Panda man

Updated: 2016-07-26 07:35

By Lin Qi(China Daily)

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Han Meilin will celebrate his 80th birthday with a grand exhibition in Venice this fall, Lin Qi reports.

Han Meilin believes that if a blade isn't sharpened, it will become rusty just like a person who doesn't use his or her brain.

So, the prolific Chinese artist says he keeps active by drawing for more than 10 hours every day. This year, he will be celebrating his 80th birthday on Dec 26 by staging a grand exhibition first in Venice, then Paris and finally Beijing.

 Panda man

Han Meilin continues his artistic exploration despite his age. His works cover a wide range of subjects, including the 2008 Beijing Olympics mascots. Jiang Dong / China Daily

Originally from East China's Shandong province, the Beijing-based artist is widely known for designing the giant panda-themed stamps of 1985, Air China's phoenix logo in 1988 and the five Fuwa mascots for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

The upcoming exhibition will focus on his creativity in enlivening the Chinese cultural scene and his versatility in being able to work in various artistic fields.

The show, titled Meilin's World in Venice, will be opened on Oct 27 at Venice International University. The displayed works will include his paintings, sketches and sculptures, tracing his artistic evolution since the 1980s when he was inspired by the ancient rock paintings of China.

At the time, Han had traveled to the Helan Mountains in the Ningxia Hui autonomous region, and was struck by the primitive drawings on cliffs that depict the life of the northern ethnic tribes thousands of years ago.

He studied ancient art on rocks not only when traveling within the country but also outside, and adopted many patterns from there in his creations.

Han later focused on rock art to ancient Chinese characters inscribed on antiques such as oracle bones, bronze ware, ceramics and bricks.

His research has not only enriched his art vocabulary but also brought into focus designs and characters invented by ancient Chinese. In 2008, he published Tian Shu (A Book from Heaven) as a catalog of the primitive inscriptions.

The exhibition will also show Han's designs on ceramics, metal, wooden carvings, jades and other works of art that carry the same motifs. He will install an 8-meter-high sculpture dedicated to the Venice exhibition at the university square.

"The exhibition is to tell the story of Han, a man of character who remains as vigorous as young people and who always looks for novel approaches to art," says Zhao Li, chief curator of Han's touring exhibition and a professor at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing.

Umberto Vattani, president of Venice International University, says Han's exhibition will be "another gift from China to the West".

"Venice boasts a long history of links with the East. The connection helps to exercise the influence of Oriental culture and thoughts on the West," he says.

"The richness of Han's art, featuring vibrant color schemes and varying shapes, has taken traditional Chinese art to another level, and will arouse enormous interest in Venice."

The exhibition will then travel to the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, where Han was designated the "artist for peace" in October for his charitable work in support of education for youth through his art foundation in Beijing.

The last stop will be at Beijing's National Museum of China, which held his last solo exhibition in 2011.

Bai Yansong, a news presenter for China Central Television and Han's longtime friend, says the lingering charm of Han's art lies in the joyful feeling it gives people who view it.

Han survived the "cultural revolution (1966-76)" and worked hard for four decades to make up for the time that was spent away from art.

He has three galleries named after him that display his works in Beijing, Hangzhou in East China's Zhejiang province and Yinchuan city in Ningxia.

He travels extensively for his art foundation in rural China, collecting endangered folk art and merging it into his works.

He donates part of the proceeds to support folk artists he meets en route.

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 Panda man

Some highlights from Han Meilin's upcoming show in Venice will include ink painting Rock Art (top); the sculpture Chair (left); and the ceramic work Tianshu Pot (right).

(China Daily 07/26/2016 page20)