By Huang Xiangming
Artist and Calligrapher Guo Xiuyi (1911 – 2006) was my Mother. I am well acquainted with many details of her personal life and artistic career.
Guo Xiuyi was born in Shanghai. She had an interesting dual career - being dedicated to Social Reform and promoting Democracy and Women’s rights in China - all in addition to her being a productive Artist. Coming of age during an important time in China, Guo was drawn without hesitation into the Chinese Patriotic Movement during 1930s.
In 1934 Guo married Huang Qixiang(Huang Chi-hsiang), a renowned patriotic general against Japanese invasion, and my Father. General Huang Qixiang fought with American alliance in the war and Guo Xiuyi was with her husband at the front of the battle fields.
As the leader of the Women’s Work Team of the 11th Army Group, Guo risked her own life to save the lives of wounded soldiers and civilians. In 1938, she joined with Madam Song Meiling(Soong May-ling) and Madam Deng Yingchao to found the China War Time Children Care Association, which rescued, cared and educated for more than 30,000 orphans of the War.
With a Chinese victory after eight years of hard war, Guo Xiuyi, together with her husband, were recognized for their dedication and outstanding contributions. Both of them were awarded the Medal of Victory. Husband Huang Qixiang was awarded the Medal of Freedom by the American President Harry Truman.
With the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, and in the years that followed, Guo Xiuyi subsequently served as a Member of the Standing Committee of the National Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, as Honorary Deputy Chairwoman of the Central Consultative and Control Committee of Chinese Peasants and Workers Democratic Party, as a Member of the Standing Committee of Women’s Federation, and as Executive Director of the China Council for Promotion of Peaceful Unification.
In 1951 at 40 years of age, a dramatic change took place all of a sudden in her life. One day, at the house of Lao She, a well-known writer, a scroll of painting by the elder artist Baishi drew her attention by accident. After admiring in front of the painting, she was profoundly inspired and decided to get apprenticed to Qi Baishi, one of the greatest master in traditional Chinese painting.
Together with Madam Hu Jieqing, the wife of the writer Lao She, Guo Xiuyi approached Qi Baishi and asked him to take them on as his disciples. Although Qi Baishi was no longer taking students, he was persuaded, and Guo and Hu began class with the aged Master – the last two disciples of his school.
The elderly master earnestly instructed: “Painting is a very lonely job. While painting, you have to purify your heart by discarding any ideas of seeking fame or wealth. When you see some merits in paintings by others, either ancient or contemporary artists, you should learn it and make your work truly like it but never brag about it. While learning from someone you may see their shortcomings, and then of course you would ignore it- but you should never talk derogatorily about him. Observe closely the natural wonders around you. Only by doing so can you achieve supernatural power in your own hands while painting.”
“The trick lies between likeness and unlikeness. Making your work too much similar to a master is to please the vulgar taste, while too much unlikeness is actually deceiving the world.”
“One lives (succeeds) by learning from me. One dies (fails) if he makes his work too much like mine.”
Guo bore the master’s teachings in mind, devoting all her energy to diligent studying and learning the craft. As a result she made marvelous progress and gradually brought into full play all her talent in the art of painting.
Besides concentrating her effort on grasping the quintessence of the Qi School and learning the master’s skills the hard way, Guo also learned and integrated the merits of other schools of painting: learning the style of Master Pu Xuezhai for rockery, orchid and bamboo, how to paint flowers and plants from Master Wang Xuetao, still life sketching from Master Huang Yanghui. Studying and contrasting the styles and methods of the various schools of painting, Guo was able to bring them together in a comprehensive manner for her use, thus forming her own unique style.
Everything painted by Guo seems alive on paper: human figures, landscapes, birds, and other animals, fish and shrimp, plants and flowers. All her paintings are true to life, full of vitality, showing inspiration and creativity. Other disciples of Qi Baishi praised her: “Should her work be put next to our teacher’s best examples, who can tell which one is the Master’s?”
Master Qi Baishi was overjoyed to see his disciple’s success. He would smile and take up his brush to add some fascinating touches on her painting. Once he wrote: “The dark ink color was addedby Baishi to the cat painted by my disciple Xiuyi.” Another: “My disciple Xiuyi painted seven chicks and me, the meddlesome old man, added five more.”
Master Qi Baishi wrote such words of encouragement on nearly a hundred pieces of Guo’s paintings within just a few years. Such rare action could only express his praise and his fondness for his favorite disciple.
Five more such examples:
His inscription on “Crabapples in Autumn”: “With the autumn breezes coming back the crabapple tree has come to fruit. In this school of mine Xiuyi is the only disciple who has made such incomparableprogress.”
For “Liu Hai Teasing the Gold Toad”: “The folds in the figure’s clothes painted by the author are not in the least different from what I did. No wonder people in the capital thought it was my work with her signature on it. Even myself could not tell the difference.”
For “Butterflies Lingering around Flowers”: “Life-like over the treetops they fly together. The painting by my disciple Xiuyi would fly together with her teacher’s”
On “A Rooster in the Morning” is “Xiuyi’s painting is as brilliant as mine.”
On “The Last Lotus Leaves in Autumn Rain”: “My disciple Xiuyi is quite accomplished in the art of painting.”
In 1953, The First National Art Exhibition and Sales was held in Beijing. The first piece of work for which there was an offer to purchase was Guo Xiuyi’s “Playing Chicks”. Guo, however, refused the offer, being embarrassed by the attention. She had always kept a humble attitudeand she had no desire, after less than three years’ study of the art, to stand out so conspicuously among the famous masters by having her work sold before any other.
It was only at the encouragement by her respected teacher, the persistence of the buyer, and the persuasion of the sponsors of the exhibition that she reluctantly agreed to accept the offer – thus selling a work for the first time and having become a Professional Artist.
Guo Xiuyi’s works have been exhibited many times and several were acquired by the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. Paintings have been previously catalogued in two published albums: “Art Treasures Collected by Mao Zedong” and also “Elegant Paintings Collected and Stored in Zhongnanhai”. Guo Xiuyi also served as the Vice President of The Beijing Research Society of Qi Baishi’s Artistic Works.