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August
80 Qi Baishi masterpieces on show at Museum of Art
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About 80 works which highlight the achievements of Qi Baishi, the great master of modern Chinese painting, will be displayed at the Hong Kong Museum of Art from tomorrow (August 25) to November 26.

The exhibition, "Likeness and Unlikeness: A Selection of Works by Qi Baishi from the Liaoning Provincial Museum", featuring major areas of Qi's artistic output in ink paintings, calligraphy and seals, presents a retrospective on Qi's art.

Speaking at the opening ceremony of the exhibition today (August 24), the Permanent Secretary for Home Affairs, Mrs Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, said the Liaoning Provincial Museum's predecessor - the Northeastern Museum - began strategically to build up a collection of Qi's works of various periods and themes in the 1950s when the artist was still alive. Its collections, thus, covered the artist's early and late styles that illustrate the different stages of Qi's artistic development.

"Qi was brought up in a peasant family and started off as a carpenter. His formative years coincided with the transformation of China through May Fourth Nationalist Movement, War of Resistance and the founding of a new China. Vexed by poverty and victimised by wars in his vagrant years, Qi, instead of allowing his passion for art to be eroded, intertwined his rural life with his works. In recognition, he was granted the title 'people's artist' and 'folk painter'.

"The exhibition title -- 'Likeness and Unlikeness' is taken from Qi's painting theory that 'The wonder of painting lies somewhere between likeness and unlikeness. Too much likeness would be fawning on the populace while too much unlikeness, deceiving the world.' This was the very realm that spurred Qi on with experimentations all his life," Mrs Lam said.

Born in Xiangtan, Hunan province, Qi Baishi (1864-1957) spent his childhood in the countryside. When he was 20, he came across "The Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting" and based his carvings and portraits on the figures in costume in the manual.

It was not until he became a student of Tan Pu (or Tan Lixian) through the introduction of Hu Qinyuan (1847-1914) that he began modelling on Wang Hui (1632-1717), who was bent on painting in the style of ancient masters.

Between 1902 and 1909, Qi's "five trips out and another five home" brought him to the northern and southern parts of the country, the sights of which stirred and inspired him. Besides painting what he saw on the way, Qi had the opportunity to view and copy many ancient masterpieces. In the process, he improved his landscape skills and eventually invented a unique style for "my own landscapes".

Proclaiming to "paint my own landscapes with my own brush and ink”, Qi liked to paint the "real mountains and rivers" that he saw back in his hometown or during his travels. Impressing the viewer with their simple beauty and straightforward composition, the landscapes were mostly done before the artist reached 60 after which he turned his attention to flowers, birds, fish and insects.

Qi was fond of painting objects commonly seen in everyday rural life such as rakes, fishing rods and bamboo baskets among a countryman's tools; reeds, hay and insects in the fields; fish, frogs, shrimps and crabs in the ponds; and sunrises and sunsets against the hills. For all the banality of the subjects, the pure and unaffected images shaped by the artist's brush and heart have a refreshing appeal to men of all tastes.

Among the wide-ranging themes in Qi's paintings, the shrimp was one of his signatures. Few people can resist the charm of the translucent shrimps that Qi brought to life with the least of brushstrokes and seemingly uncalculated interplay of light and dark ink on rice paper. They are also frequently used to expound the principle of "likeness and unlikeness", or Qi's most important discourse on painting.

In support of the exhibition, a fully illustrated catalogue will be published and available at the Gift Shop of the Museum of Art. An audio-guide to the exhibition is also available in the gallery.

The Museum of Art is located at 10 Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon. It opens from 10am to 6pm from Sunday to Wednesday and Fridays, and from 10am to 8pm on Saturdays. It is closed on Thursdays (except public holidays). Admission is $10 and a half-price concession is available to full-time students, senior citizens and people with disabilities. Admission is free on Wednesdays.

For enquiries, call 2721 0116 or visit the Museum of Art's website at http://hk.art.museum/ .

Ends/Thursday, August 24, 2006
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