Li Qun, born in Lingshi, Shanxi Province in 1912, is a renowned and influential woodcuts and Chinese paintings artist.
His woodcut Lu Xun is now used worldwide as a standard picture of the famous 20th-century Chinese writer Lu Xun. Under Lu Xun's influence and encouragement, Li picked up the knife and began to make woodcuts in the 1930s. The hard social conditions of old China, the fire and smoke of the war, the life of the soldiers and peasants in Yan'an, and also the development and construction of new China, all of these subjects are described on Li's woodcuts.
In the past 60 years, Li has already held 18 personal exhibitions of paintings and his works have been exhibited in more than 50 countries. All of Li's works show his great love for life and the people.
In 1931, Li was admitted to the Hangzhou National Art School and organized the Woodcut Research Association there in 1933, and then began to make woodcuts, aimed at depicting the life of the masses. In the same year, he participated a left wing artist's alliance. In 1940, he arrived in Yan'an, where he took up teaching at the Lu Xun Art Academy. Then in 1942, he participated in the Talks at the Yan'an Conference on Literature and Art in 1942, where Mao set the guidelines for art in the future People's Republic.
In July of 1949, Li attended the first national congress of writers and artists, and was elected as a committee member of the China Federation of Literary and Art Circles and managing director of the national art worker's association of China. Then he went to Taiyuan and was appointed as director of the Shanxi Federation of Literary and Art Circles and as editor-in-chief of local magazine Pictorial of Shanxi. In 1952, he moved to Beijing, where he worked in the editorial office of the People's Fine Arts Publishing House. He was also involved editorially with the journal Fine Arts (Mei shu). In the 1960s, he traveled through China, making woodcuts. He returned in the late 1970s to take on various ceremonial functions in Taiyuan, Shanxi Province.
Since 1977, Li has been president of the Shanxi Province picture studio, committee member of the China Federation of Literary and Art Circles, managing director of the China Artists Association, and vice-president of China Woodcut Association.
The influences of Mao Zedong and Lu Xun
The modern woodcut in China wouldn't have developed without the great advocacy of Lu Xun. An activist by nature, Lu encouraged many young artists, who had adopted revolutionary ideologies from Europe in their search for ways to modernize China, to use their art as a tool for revolution.
It was Lu who encouraged Li Qun to make woodcuts. On mentioning why he decided to make woodcuts, Li Qun answered, "I was very much influenced by Lu Xun at that time, and I still remember that Lu Xun once said, 'in revolution, the woodcut is the most widely used.'"
Li was also influenced by Mao Zedong. In 1942, Li participated in Talks at the Yan'an Conference on Literature and Art. At the conference, Mao declared that the task of the artist was to "create a work of art which can awaken and arouse the popular masses, urging them on to unity and struggle and to take part in transforming their own environment."
Sitting in the first row, Li listened carefully and discussed the idea excitedly with others. It was this conference that helped Li to understand what true art was and whom art was supposed to serve. After the conference, Li used the idea of serving the masses and serving socialism as guidelines in his art.
Serving the masses
Li strongly believes that art should serve the interests of the masses--the workers, peasants and soldiers. The masses should be the only subjects of art. According to Mao, the lives of the masses must be the sole source of the raw material of art, and the artist's work is to process the raw material made from observations of the masses into a more typical and idealized form.
Revolutionary artists must go among the masses of workers, peasants and soldiers and into the heat of battle without reservation to observe, experience, study, and analyze all the different kinds of people, classes and masses, all the vivid patterns of life and struggle, before they are ready for the stage of processing or creating. Artists are to praise the bright side of the masses and should obviously praise their toil and struggle, their army and their party.
Li's representative woodcuts are Spring Night, Taihang Mountain Scenery and Guayeju. These woodcuts are part of the China National Museum of Arts collection.
Li's published works include Woodcut of Li Qun, Selected Prints Works of LiQun, Collection of Thesis of Fine Arts of LiQun, and Woodcut Lecture.
The woodcut Disease in 1993 depicted the tribulations of persecuted Chinese people through the vacant eyes and bony hands of a patient.
(chinaculture July 28, 2006)