By Luo Zhongxue
Editor’s Note: Maybe if I only mention the name “Liu Ruowang”, someone still feel strange. But if I mention the pack of wolves on the 798 Originality Square, almost everyone would be shocked and suddenly be enlightened: “Oh! I know that, it’s him!” Yes, it’s him; those wolves are sculptures titled “Wolves Coming” by Liu Ruowang. On seeing Liu Ruowang himself, we cannot associate those grandeur artworks with this scholar like delicate boy before us. Liu Ruowang was born in a village of northern Shaanxi, yet he feature nothing like a northern big fellow from the place; he destroyed our impression about Northern Shaanxi people bestowed to us by films and television programs with both his accent and height. He is neither rough nor tall and he has no accent that cannot distinguish “e” from “wo”. He is not big and looks delicate with a little bit shyness while smiling.
Liu Ruowang is an “Inspirational Guy”. He tasted all hardships on his way from when he was 17 years old a student in rags, to when he quit school and live on friends’ aid, then to now when he become an artist with artworks widely loved and praised; but every step is also quite firm. Liu Ruowang has his own religious belief because generations of his family are Catholic. Liu Ruowang has his faith, and he shows utter sincere no matter in personhood and doing art; maybe the present success came precisely from his faith, though he has no worldly desire for this success.
You might have been shocked by his “Wolves Coming” in 798 Art Zone or attracted by his “The East is Red” series; yet if you read his story, you would find that he has a even greater life story than his art.
Lonely without Happiness
This is where Liu Ruowang lived all through to his 20th year of life and his family live in cave-house. Even when he was 20 years old, this family’s whole yearly income was less than 2000 rmb. Joys of life came from grandpa’s story and comic book strips of brother. His grandfather was a local famous “intellect” who could almost narrate the whole chapters of Outlaws of the Marsh, Three Kingdoms and Pilgrimage to the West, and stories from which planted the seeds of heroism when Liu Ruowang was a little boy. His brother was very capable and often sells scorpions he caught on mountains in the city and bought back some comic books. Liu Ruowang was so excited to see the real images of Guan Yunchang and Sun Wukong in these comic books that he depicted them according to the books. His paintings were praised by villagers and teachers thus he got impetus to go on painting.
When fall came to the land of Shaanxi, Liu Ruowang always feels a strange sense of loss. He is introverted and rarely communicates with others, which made it hard for him to adapt to the new environments. Entered junior high school, he rarely communicate with teachers and classmate during the three years because of his introverted character and his maladjustment to new life. He would stand before the window without glasses in the corridor during the playtime though he cannot remember what could be seen through that window later; he just stood there, looking out. When classmates ran happily on the playground, they could see the lonely face of Liu Ruowang behind that window once looking to that direction.
He should walk in the mountains for 3.5kilometers and then ride bicycle for 4 kilometers from his cave-house family to school. Such a long route made Liu Ruowang a famous “Late Star” . So he stopped going to morning reading first, and then stopped the morning exercises after the morning reading, finally he simply skipped classes. He is a “problem student” in today’s words. Each time skipped from class, he would hide himself in a small temple and draw some sketches. At that time, painting might not be merely a hobby of him.
Luckily was, he had a good class adviser who understood him and care about him. This teacher had a relative who was an artist of some fame in the county; he was driven crazy by the society because of his introversion and honesty. Liu Ruowang’s class teacher appreciated his talent in painting and was afraid that Liu would go the old way of his relative, so he was always enlightening Liu Ruowang and even introduced Liu to his crazy relative and asked the relative to teach Liu Ruowang painting. Though he was crazy, yet he was still a good painter and Liu Ruowang learned a lot from him.
Sometimes Liu Ruowang finished learning and left, then he turned back to knock at the door for remembering something left there, at this time, the crazy relative would be in trance and mistook him to be just coming for class: “You are here, good, let’s draw something.”
Several years later, the crazy relative of the class adviser jumped down from the cliff for suicide. Liu Ruowang was studying in Xi’an at that time; on hearing this news, he got new insights towards life.
Participate in the University Entrance Exam with 500 Yuan Got by Fraud
His family didn’t plan to send him to university because of family difficulties, but rather they hope he could be a priest later. On the one hand, the family cannot afford him to go to university, on the other hand, to be a priest is quite meaningful for Catholic believers. Bishop of the Xi’an Parish came to their house for this and hoped to take him go, yet Liu refused. The young blood was somewhat rebellious and wanted to do something he prefers without considering the actual condition of his family. He didn’t know what the real loss was until he was 18 years old.
