By Shi Xiaojie
Father’s studio is relatively large - about the size of a school classroom - and, contrary to popular perceptions of an artist’s studio, it is surprisingly neat and tidy, with all his painting tools and materials arranged in orderly fashion. Two ladders are placed in a prominent position in the studio: one is an ordinary A-shape ladder, while the other is a workman’s ladder, such as is used in construction scaffolding.
Large-scale artworks make up a significant proportion of my Father’s extensive oeuvre, running into several dozen individual pieces. These paintings are the fruit of years of hard work. Since I was very small, I have watched him create them, from “Tianjing Incident” to the recent “Houyi’s Story”. Initially, he climbed up the ladder with the help of a stool to work on his paintings. But to create the pieces of “Nanjing 1937” and “Houyi’s Story”, required him to stand on top of a scaffolding structure to paint. Over the years his paintings have steadily increased in size. These paintings - on a grand scale - are renowned for the power of their impact on the viewer, who finds himself at once irresistibly drawn towards the work and then overwhelmed, as if by the force and momentum of an avalanche or tidal wave, by the dark imagery.
As a young man, Father worked in construction, building houses in Anhui Province. Even now, he still manifests that fighting spirit and dogged perseverance that comes from having undertaken hard manual labour. He expresses to me repeatedly, “A painter is like a construction worker and his paintings are the houses he builds. Every single step has to be taken with great care.” I often see Father ascend and descend the ladder with brushes and a palette in his hands, and observe him gaze at the painting, as if in a trance, with one hand resting on the ladder. At such moments, I can tell he is completely immersed in his own artistic realm. One day, I asked him, “How many more of these large paintings are you going to paint?”“For as long as I can climb up these two ladders,” he replied. It is as if the ladders are extensions of his limbs, enabling him to climb higher and realize his dreams.
All these years, Father has never spared any effort in educating me and bringing me up. He has always been strict with me. My feelings for him are thus a mixture of deep love and reverence, tinged with a little fear. I have chided my grandmother, from time to time, for giving him such a frightening name. (His name Da Wei literally means fear and respect in Chinese.) These days, however, he has become more like a friend. Since both of us are painters, we frequently exchange views both on art and life and we always have a great deal to share with each other and much to talk about. I now think of Father himself as a gigantic ladder, which I am climbing, following in his footsteps, carrying his hopes and aspirations.
He has told me that he longs for the day when I am the one standing at the top of the ladder, brushes and a palette in hand, painting freely in my own artistic realm, while he quietly watches me paint, the same way that I watch him now.