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Shi Lu 石鲁 (1919-82)


Shi Lu 石魯 (nee Feng Yaheng) (1919-82) Born in Renshou Country, Sichuan province. Woodcut artist and ink painter.  Vice director of the Northwest Fine Arts Association, president of Northwest Pictorial Press and the vice chairman of the Xi’an Fine Arts Association.



Shi Lu was the second son of an illustrious family.  Motivated by admiration for the Mao Zedong, he abandoned his family estate in 1939 and joined the Communist Party.  He created his pen-name, Shi Lu, based on the Shi of Shitao, an innovative painter of the imperial era, and the Lu of Lu Xun, the modern author.  Brimming with new ideas and proficient in both woodcuts and painting, he rose to national prominence.  Along with Zhao Wangyun, his colleague at the Xi’an Art Association, he had the rare opportunity to travel to Egypt and India from 1956-57.  Upon returning, he encouraged artists in the Xi’an area to join him in developing a local school of painting celebrating the rugged beauty of Shaanxi province.  He sought to capture the revolutionary spirit of ordinary people.  In 1959, he received the ultimate honor, a commission to paint a portrait of Chairman Mao for the newly-established Revolutionary Art Museum at Tiananmen Square.  He poured his energies into creating a landscape painting with Mao perched on a cliff.  He received wide acclaim for it initially.  However, as the cult of Mao intensified, the painting entitled Fighting at Northern Shaanxi was accused of showing insufficient respect towards the Chairman, because it pictured him enigmatically at cliff’s edge with his back turned.


Shi Lu felt shattered by the rejection of this painting.  His mental condition began to unravel.  In 1965, he created another controversial painting of Chairman Mao standing at the center of a boat, as it was rowed across the Yellow River.  Even Shi Lu’s allies could not accept this painting. The boatmen seemed slaving under the burden of rowing and their skin, sunburned.  After this painting too was rejected, Shi Lu developed schizophrenia and had to be institutionalized.  Once the Cultural Revolution broke out, he was taken from the sanatorium, publicly ridiculed, beaten, and incarcerated. At first he was too heavily medicated to respond, but later he behaved defiantly, talking back to his accusers, composing poetry secretly, and even escaping to the countryside twice.  He narrowly escaped the death penalty.



Shi Lu   (1897-1971),
photo taken in 1980


When he was released from jail in 1969 and placed under the care of his family, he began painting again. One of his first acts was to add inscriptions and images to his earlier travel sketches from Egypt and India.  This “revision” of the old images expressed his disgust at what he had experienced and his determination to heal himself. Working from home until his death in 1982 from cancer, he returned to a traditional style of painting depicting flowers and mountains. He developed a highly expressive style of calligraphy which could be wiry thin or puddled thick like tears. He filled a secret journal full of poetry and images directly responding to the Cultural Revolution.