In 1995, Liu Ruowang was already preparing for the university entrance exam in the next year. The cave-house of his family was being demolished because of road-works. At that time, demolishing was not a chance to be rich overnight; governmental compensation was very few. To save some money in house building, he and his brother waited before the cave-house while it was being demolished and kept each brick aside once it was pulled down. Students from High School affiliated to Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts were sketching in Liu’s hometown then; looking at those well dressed students passing by his house with painting folder on shoulder, and touching the worn-out trousers on himself, he felt very strong sense of loss. The talent and capability he thought he had got ruined.
Though he didn’t think these students draw better than him.
His brother had married and given birth to babies when he was participating in the university entrance examination. Business failure made it difficult for his brother to financially support his school expense, yet brother still get 500 RMB from his mother in law with a lie that he “can get cheap fertilizer” and supported Liu Ruowang to take part in examination in Xi’an.
That year, he was admitted to several schools including Xi’an Academy of Fine Arts; yet he had no idea about which to go. According to his family condition, friends suggested that he can go to Northwest Textile University which is an institution directly under the Textile Ministry and can make it easy to get a good job after graduation to improve family condition more quickly.
After he entered the university, he found that it was nothing he liked and the job to be allocated after graduation is not his favorite, too. He had been suffering and tolerating till one and a half year later
when he received a letter from his father saying that the family could not go on affording his cost and tuition; he should find way out by himself from then on…
Liu Ruowang grew up in the village and never get much money, so he also never cares about money at all; thus he never realized that the unpleasant choice of major for improving family condition finally became the burden of his family. He read his father’s letter again and again for a long time; though later his father was so regret for this letter and his brother went to school to persuade him go on studying with confidence and not to be influenced by that letter and family condition, yet Liu Ruowang still decided to quit school!
Success needs Good Accumulation
Liu Ruowang wandered around Xi’an after quit from school; he believed that he can learn painting well through self-study even though he is not at school. He bought a lot of catalogues and structured his own curriculum; oil painting, sketch, sculpture, he arranged a complete course for himself. According to his plan, though he quit school, he wanted to “graduate together” with his schoolmates. During his self-study, he often went to view exhibitions at Xi’an Academy of Fine Arts and other art schools in Xi’an and he discovered that students, teachers and even famous artists painted not that good as he did.
At the beginning he was smug and thought that his self-study was so effective that he even surpassed teachers. But later he suddenly realized that: he was not better than others but was going on a run way; the reason why he thought his artworks better was because he was blindly creating and was on a totally different direction from teachers and students in academy!
He decided to leave Xi’an and go to better places, even he go to somewhere as a beggar, only if that’s a better place than Xi’an. With several thousand Rmb borrowed around he came to Beijing and started his training in Central Academy of Fine Arts. At the very beginning, he decided to take the training for five years. He made a five year study plan which includes three years focusing on sculpture and two years on oil painting; he thought he might be an artist after such a five year.
However, Beijing is a brilliant city based on money; cost on tuition, traffic and accommodation all largely surpassed his imagination. One year later, he was penniless with a ton of debts. He only realized the importance at that time and got to know that he must learn how to make money to live on in Beijing. He rode a bicycle around Beijing to look for jobs and assisting others to make sculptures was the only job he could do and love to do. From 2000 to 2003, sculpture artists in Beijing got a most capable assistant who charged the lowest payment; he was happy to work for 50 rmb per day without dinner and accommodation. The most amazing thing was that he was far more than a worker assisting artist, but rather, he can help artists designing projects or even finish the production of a sculpture independently.
Some artists feel sorry for the too low payment and would sometimes give him small commissions to finish by himself; in 2003, he earned 20, 000 at one blow. If he continued to do this and establish a sculpture company, to purchase house and car would be nothing difficult for him. But he didn’t think so. When he got the 20,000 rmb, the first thought came into his mind was: it’s enough to have two more years training at the Central Academy of Fine Arts.
Students trained together with him began creation in the first year, yet Liu Ruowang knew what’s the weak point of himself and thought it too early to start creation; he believed that basic training was more important. He used a whole year to establish a solid foundation and started artistic creation in the next year.
The foundation laid in the first year was not a waste; his graduation project “The East is Red” participated in the “Academy Lights” exhibition in 2005 and two editions were collected. What’s interesting, the two collectors are respectively Mr. Huang Liaoyuan, a gallery owner, and Mr. Fan Di’an, the vice-president of Central Academy of Fine Arts, who represents respectively market and academic value. Liu Ruowang acquired double recognition both from market and academy
The Experience of Death tells Me the Meaning of Life
The collected two editions of “The East is Red” brought to Liu Ruowang the largest sum of money he never saw before. In many people’s mind, that money can basically realize the will to have a steady life for Liu Ruowang in Beijing; he could buy a car, a house and settle down in Beijing. Then he could make some similar works which will definitely be sold out because big men from both market and academic circles bought his art.
