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Flesh and Stone

Wang Luhuan, thin and small, is a sculptor of unusual ability. His outstanding stone works match those of some great masters.

In 1973, Wang joined the painting and calligraphy team of the Palace Museum, the former Imperial Palace, in Beijing. His routine work included drawing charts, making copies of captions, and copying and repairing ancient paintings. After work, he often engraved seals and collected stones for sculpture. The knob of a seal is traditionally carved into the shapes of a phoenix or the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac: the rat, ox, tiger, hare, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, cock, dog, and pig. Wang found, however, that some small animals, such as the frog, snail, gecko, and some crustaceans, have colors that match natural stones. He decided to look for and collect stone materials to create works of these creatures on the seal.

The president of the museum noticed Wang's special interest and skill, and provided assistance for his creative activities. Wang was not to keep office hours. He was specially permitted to keep eagles, tortoises, frogs, insects, and snakes like long-nosed vipers, green-bamboo snakes, cobras and rattlesnakes in a courtyard behind the Imperial Garden. In order to understand these little living beings, he often fed them and observed their manners. "To paint or sculpt animals, artists have to love them. The deeper the love, the more profound the expression of creations," Wang said.

Wang's qiaose (pretty color) works have won people's admiration. Wang designs his work according to the color and vein of stone materials he has selected. He ingeniously exploits the characteristics of the selected stone and sculpts with great care and consummate skill. His works of small animals, including frog, turtle, snake, and scorpion, in natural colors and various postures, look lifelike, which is inconceivable to many people. The colorful stones Wang has used include balin from the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region, jixue from Zhejiang Province, lingbi from Anhui Province, and caitao from the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.

In 1989, the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles invited Wang Luhuan and his wife, An Lu, to exhibit their stone sculptures and paintings in the United States, where collectors bought his sculptures at high prices. In 1993, the Palace Museum held a grand collection ceremony of Wang's four treasures: tree frog, snail, ladybug and laotietou (iron-headed) snake. Until then, it had been unprecedented for the museum to collect stone sculptures by a living artist. In October 1996, the president of the Taipei Palace Museum invited Wang to Taiwan to exhibit his stone sculptures. In April 2000, nine of his works, including stone sculptures, paintings and calligraphy, were formally collected by the Taipei Palace Museum.

(China Pictorial September 17, 2004)

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