|Picture of Marilyn Monroe by Hong Ming. (China Daily)|
Symbols, lines and blue and rose hues are seen in all of Chinese artist Hong Ming's paintings. It reminds people of the Spanish master Pablo Picasso. But something fresh and exotic differentiates Hong's paintings with a coat of oriental mystery.
The 40-year-old oil painter brings more than 20 works produced in the past two years to the Chinese culture center in Paris on Sept 27. His works for the show comprise two series: the 12 Western astrological signs and the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac.
Hong chooses big names such as Marilyn Monroe and Margaret Thatcher, and draws them based on the characters of the Chinese zodiac signs. And in a reversal, he paints portraits of Chinese celebrities according to the Western horoscope signs.
"How to match the features of the Chinese zodiac animals with the Western celebrities one to one was hard for me when I created the series," says Hong.
The picture of Marilyn Monroe, for instance, is associated with the tiger from the 12 zodiac animals. A wisp of curled hair, flaming lips, a top hat and skyscrapers are symbols related to the sexy Monroe and her life experiences. Under Hong's brush, the symbols are combined with the tiger - both "elegant and wild".
As for the match of the Chinese famous figures and the constellations, for example, the artist uses Libra to represent Confucius, the well-known Chinese philosopher of the Spring and Autumn period (770-476 BC). Both of them, Hong says, share common characteristics of wisdom, modesty and universal love.
Hong has been exploring his own style for 20 years. He admits with candor that he has absorbed a lot from Western art masters like Picasso, Joan Miro and Balthus, as well as successful Chinese oil painters Xu Beihong and Zhao Wuji. That's why his works are abstract with bright colors.
"He (Hong Ming) emphasizes combinations. His works are between abstract and reality. On how to learn from the West and combine it with our tradition, Hong is moving in the right direction," says Lu Hong, art director of Shenzhen Art Museum.
Born to a farming family in Lujiang, Anhui province, Hong has long struggled with poverty and opposition from his family. His parents held the opinion that being a painter is not an honorable job from which he can make a living.
"I had once been on the verge of committing suicide when I had no money and nobody wanted my pictures," says Hong.
Hong says he didn't speak a word until he was 4 years old. People at his village thought he was mute. But he could draw with stones and twigs. During his teenage years, he drew vigorously. Almost everyone in his hometown has been a model for him, no matter their age or gender, says the artist.
Hong moved to Shanghai to continue his painting career. There were days when he had nothing to eat and sold no paintings. But Hong says he never stopped his lifelong pursuit. He was "born to paint".
Hong's paintings have both a hard and soft side.
When the Iraq War broke out in 2003, Hong watched the news on TV. The bombing, people crying and children running on the streets evoked his passion to paint his war series. Hong spent one year on his war series titled Who Is Making Terrorism?.
His obsession with the classical Chinese novel A Dream of Red Mansions led Hong to create a series of female figures from the novel, employing symbols, lines and bright colors to show the destiny of these women who are widely known in China.
The artist says he is on the road to creating a new painting style, different from the West and bearing Chinese features. Although his painting thesis presently has its skeptics, he says he will never stop exploring.