Tree hole painting heats debates on outdoor art

2013-03-07 10:47:05 GMT2013-03-07 18:47:05(Beijing Time)  Global Times

When mentioning paintings, we usually think of pictures on paper, canvas or on a wall exhibited in galleries or museums. But recently, a college student subverted people's natural thinking by painting animals and birds on the bald parts of trees and telegraph poles, making an old street in Shijiazhuang, Hebei Province her exhibition hall.

The creator of these works is Wang Yue, a college student from Dalian Polytechnic University. As a native of Shijiazhuang, she has taken to beautifying her hometown by covering the worn trees with her paintings. Her initiative has won much praise from members of the community who say the art adds vitality to the city.

Meanwhile, the popularity of these paintings has stirred up discussion about public art, because many outdoor sculptures and even some architecture have been met with controversy and disapproval.

Tree scar as canvas

A brook flows in the woods, a woodpecker looks up to the tree bark, a cute white cat looks out of a hole, a man rows along a river against a setting sun - these are the paintings Wang has created on the trees along Jiuzhong Street in Shijiazhuang. They make the city, which has been shrouded in smog over the past months, look interesting and colorful.

Wang, a senior majoring in visual communication design, got the idea of painting on trees while visiting home for Spring Festival. "In winter, the bald parts of trees look particularly ugly, so I wondered whether painting pictures on them might help cover some flaws of the city," Wang said. It is also part of her graduation work.

She started to work on the paintings after getting permission from the local management department this January.

Painting on trees is not as easy as painting on paper or canvas. As Wang explained, she needs to design the content and form a picture based on the shape and size of a tree hole. Each one takes her from one to three hours.

Wang's paintings received favorable comments from both the local citizens and people that live beyond Shijiazhuang. Photos of them spread like a virus on Weibo after Wang's friend Li Yue uploaded the pictures online, making Wang an overnight sensation.

As reported, many people went to the street to have a look at her work, and on at least one occasion, the formerly dreary street became impassable due to the crowd. "It is so lovely, beautiful and innovative," netizens said, "It is delightful and decorates the city."

From museum to street

Liu Junping, a researcher of public art at China Central Academy of Fine Arts, said that Wang appeared to be outstanding mainly because she managed to demonstrate her talent in an innovative and acceptable way.

"She didn't make breakthroughs in the paintings themselves," Liu said, "but she chose a different way to represent them. Instead of painting inside for a limited audience, she chose to paint in a public space… and made the public her audience."

Meanwhile, she chose to paint animals, birds, plants and scenery that bring warmth and love and are usually acceptable to most audiences.

"This is my design style," the 23-year-old creator told Global Times, "and I hope people will love it since they appear on the street." She has finished 12 paintings as of Tuesday.

According to Liu, Wang's paintings are a good example of public art that draws exalted art closer to the masses. "Since the 20th century, there has been a trend of popularizing art in both the West and the East, which tries to reform the art that used to serve only a minority and make it for the masses," Liu, who used to be Wang's teacher, told Global Times.

He added that the trend features art intervening in society and life and transforming life, adding that this is reflected in Wang's paintings.

Wang wished that her pictures could make the city look beautiful and their existence indeed can make people feel delighted when walking along the street. The feedback shows her wish came true.

Moreover, her actions may lead to bigger changes. As Wang and her paintings became famous, several media, including CCTV (China Central Television), is calling for cities around China to make more room for art. It is reported that Hebei Youth Daily has already initiated an activity that gathers painters to decorate the cities where they live.

For the public

Public art refers to art creations that are placed in a public space and for a public purpose: they are usually accessible to all citizens. Public art can take the forms of paintings, installations, architecture, gardens, performance and so on. "Having originated in the West, it is a comprehensive realm that includes many art practices and art forms," Liu said.

The rapid development of urbanization in China means there is ample room for public art creation. In China, sculptures and landscaping are the main recognizable forms of public art. According to Liu, public art has developed slowly in China and has found it challenging to maintain the attention it deserves for any length of time.

Generally speaking, everything in public sight, including residential environments, the signage at bus stops, and the design of shopping malls, all constitute public art, he said, but these things are usually ignored in terms of aesthetics.

In recent years, there have emerged a large number of sculptures and landmark buildings to decorate Chinese cities, but some of them create a scandal on their day of birth.

After a list of the "Top 10 ugly buildings across China" became well-known, there appeared a list of top 10 ugly sculptures online last year. These were chosen by netizens and included a pair of bare-breasted "pigs" in obscene postures in Zhengzhou, Henan Province, and the abstract "life" in Wuhan, Hubei Province, which looks like a random pile of sticks.

"The public art works in many cities are decided on by municipal departments and the artists themselves," Liu told Global Times, "They should also listen to public opinion and take the art's acceptability into account."

He noticed that more and more people are beginning to pay attention to public art and are aware of how to participate. As a result, public aesthetics are improving with time.

"The wide use of the Internet and Weibo allows people to express their opinion freely and get attention. There is interaction and communication," Liu said, "It is a gradual process."

While Wang's paintings are regarded a good example of how to bring art and the public together, she is modest about it, considering the acceptance of art to be a complex issue.

"Artists have their own style in creating works of art. Some like to distinguish their style and some are forward looking in creation," she said, "There is no right or wrong. I simply wanted people to like my pictures and I did it." But she emphasized that when one considers making pubic art, it is essential to think about the public's feelings.

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