A Positive Impression
By Chen Nan

(China Daily 01/05/2008 page8)

In the dash for cash, many trailblazing Chinese artists are leaving the ancient art form of printmaking in the dust. But Su Xinping (pictured on the right), professor of Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA), strives to keep this dying medium alive and kicking.

"Art lovers seek the originality of oil painting, while ignoring the beauty of ancient printmaking. Because prints can be copied, their prices are very low, which enables ordinary people to get close to art, but the public is largely unaware of printmaking," Su says. "The problems are artists' impatience, the temptation of money and repute."

The 48-year-old from Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region graduated from CAFA with a master's degree in printmaking and has created artworks using the medium for more than two decades.

He says that oil painting is his bread and butter, while printmaking is his labor of love.

"Art is purely a private thing and an expression of the artist himself," he says. "Without the steering power of the market, the artist works for himself, and self-achievement takes precedence over public opinion. But unfortunately, that's not the way it is in today's art market."

And so, that special breed of artists still practicing printmaking is becoming an endangered species in the country.

"China has a long and distinguished history of printmaking. However, the art medium is flourishing in Western countries and Asian countries such as Japan," he says. "The main reason it's floundering here is low market recognition."

Su identifies four basic categories of the art form based on the method by which works are made: Relief methods, such as woodcutting and linocutting; intaglio methods, such as engraving, etching and dry pointing; surface processing, used mostly in lithography; and stenciling methods, including silk-screening and serigraphing.

Su's engravings both venerate and question this traditional Chinese art form. His advocacy of contemporary theories is apparent in his emphasis on plurality and imprinting - "the essential beauty of printing". He hones in on a rationalized spirituality and workaday life.

Su draws inspiration from a changing China, and rather than follow international trends, he uses an introspective technique that is unique among today's contemporary art scenes.

His earliest series was inspired by Inner Mongolia. It features vast grasslands dotted with people.

While the themes and content may not create an immediate connection with viewers, the controlled technique used to portray the movement of the figures, who blend with the rolling hills, conveys a sense of innocence. Su's ability to create communicative facial expressions increases the scenes' peacefulness.

The Rising Sun was an installment of a series created in 1991 that was symbolic of the hopefulness of that time. "My work and the development of my artistic career are really connected with China's contemporary social issues," Su says. "The Rising Sun is the best example of this, as I, the artist, was saying that China still had hope."

Su Xinping's work will be on display at the ongoing 2008 China Print Art Festival organised by Amelie Gallery in 798 Art District. The show focuses on expanding awareness of printmaking as an art genre.

Visitors can see Su's latest black and white works, which take inspiration from ink and wash techniques.