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Art channel for ex-anchor
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For 20 years, Cheng Di was a famous face on local television, anchoring the news and narrating documentaries. Now he is gaining attention for his paintings of expressive faces.

"Believe it or not, I only picked up my brush two years ago," says 49-year-old Cheng. "One of my painter friends sent me some brushes, oil and canvas. It was by that chance that I started to paint."

At first, he just painted aimlessly, mainly blocks of color. "I treated painting as a way to release my emotions," he says. "In fact, I didn't want to show my work to others, it was just a private hobby of my own."

Now he is holding first solo exhibition featuring 26 striking oil paintings at Xintiandi.

Born in 1959 in Shanghai, Cheng worked at the Shanghai Television Station for many years and finally left a few years ago.

His interest in art began quietly, back when he was a little boy.

"I never learned painting in a systematic way," he says, "rather, I never had a teacher to follow."

Because he is so well known, he has a wide social network where he encounters artist friends. "They often took me to different exhibitions," he recalls. "Now I realize that these experiences enabled me to subconsciously absorb various 'nutrition' in my paintings."

Featuring portraits of men and women, he uses a clear and simple art language with bright colors. They're not at all "professional."

"The reason is simple," he explains. "I don't use any perspective skills."

Maybe that's why he first tried abstract painting.

"But I found that I was stuck there, maybe because I lack art training. So I decided to put it aside."

Then, one night Cheng dreamed of his father who had passed away many years before. The next day he had a passion to paint and outlined on his canvas the face he had dreamed.

He later showed it to an artist friend. "He was stunned to see the painting and could hardly believe that it was created by my hand," he says. "At that moment, I knew I had discovered the right subject - people."

Today Cheng paints surrealistic figures inspired by fashion magazines, films, television and other sources.

"My mind is akin to a computer that only selects those visual images that excite my eyes," he says.

Despite lack of formal training, Cheng manages to capture an individual's appeal, especially through the eyes.

"They say the eyes are the window to the soul," he says. "Through my observation, I intend to open these 'windows,' even most of them are strangers to me."

In fact, Cheng's lack of formal training helps him take a fresh, creative view of the people and the world around him.

"I am quite pleased that many of my paintings at this show have been already sold, meaning my works can be appreciated and recognized by others," Cheng says. Encouraged by his debut, Cheng is now renting a private studio for his own creations.

"Today canvas is more attractive than television to me," he says. "I am lucky to find my second career as I am approaching 50."

Cheng Di Exhibit
Date: through January 31, 10am-4pm
Venue: Bldg 1, Xintiandi

(Shanghai Daily January 25, 2008)

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