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Jia Pingwa: Painter or Novelist?

It is quite a novelty to talk to a novelist like Jia Pingwa.

Born in 1953 into a farmer's family in Danfeng County in western China's Shaanxi Province, Jia is widely acknowledged as a celebrated contemporary writer for his works such as "The Ruined Capital," "The Gaolaozhuang Village" and "The Turbulence."

However, these days he prefers to be called "Painter Jia."

"I favored painting ever since I was a small child, and painting finally became my hobby in the late 1990s," said Jia, who was in Shenzhen to attend the opening ceremony of "Chang'an Man", an exhibition of paintings by Jia and professional Shaanxi painter, Xing Qingren.

The exhibition, which ended last weekend at the Hexiangning Art Gallery in Shenzhen, displayed major works of the two natives of Xi'an, (also called "Chang'an" in ancient times), capital of Northwest China's Shaanxi Province.

Xing Qingren, who is eight years younger than Jia, is a professional painter at the Shaanxi Chinese Painting Academy.

A graduate of the Xi'an Academy of Fine Arts, Xing won credit for his ink and wash painting "A Rosy Memory," which was completed in 1989 and was awarded three medals at the seventh national art exhibition.

A descendant of a peasant family in Dali, Shaanxi, Xing's works feature portraits of the daily lives of country men in Shaanxi.

Both reside in Xi'an. They got to know each other and became good friends in the early 1990s.

"I often went to the art studio of Qingren which is called 'Rose Garden.' He always had a chair and a glass of water ready for me," said Jia.

"Once when I was getting ready to visit Qingren's studio I left a message on my wife's pager, saying I was going to the Rose Garden to meet Qingren. Since in pinyin, Qingren has the same pronunciation as lover, my wife thought I meant I was going to the Rose Garden to meet my lover! She kept calling my mobile phone and she rushed to the garden," he recalled.

When the outraged Mrs Jia arrived at the Rose Garden, she was astonished to find out the owner of the studio was actually a man.

Xing is a painter with a rich imagination. Everyday when he wakes up, he goes to the studio to paint what he saw in his dreams the night before. When Jia visited his studio, he would pick up what he liked the most and would write annotations on these works.

It was this relationship that inspired the two to jointly publish a painting album called the "Stories of the Rose Garden," in September 1999.

This year the two took their work southward, hoping to give art lovers in Shenzhen a taste of the Loess Plateau in western China.

On display were a series of paintings that Jia created on the last day of the 20th century.

"We've undergone so many unforgettable things in the 20th century, so on that night, there were plenty of ideas coming to my mind, so I painted them as a way to welcome in the new century," he said.

Among these are "The Woods in the Dusk" and "Walking into the Century Lonely."

It is clear that Jia wanted to describe a kind of "end of century mentality" in this series of work.

As a distinguished writer, Jia said he regards painting as another important channel to express his feelings.

"Like writing novels, I choose to paint when I come up with things that words cannot describe," he said.

Even though his paintings are growing ever more popular, Jia never forgets that he is a writer. He is currently working on a novel, but refuses to offer further details.

"It will be finished by next spring and will go into print then," he said.

(China Daily January 10, 2002)

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