Yet his dream is nothing about car or house, but about what kind of space to show his art.
He had no money before so he cannot but making fiber glass sculptures. Now he has money and can choose cast copper and cast iron as his material, which was the original requirement of his artworks. He invested this money into the creation of new artworks. Although till now there are peoples coming to his studio and hope to collect artworks of the “The East is Read” series, he didn’t continue with it. Family education made him had little desire for money and status, so he can step forward more smoothly without the binding of them.
He don’t like to repeat himself or continue with the same symbol, but rather, he pay more attention to personal experiences. Later he created the “Heaven Soldiers” series of works, which might be a satisfaction of heroism fantasy rooted in his childhood. Unexpectedly, this series of works were appreciated and highly pursued by collectors; his later “Wolves Coming” also gained good reputation both in and out of the circles. He received invitation of exhibition and collected one after another and everything go forward very smoothly.
In 2010, he felt bad and his chest was so painful that he was even wet all over for sweating; he went to Wangjing Hospital then but the hospital dare not treat the patient; he was transferred to other hospital by ambulance. The first inspection result was severe myocardial infarction which might need a heart bypass surgery. The doctor told him: this might cost a lot of money, can you afford it?
At that time, Liu Ruowang was able to afford the surgery, yet he looked at the doctor and said, if you are sure I got this disease, I won’t accept the treatment.
Liu Ruowang didn’t show any fear about death facing the primary inspection result; he was not afraid of death, but rather, was afraid of becoming the burden of family. He was afraid of this because he had always been the burden of his family from when he went to school till he was trained in the Central Academy of Fine Arts. When the doctor inserted the endoscope into his heart along the blood vessel on his arm, he was thinking about the value and significance of life. What’s the instant and what’s the real eternal? He was never optimistic about life in the 33 years of his life; he said he was a monk cares nothing but tolling a bell each day as it comes yet everyday he used his heart to toll the bell. Only when one know that maybe it’s impossible to toll the bell tomorrow could he know how important and meaningful to toll the bell today.
Finally the confirmed diagnosis was: myocarditis. There was no need to do the thoracic artery bypass surgery and he would not become the burden of the family.
Yet this experience gave Liu Ruowang a step forward and made him know better about the meaning of life than us.
The Always Changing and Always New Artworks
Liu Ruowang’s artworks are always changing and are always new; he never repeat his own symbol. From the “The East is Red” series, to “Peoples” series, Liu Ruowang has been using the image of people with only small differences on face expresses. Peoples in “The East is Red” series look a little bit more wooden, while tragic and heroic features, which might came from Liu Ruowang’s fantasy about heroism in his childhood memory, showed in the “Peoples” series.
In the “Heaven Soldiers” series, Liu Ruowang played his hero complex to the extreme and even became somewhat illusory; for example there are some images of hammering missiles and striking aircraft carrier with axes. Visual languages similar to terra-cotta worrier manifested the relationship between his art and the traditional culture as well as symbols of China. From 2008 onward, he started with “Wolves Coming” and recently he is creating sculptures of gorillas; he is turning eyesight from human to animal.
Although Liu Ruowang changes the symbols in artworks continuously, yet his art has a very high degree of recognition; No matter the farmer image in his “The East is Red”, or the hero images in his “Peoples” series, or animal images in his recent works, all feature Liu Ruowang’s typical characteristics. Liu Ruowang’s artworks are never realistic, but are depicting a certain spirit. Exaggerated shape is a immutable factor in his art and he pay more attention to depict the feel brought to viewers by the artworks rather than the symbol itself.
Hero complex in Liu Ruowang’s artwork might came from his hero worship when he was a teenager; but he is never praising or eulogizing heroism, to be more precisely, the exaggerated shaping and heroism revealed some irony and mockery meaning. However, Liu Ruowang didn’t express his meaning directly, but rather he included the “sense itself” into the modeling language of his artwork. Thus audiences could get various interpretation differ from one another.
Liu Ruowang has always been revealing symbols of Chinese traditional culture in his artwork. Concerning the modeling itself, exaggerated movements and rugged shape feature the taste of Chinese traditional sculpture. On looking closer, there are many details in the rugged shape; for example the wolf mane on the wolves’ back in his “Wolves Coming” showed many traditional symbols and the combination of the rugged and the delicate is one characteristic of Liu Ruowang’s art.
What’s more important is, Liu Ruowang’s art features the real quality of “public art”. Once talking about public art, many would be reminded the city sculpture; actually city sculpture is related to “the public” but hardly has any relation with “art”. Yet Liu Ruowang’s art is proper to be displayed in public places and is fairly participatory. The true purpose of art should be getting closer to the peoples.
