Born in 1950 Shanghai, Guan Qi-Jun’s interest in painting has been nurtured since he was young. Soon after he entered primary five, he was sent to attend afternoon art classes at the Children’s Palace Shanghai organized by Ministry of Culture where he learned the fundamentals of Chinese and Western painting.
The year 1966 was the first crucial point in his artistic life. It was the year that the Cultural Revolution began and formal education was put to a halt. At that time, Guan was sent by the Red Guards to paint portraits of Chairman Mao and other propaganda posters, during those years his painting skills were greatly polished. Guan could have left his life as a worker of Mao earlier as he was recommended for a place to study Car Design at Shanghai Jiao Tong University at the age of 19. It was a golden opportunity for a young person at that time. However, without genuine interest in the subject, Guan would rather give up the opportunity and stay to wait for the resumption of the other schools of art.
In 1975, the year before Chairman Mao passed away, Guan entered into the Shanghai Theatre Academy. It was the first art school to be re-opened at the time. Guan had to compete with thousands of applicants who also had waited for that chance of schooling for 10 years. With his impressive painting skills and working experience, Guan got the offer, graduating with a major in Stage Design in 1978. Guan moved on to a quite smooth artistic journey after his graduation. He was appointed to the Shanghai People’s Publishing House, where he painted and drew for comic books. Moreover, due to his identity as a state artist, he joined the China Artist Association, Shanghai Branch in 1982. The members of the China Artist Association included renowned artists like Li Ke-Yan, Wu Guan-Zhong, Shao Da-Zhen and Chen Yi-Fei etc.
The mid 80s’ was a watershed for Guan’s artistic life. China was much more open to foreign cultural exchange and it was the time when Guan was invited to participate in exhibitions overseas. He went to Australia in 1984 then Canada in 1995 where he displayed his Chinese Paintings in the modern Dunhuang style. He spent 7 years of his artistic career in Calgary, Canada, doing commissioned work and teaching Chinese painting and calligraphy at the University of Calgary. During his stay, he was exposed to Western art while at the same time struggled with his own cultural identity. He began to seek for a way in his art that could present the Chinese essence. It was in the library of University of Calgary when he read a book about Chinese Opera. The book brought him to earlier memories of seeing the Peking Opera in China. Again he dug into the Chinese traditions and combined his subjects with the Western Abstract Expressionist style. It was then that he developed the Chinese Opera Series.
Guan Qi-Jun returned to Shanghai to continue his creative aspirations in 2002. He is a member of the Chinese Artist Association, Shanghai branch and the Dunhuang Creation Centre of the Chinese Artist Association. Over the years, Guan has held numerous exhibitions in Canada, Australia, USA, China and Hong Kong.
Guan Qi-Jun is a prodigy in Chinese opera; inspired by his favorite subjects in Chinese opera characters, he paints them in an abstract and innovative way. On the one hand, Guan has captured the technique of Western Expressionist; on the other hand, he expresses the importance of the Ancient Chinese ink technique by putting emphasis on lines and brushstrokes. Guan’s skilful practices in calligraphy have successfully highlighted the elegance of the theme. He enjoys the fulfillment that the process of calligraphy brings; he searches for the unplanned coincidental interaction of the layout and composition. Guan directly disposes paint onto the canvas like an actor who plays for an immediate theatrical performance. Though it seems mixed and abstract, however, under the bright and spirited colours you can see its undisciplined yet deliberate composition. Apart from the main image of the characters, the rest of the painting has kept the art of abstract and has struck the balance between realist and abstract expressionist.
Guan has spent 7 years in Canada. During his stay, he was deeply affected by Western Art, where at the same time never forgetting his root in the Chinese culture. Because of his passion for Chinese ink, he decided to merge the elements of the two. In terms of context, there is no substantial connection or relationship amongst the figures, scenery and calligraphy but they are connected in space. The painter’s notion is abstract, as he says that one cannot tell a story at the surface of the painting, the importance is the concept. From Guan’s passion and deep roots in traditions, he has selected what he commended as the most precious and important part of his culture and lays them out on one canvas.