Today we will introduce to you Wang Xisan, a Chinese painter. Different from the painters we are familiar with, he does not paint on paper, board, or the surface of some other materials, but inside crystal snuff bottles. After doing this for five decades, Wang Xisan is now regarded as one of the most outstanding artists of this field. Our reporter Du Lijun has the story.
Wang Xisan Painting inside a Snuff Bottle [photo: cnr.cn]
In 1984, when U.S. President Ronald Reagan visited China, he got a special present, a crystal snuff bottle with a delicate portraiture of him inside. The artwork was made by Wang Xisan, China's leading artist of interior bottle painting.
"Table tennis has played an important role in the development of Sino-American relationship. And I hope interior bottle painting can also do the same."
In the exhibition hall of Wang Xisan, you can see a collection of portraitures of 40 U.S. Presidents, all painted inside crystal snuff bottles. To make the Chinese traditional art better received by Westerners, Wang Xisan tried to use oil colour instead of ink. This is a great improvement in interior bottle painting.
Born in Beijing in 1938, Wang Xisan, who was then named Wang Duancheng, liked to play in the Temple of Heaven in his childhood. One day, he saw a man painting inside a very small glass bottle there. He watched for a while and immediately became interested in the unique art.
The technique of interior bottle paining is not easy to manage. Deng Youmei, who is famous for his novel about interior bottle painting, explains how hard it is.
"The mouth of the snuff bottle is very small. So the painter has to paint inside the bottle by inserting a long, thin brush through the bottle's neck. He then paints the reflection of the image, which makes the process of painting much more difficult."
At that time, there were four best interior bottle painting artists, including Zhou Leyuan, Ding Erzhong, Ma Shaoxuan and Ye Zhongsan.
At the age of 20, Wang Duancheng fortunately got a chance to study interior bottle painting under the tutelage of the sons of Ye Zhongsan. That was one of the most exciting moments in his life.
"My teachers wanted to shake hands with me, but I respected them so much and did not dare to do so. They were my idols when I was a little boy and I can hardly believe that I can be their student. It was a great honour for me."
To express his determination of learning, Wang Duancheng changed his name to Wang Xisan, meaning to learn from Ye Zhongsan, the famous folk artist as well as the father of his teachers.
Wang Xisan progressed very fast. He managed the skill of painting and formed his own style. He gradually became famous in his field. His artworks were loved by interior painted snuff bottle collectors.
However, in the 1960s, the Cultural Revolution started and Wang Xisan was forced to leave Beijing for his home village in Hengshui of North China's Hebei Province, where he had to work as a farmer.
Though life in those days was tough, Wang Xisan had never stopped painting. With the money he earned by selling his artworks, he helped many poor villagers there. His behaviour won the villagers' respect.
Hearing the story of Wang Xisan, Chen Runpu, a young man living in a nearby village, came to visit him out of curiosity.
"Without hesitation, he showed us how to paint, how to use the colour and how to use the special brush. Being attracted by the amazing art form, I decided to learn it."
Like Chen Runpu, some youngsters became students of Wang Xisan.
After the Cultural Revolution, Wang Xisan was invited to go back to Beijing, but he refused, saying the villagers helped him at the hardest time and he wanted to stay.
Over the past few decades, Wang Xisan has brought up hundreds of students in Hengshui. This is not only a great contribution to art, but also to local economy. Now in Hengshui, roughly 40,000 people are working in the industry of interior bottle painting, with a profit of over 1,000 million yuan, or 146 million US dollars.
Painting inside snuff bottles for five decades, Wang Xisan's life is all about interior bottle painting. Though he is now over 70, he still paints every day, hoping he can make as many artworks as possible when he is not too old.
For Beyond Beijing, I'm Du Lijun.