The ASU Art Museum hosted world-renowned contemporary Chinese artist He Gong, who discussed China’s lagging role in the political and economic world through his art that he has created over the years, Tuesday at the Tempe campus.
Born in 1955 in China, He has traveled throughout the world learning and teaching art. As a young boy, he said he aspired to be a scientist, because being an artist was not respected at that time.
He travelled to the U.S. in 1974 to attend Friends University in Wichita, Kan., where he majored in art education.
“In those two years (in Wichita), I learned a lot,” He said.
After those two years, he returned to China to receive a bachelor of fine arts in painting and drawing from Southwest China Normal University in Chongqing in 1982. He said he later earned a master of fine arts from Sichuan Fine Arts Institute in 1985.
He continued to travel between China, the U.S., Canada and Europe. Museums in New York shocked him because he saw contemporary sculptures. He was invited to Toronto to showcase his work.
“I used images to educate the Chinese,” He said.
Art education sophomore Yvonne Garcia was one of many art students in attendance. She said she decided to come to the event, because she is interested in spending a semester in China and wanted to know more about He’s work.
“I came because it was a chance to meet an artist and was something different to see,” Garcia said. “I definitely want to study abroad in China.”
He’s paintings depict social and political ills China has faced throughout the years. His black and white oil paintings are particularly political.
Other works depict stories of his friends or become more complex as they show the relationship between China and America. Some of the meanings behind He’s paintings are not so easily defined, he said.
After a 2008 earthquake devastated China, He said he was inspired to create very powerful and emotional paintings. The Tiananmen Square massacre, which ended a month of protests relating to inflation and economic reform in 1989, also inspired him to create art that exposed the corruption going on in China.
He said his travels to Venice and throughout South America exposed how other cultures and societies lived in the world.
Throughout the lecture, He made many references to ASU alumna Justine Silving. Her thesis director was He’s wife, Claudia, and after meeting He, Silving decided to travel to China.
“I wanted to see He Gong again,” she said. “I knew Claudia would be here, too.”
A few of He’s paintings seem to depict the late Pope John Paul II. He said he was fond of him, and once in a while he creates paintings about him, because he believes they express a certain type of passion.
“When I get the right feeling, I do an image of this guy,” He said.
He’s work over the past 40 years has inspired many as he continues to explore social and political conditions in China, which he said hopes will improve and will become more relaxed.
“It’s not just about disaster, it’s about corruption,” he said.
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