the elements: wind water, fire, earth. The recent overcast weather in San Diego reminds Hu Jun Di of his hometown and inspired him to work while here.

Most of his artwork features one or two young Asian women. Hu Jun Di said their elegant figures, enveloped in misty pastels, tell a story that no title can capture.

“I’m trying to capture the essence of Asian women, inspired by my dreams,” Hu Jun Di said.

When he paints, he does not use models. He tries to capture the purity of the Asian woman using only his imagination. Hu Jun Di is in the process of painting 20 portraits of Chinese women from all walks of life. These will be displayed at the May 20 gallery art show.

With the cultural crossover, there has been some confusion with the title translations of his paintings. Hu Jun Di explained that all his artwork tells a story and should speak for itself. So Schas named them, thinking a Western audience needed titles.

Mitchell pointed out that the titles are very limiting and stifle the artist’s intentions. An example of a misnamed painting is “Autumn Reflection,” which Schas named, but later had to be changed to “Summer Rest.”

Hu Jun Di said he hopes that people will look further than the titles.

“It will open so many doors,” he said.

Hallmark Galleries is at 1162 Prospect St. The reception for Hu Jun Di will take place Saturday, May 20, from 4 to 9 p.m. Call (858) 551-8108.