Collector: Kind Peoples are always supported by Magnates
Since the early time before illness, Liu Ruowang has always been of little desire for money. He never thought of making himself to be someone and he lives a quite simple life. He invests what he got from the sold out artworks into new creation which made his artworks have high quality. There is a very traditional marketing routine in the circles: I promise you a certain rate of annual value rise. Yet Liu Ruowang never promises such kind of things to his collectors; he said he only promise two points: one is the quality and artistic value, another is he will go on creating sculptures all along.
Actually, for real collectors who does not take profit as the purpose, the above two points are the most important.
Therefore during the financial crisis, when many other artists’ works devaluated or even got cut, Liu Ruowang still get many commission from collectors; it was precisely with this money he created “Wolves Coming”. Actually the idea and composition to make “Wolves Coming” was started in 2007 when he had little money and only made one person and four wolves; he new fund was invested, he extended the number of wolves into 110 pieces, and thus created a great scenery in 798 art zone.
Most of Liu Ruowang’s collectors bought his works in “consumer style” and hardly any of them collect with the purpose of profit. Mr. Xu, the owner of 1949 Club has always loved Liu Ruowang’s artworks. After he knew the artist Liu Ruowang himself, except for collecting his art, he also suggested to organize an exhibition for him in his club to show his art to more peoples. It’s unexpected that this exhibition not only won academic reputation for Liu, but also done impressively good in market.
The most noteworthy collector is Mr. Zeng Zhuo, the engineer of Volkswagen, who might be the most representative collector among many others of Liu Ruowang. Once in a winter, Zeng Zhuo wanted to view artworks in 798 art zone when the road before the 798 gate was being repaired and the traffic was badly jammed. The taxi driver was anxious and told him: “You are just going to see artworks? Don’t go into the 798 art zone, I can take you to Suojiacun village where there are also artists.” The taxi driver slipped away and left Zeng Zhuo alone in the Suojiacun village.
There was no body in the village in winter and all artists closed their doors. Zeng Zhuo saw Liu Ruowang’s artworks through the window then he left a note on his window: I like your sculpture and want to buy two pieces, can I? Please call me if OK.
Later Zeng Zhuo became one of Liu Ruowang’s collectors and they became friends. Zeng Zhuo often visits Liu Ruowang’s studio with a ruler to measure his artworks, he wants to see which is “even” to be placed somewhere in his house.
Interview: Never Make Yourself Someone Deliberately
Art &Fortune: You were awarded once you graduated?
Liu Ruowang: Yes, the “Academy Lights” award in 2005. I couldn’t believe it when someone called me and told me that I was awarded; because awards of academy normally keep an eye on undergraduate and graduate students, assistant course and further study course students are rarely awarded. I didn’t expect that I was really awarded and my works were collected.
Art &Fortune: Can I know the price at that time when they were collected?
Liu Ruowang: As graduation creation of students, prices were not high; mine was sold out 30,000 more Rmb, yet was the highest price on that exhibition. At the beginning when someone called me saying the will to collect that piece, I thought it was some friend joking me. But finally the whole edition was sold out.
Art & Fortune: Then why don’t you keep on doing “The East is Red” series as it gained success early in 2005?
Liu Ruowang: Some artists might have this condition and will go on with one symbol once this symbol is recognized by market. Yet I don’t want to repeat myself and I don’t want to be impeded because of money or status; I pay more attention to my personal experience rather than how much money for my work.
Art & Fortune: If you took the opportunity to promote yourself, you might gain more commercial success.
Liu Ruowang: I never tried to make myself something painstakingly; simple life is the best. I experienced poverty and know the importance of money; I know I cannot study and do art without money. Earned money would be invested into production of new works in order to make my art even better.
Art & Fortune: You used Northern Shaanxi factors in both “The East is Red” series and “Heaven Soldier” series; is that because you came from Northern Shaanxi?
Liu Ruowang: Artworks is related with growing up experiences, this is always the same for anybody. I came from suburban area and learned comic story paintings in the very beginning. Later I studied in art academy. But it’s my growing up environment that influenced me the most. What I pay attention to is also my feel and my way of expression; so I will do it if this is the way I want mostly.
Art & Fortune: What’s your next plan for future?
Liu Ruowang: Actually I’m a man without plan; I’m a monk cares nothing but tolling a bell each day. In fact, I’ve never been optimistic towards life. No matter how beautiful a plan is, no one knows whether he will die before the plan finished; so it’s important to do your best today. Yet I have plan of art creation. Now I’m working on the sculptures of 36 gorillas and something about book, which will take a fairly long time. I will participate in a group exhibition this August in NAMOC and might have a solo show at the end of this year. Basically, that’s all. I will have a next idea after I finished these ones.