The father of modern bronze and copper art in China, Zhu Bingren (朱炳仁), is a visionary who changed “traditional” views of art in China forever. He was born in Shandong Province in 1944, and copper meant more than art for his family; it was a livelihood. His great grandfather started a bronze and copper workshop and passed his knowledge onto his son, making Zhu a fourth generation craftsman. With his already masterful knowledge of the processes involved, he went on to study architectural design, landscaping, and metallurgy—all to create a new form of Chinese art.
The Last Supper—Like! 2014
He crafts his works into awe-inspiring, sophisticated sculptures, from animals to buildings and flowers. His genre defining work has not gone unnoticed; China’s premier bronze art museum in Hangzhou bears his name, the Zhu Bingren Bronze Art Museum.
In Beijing’s famous 798 Art District, visitors can find an art center featuring most of his more well-known and frankly stunning works. Just passing by, you will notice a terracotta army warrior right next to a giant sculpture of horse. Normally, such pieces—given their sheer size and scale—lack grace and attention to detail, often viewed more as architectural oddities, but this could never be said of Zhu Bingren’s works. Upon closer inspection, the lines of metal dance through to shape a firm, streamlined silhouette. Each line is unique in its own way, giving the metal a spacious and spirited feel.
Even Pets Ascend to Heaven with Taoism Immortal, 2014
Each sculpture reflects Zhu Bingren’s personal style, even if it’s not always immediately apparent. The “Rice Way”, for example, is lit in a dark studio room, emanating an emotion of power, perhaps even borderline religious, which is due in no small part to the strength and malleability of the medium; copper gives the work a strange, soft life, as if the rice is growing and flowing into surrealism.
The Rice Way
Another crowd-pleaser currently available in Beijing is his “Lotus”. In this piece, the most impressive factor is the care and craftsmanship, but there is a certain romance to the work, in which the shadows play with the piece to make it look distinctly three-dimensional. There is much to be said of Zhu’s concepts, but what truly sets him apart is style and execution.
Bronze and copper sculpture boils down to talent and hard graft, and there are few in the world who have done more for this medium than Zhu Bingren.
“The Copper Craftsman” 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.