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The history of the development of modern Chinese woodblock printmaking in the 20th century cannot be written without mentioning the name of Li Pingfan, born 1922. He contributed a lot to the development of the Chinese form of making a woodblock print using the wet-water technique with water-soluble inks. And Li Pingfan had learned from Japanese woodblock printmakers long before the beginning of official exchange programs between Japan and China.
Li Pingfan was born in Tianjin in 1922. It was in his hometown where he had studied Western Art at the Tianjin Art School. But when world war II broke out he lived in Japan - in Kobe, a seaport that was characterized until the outbreak of world war II by a large population of foreigners and an international atmosphere. Kobe was also the hometown of the Japanese printmaker Hide Kawanishi. Li Pingfan met him and the two men experimented together in the technique of making woodblocks with water-soluble inks.
In 1950 Li Pingfan returned to China and began to teach what he had learned in Japan. He held lectures and printmaking demonstrations in Beijing, Shanghai, Sichuan, Gangzhou, Hangzhou and in other Chinese cities.
The favorite subjects of the artist have been young children in poses of play and innocence. His children have big eyes, small mouths and noses. The subject reminds of the works of some Japanese artists like Kaoru Kawano 1916-1965, Shuzo Ikeda 1922-2004 or Junichi Nakahara 1913-1988. It is probable that Li Pingfan was inspired by these and other artists and by the Japanese manga culture.
Among the few book publications available on modern Chinese prints, one has developed into a kind of standard work: The Art of Contemporary Chinese Woodcuts. In this book Ms. Ellen Johnston Laing published an article about the "Woodcuts in the People's Republic of China, 1949-1985". She writes about Li Pingfan:
"Mr. Li Pingfan was born in 1922 in Tianjin and studied Western art at the Tuanjin Art School. He lived in Japan during World War II where he studied the water-print method with Kawanishi Hide(1894-1965) and established a print society for overseas Chinese. Li Pingfan returned to China in 1950, and in 1953, began to impart his knowledge of the technique through lectures and demonstrations in Beijing, Shanghai, Sichuan, Guangzhou, Hangzhou and elsewhere.
The book shows on pages 61 and 62 two print examples by Li Pingfan and has several more paragraphs about the artist that refer to the images published.
Except for the information provided by Ms. Ellen Johnston Laing we received more direct from China. The artist is still alive and still active in printmaking - now for 60 years. This is what we learned from our Chinese source.
"Li Pingfan was editor of People's Art Publishing Company, chief editor of Print World (we assume a Chinese print magazine). In 1987, he was honored with the golden prize (we do not know by whom) for his contributions for art exchange between China and Japan. And in 1997, he donated all his private collection of Japanese prints to the Chinese National Gallery."
The Guggenheim Museum in New York showed a black/white print by Li Pingfan from 1939 during an exhibition of China 5,000 Years from 1998. The woodblock was on loan for this exhibition by Jiangsu Provincial Art Gallery, Nanjing. To see the image and many more by other early artists of the Chinese woodblock art history, you must go to an old page of the Guggenheim web presentation on The Modernist Generations (1920 - 1949): Wood Block. Then choose from the menu on the left the artist Li Pingfan.
"The Art of Contemporary Chinese Woodcuts", a portfolio assembled by Christer von der Burg, with contributions by An Bin, Julia F. Andrews, David Barker, Hwang Yin, Ellen Johnston Laing and Frances Wood� 9.25 x 13", 268 pp., 60 color and 171 b/w illustrations, paper, London, 2003, ISBN 0-9546048-1-4 (paperback), ISBN 0-9546048-0-6 (hardback).
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Works by emerging Chinese artists in BUYDIRECT.