SHANGHAI, Nov. 10 (Xinhua) — In front of curious visitors, Lu Yongzhong slowly adds colors to a painting depicting three smiling women in front of a sea of green crops. The women wear blouses featuring flowers, with one holding a baby, one carrying a basket of fruit and the other holding a package.
“This is a traditional Jinshan Farmers’ Painting,” said Lu, 50, who grew up in a rural town in Jinshan District of Shanghai. “Such paintings feature bright colors and usually depict the idyllic lives of farmers in rural Shanghai.”
Jinshan Farmers’ Paintings abound in rural Shanghai, but those from Jinshan District are the most typical, thus the name of the paintings, Lu said.
“The paintings are one of the traditional folk art forms in Shanghai, and has been put on the municipal intangible cultural heritage list,” Lu said.
This week, Lu brought several of his most classic paintings to the third China International Import Expo in Shanghai, hoping to promote the traditional art to the domestic and foreign audiences at the national-level exhibition.
The paintings started to become a fad in the 1960s and 1970s in Jinshan when local farmers began to paint festive occasions such as the Spring Festival and weddings, as well as daily activities such as planting trees and raising chickens.
“The farmers did not go to professional schools, and they just painted whatever they felt like painting.” Lu said. “They painted their hearts and souls.”
The farmers would paint on the walls surrounding firewood stoves and on clay, Lu added.
Born into a rural family in Jinshan, Lu started developing an interest in painting when he was just five years old.
“I became sick when I was 5 years old, and I stayed in hospital for treatment for about five or six years,” he recalled. “During my time in the hospital, I enjoyed reading comic books, and I took to painting these pictures from the books as a hobby.”
When he finally recovered, he went to school, and his talent for painting amazed his teachers and classmates. By age 17, Lu had become a well-known painter in his hometown of Lyuxiang Township.
In 1989, he joined Shanghai’s Jinshan farmers’ painting institute and began to hone his skill as a professional painter.
“I just love the style of the farmers’ paintings because they resemble everything I saw as a kid growing up in the countryside,” he said.
Two years after joining the institute, Lu crafted his maiden work that featured a rural town covered in snow. The painting was such a huge success that even a famous actor in Hong Kong demanded a copy for their collection.
“I was inspired,” he said.
From 1994 to 1995, Lu launched his own exhibitions of farmers’ paintings across the world, with his works displayed in countries including Japan, India, and the United States.
While his career as a painter skyrocketed, Lu stayed humble to his roots and the conviction to promote the traditional art to the outside world.
In 2006, with the money he made from his works, Lu built a rural art museum in his hometown, which allowed professional painters and children alike to learn about the history and artistic values of Jinshan Farmers’ Paintings.
“I wanted to concentrate on passing on the art, and I also wanted to live in the countryside,” he said.
To make the art form better known, he also toured many countries around the world, especially in Europe.
“I walked for more than 2,000 km in Europe,” he said.
He also held many painting exhibitions in European countries such as France, Portugal and Spain.
“As a Chinese artist, I wanted to make our own culture known to the world,” he said.
To help painters like Lu promote the traditional art, local authorities in Shanghai have issued a variety of supportive measures.
“We provide professional training sessions to ordinary farmer painters each year,” said Zhang Liming, with the Shanghai Municipal Intangible Cultural Heritage Protection Center.
Government authorities have also launched a project that brings the art to schools so that the younger generation gets to know the paintings well.
“Jinshan Farmers’ Paintings are quite unique,” Zhang said. “For example, the apples in the paintings are usually very big, to the point where they do not appear proportional. This is because the apples are a symbol of harvests, and the farmers want their harvests to be the biggest.”
Some companies are also promoting the paintings by putting them on souvenirs such as teacups, fans, silk scarves and even cushions.
“Jinshan Farmers’ Paintings depict the sweetness, sourness, bitterness and spiciness of farmers’ lives, and it is worthwhile to promote the intangible cultural heritage,” Lu said.