Art has always been a slightly inaccessible world. Being able to view paintings in a gallery is well and good, but there was always something impersonal and aloof about a piece on display, one bereft of context — and with more galleries going digital, one might think that things might get even more distant.
Wu Qiong disagrees. The Beijing-born artist is holding his first-ever virtual solo exhibition with Singapore’s Ode To Art Gallery, where he’ll reveal his studio to the public for the first time and show off 15 never-before-seen artworks — and he says it’ll be his most intimate show yet. As a bonus, he’ll also be holding a painting demo at the end of his stream — and a PlayDoh sculpting session as well.
“I’ve worked on a few commercials with Play-Doh before, it’s very fun!” he laughs. “I’m going to create a few simple figures to show that anyone can make something beautiful. I think it’s a great way to stimulate creativity, and to subtly bring children in contact with the arts.”
It’s something that he says wouldn’t have been possible pre-pandemic. With the digital exhibition, Wu says that — on the contrary — his show will be even more intimate than ever before, since viewers are entering his headspace and viewing his works in the very place that they’re made.
“Unlike the traditional real-life shows, this live exhibition will allow viewers to see my works more closely and learn more about my process of creation,” he says. “As a viewer, I think this setting lets you feel the work more intuitively.”
And his works are best appreciated when they can be felt. Wu’s instantly recognisable style manifests itself in rotund, childlike characters — usually with upturned faces and mouths shaped like an ‘O’ — all set against serene, almost otherworldly backdrops. His sculptures of animals are similarly whimsical: here lie pleasantly slumbering pigs, elephants with tusks that sprout sprigs of cherry blossom, and fluffy llamas that you can doze on.
His childhood played a big part in shaping his art, not least because Wu hails from a family of creatives; his father is a traditional Chinese landscape artist and his mother is a self-taught fashion designer.
Their creative influence had a ‘profound’ influence on Wu’s upbringing, since he grew up immersed in the arts. When most kids were just beginning school, Wu was already dipping his feet into Chinese ink painting, an influence that can be felt in his serene, almost otherworldly paintings. He’d later go on to learn Western art and sculpting from the age of 14.
But more than technique and a love for the arts, his parents passed on something far more valuable to Wu — a happy childhood.
“I remember my childhood as being very happy and carefree,” Wu recalls with a smile. “Growing up in the 80s under the one-child family policy in China, my parents showered all their love and resources towards me, giving me the freedom to pursue my passion — which is probably why that love and warmth is present throughout my work.”
It’s a feeling that he wants to pass on to anyone who views his works as well — virtually or not.
“I love seeing people smile when they view my art,” he says. “I hope they remember me as someone who brings love and warmth to the world through my art.”