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Carving Colors

Insight into visionary artist, Cheng Yu, who uses knives to paint

06·12·2015

Carving Colors

Insight into visionary artist, Cheng Yu, who uses knives to paint

06·12·2015
Cheng Yu (成宇)A visionary artist, Cheng Yu uses a palette knife rather than a brush to put his ideas to canvas. The bold technique has become his signature, alongside faceless portraits in vivid colors. Born in 1976 in Liaoning Province, Cheng Yu graduated fromthe Fine Arts Department of Shenyang Normal University. He moved to the Beijing Artist Village in 2005.

Cheng Yu (成宇)
A visionary artist, Cheng Yu uses a palette knife rather than a brush to put his ideas to canvas. The bold technique has become his signature, alongside faceless portraits in vivid colors. Born in 1976 in Liaoning Province, Cheng Yu graduated from
the Fine Arts Department of Shenyang Normal University. He moved to the Beijing Artist Village in 2005.

The characters in your paintings do not have many facial features. Why is that?

I think it gives adequate leeway; the things you don’t draw give a person more room for imagination. All of it is xieyi (写意, freehand brushwork in traditional Chinese painting). I also think that too many details affect the overall feeling.

How do you prepare yourself before drawing, physically and mentally?

I draw some of my paintings very casually; for some, I already have an idea in mind. For others, I do not have a concrete concept before I begin. I like it when it just comes out naturally with a burst of inspiration.

Your older paintings show a distinctly darker palette: black, white, grey. Your more recent works are much brighter, largely red hues. Why is that?

Actually, after watching some Peking opera, I just had this feeling, and after simplifying the canvas it simply became red. I like to use a few special strokes to create the image.

What inspired your most recent work “Opera Life”?

I really like traditional Chinese culture, whether it is musical instruments or Beijing opera. This particular painting was inspired by the story of a poor girl and a rich, generous man. The rich man sometimes would give the poor opportunities to work as a babysitter or a nanny. Once, there was an especially poor girl, so he felt bad for her and gave her a precious bag; inside was some money as well as a few treasures. After many years, the rich man became poor, but the poor girl became rich. The now-poor man recognized the bag he once gave away, and he tells the woman that it was once his. In that moment, she knew him as the man who once saved her life. This is the story that helped me construct the character.

How would you describe your paintings to a layman?

I think a lot of people might not be accustomed to my work, because a lot of people like paintings that look more like photographs, but it’s just not how I feel about my art. I want it to emerge from the abstract, using my own methods to show it.

In the Rain, 2014

In the Rain, 2014

Which of your works is your favorite?

I don’t think there is one. Each time I draw something, I put all my current emotions and moods into it. When I finish the painting it is a separate object already. Each person who looks at the painting already has a different impression than mine, everybody has a different idea or reaction.

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“Carving Colors” is a story from our latest issue, “Startup Kingdom”. To continue reading, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the iTunes Store.