Peasant Paintings from Huhsien County

February 2 – March 31, 1978

Easel painting has been a medium of new discovery for the peasants of
Jinshan county located southwest of Shanghai. During the Cultural
Revolution in the early 1970′s, some of them began to paint their past
experiences as a part of the “bitter remembrances” campaign. The purpose
of this artistic effort was to illustrate for younger generations the
sufferings which occurred before the Liberation in 1949. For many peasants
and farmers this was the beginning of a new-found appreciation in
art– easel painting using gouache on paper became a favorite creative
pastime.

Today there are more than three hundred peasants ranging from 80 yearold
grandmothers to 17 year-old students who have become enthusiastic
amateur painters. They draw inspiration from the beautiful countryside
around them and the festive communal life they lead. Their love of life
in the new China is painted without any doctrinaire overtones. Their
style is not bound by the rules of Socialist Realism but stems from the
richness and validity of folk art as seen in the areas of embroidery,
printed textiles, stove decoration, New Year prints, and papercuts. In
the Jinshan paintings we see the use of festive colors, robust forms,
crowded compositions: elements of style that are traditional to folk arts
but seem daring and bold in easel painting.

The older generation of peasant painters such as Ruan Sidi, prefers to
paint floral bouquets patterned like dyed fabric, nostalgic scenes of an
old-time nuptial bedroom, dinner parties rendered in the same splintered
color areas as seen in embroidery, and romantic legends including the
cowherd and the weaver girl silhouetted in painting like papercuts.
They also show their enthusiasm for such new ceremonies and institutions
as group weddings and child care centers. Younger artists like the farmer
Song Jinqi are attracted by animal forms and movements. They like to
paint chickens in a bamboo grove and ducks herded in from the rain. Their
works often show a cleaner profile, more geometric forms, larger patterns
and less color than those of their elders, reflecting a modernity that is
perhaps the taste of a younger generation. Both generations of painters
retain the simplicity characteristic of folk art.

Given the conservative nature of Chinese peasants, the ability of the
Jinshan painters to create a new visual language out of the old is a
remarkable achievement. They seem to do this effortlessly, producing
imagery the originality of which is rarely seen. The variety, which seems
endless, is also astounding. Above all, the paintings reflect those
enduring qualities of people who live close to nature.