The Floral Landscapes of Zhao Xiuhuan
By Lucy Lim
Zhao Xiuhuan, an artist from Beijing who now resides in the United States, is one of the most talented and accomplished artists to have emerged from the People’s Republic of China in recent years. This opinion—strong as it may seem—is nevertheless shared by several noted critics, scholars and collectors who have commented on her paintings in major art publications or presented them in exhibitions on an international level.
The revival of traditional-style Chinese paintings, banned during the Cultural Revolution, occurred in the early 1980s, when several Chinese art institutions and publishing houses began to present and publish contemporary artists working in the centuries-old ink and-and-brush methods. It was notable that Zhao Xiuhuan, then only in her thirties and a fairly young artist in the Beijing art world, should receive recognition at this early phase by having her works selected for exhibition and publication by the Beijing Painting Academy. Subsequently, the Chinese cultural authorities issued a series of stamps featuring her flower paintings, a fact all the more remarkable since such an honor was usually reserved for the famous venerated older artists as Wu Zuoren, Zhu Qizhan and Cheng Shifa.
Zhao Xiuhuan’s growing popularity and artistic renown gradually extended beyond China. Her words were first introduced to the West in 1983 through a touring exhibition in the United States entitled “Contemporary Chinese Painting: An Exhibition from the People’s Republic of China”, organized by myself in my former position as Executive Director/Curator of Exhibitions at the Chinese Culture Foundation of San Francisco, together with Professor James Cahill and Professor Michael Sullivan. Both the general audience and the art specialists were fascinated by the rebirth of guohua and the innovative elements that the new paintings incorporated.
Zhao Xiuhuan’s flower landscapes—elegant and decorative—were found to be of great appeal and prominently featured in the extensive media coverage, including among them The New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, The San Francisco Chronicle, Artnews, Art International, and Orientations. Several artists presented in that exhibition gained fame as their works became more exposed to the world outside China., the best known being Wu Guanzhong, while other submerged into obscurity. The fate of the artists, apparently, has been determined partly by their own ability and commitment but is also dictated to some extent by the changing tastes and fashions of the ephemeral art world. 
In the following years, contemporary Chinese painting slowly established its importance in the art world especially in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the other parts of Asia. The subject began to engage the serious attention of scholars and entered into the academic curriculum of some universities such as Yale University, the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University, and Stanford University in the United States.
Zhao Xiuhuan has assiduously pursued her creative career and aesthetic goals throughout the years. There were various obstacles to overcome ever since she came to reside to the United States in 1989, first in New Mexico and then in California for the last eight years, but her strength of character and tenacity have enabled her to continue her painting quietly and independently in her own personal style without regard to the changing fashions and demands of the art world. A small core of students has helped her to maintain an independent income. A very private and self-effacing person who shies from publicity, she ahs nonetheless gained the support of some serious collectors, An artist who has demonstrated deep commitment to her art, she has produced an impressive corpus of works over the years that clearly attest to her stature as an important artist of the 20th century whose distinctive style will surely endure. In 1991 she was featured in a show at the Chinese Culture Foundation of San Francisco, called” Six Contemporary Women Artists.” More recently, she was represented in a monumental survey “Twentieth Century Chinese Painting: Tradition and Innovation,” and exhibition organized by the Hong Kong Museum of Art in 1995 accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue, which traveled to the Singapore Art Museum, the British Museum in London, England, and the Museum fur Ostasiatische Kunst in Cologne, Germany. She is also included in Professor Michael Sullivan’s mush awaited book, Art and Artists of Twentieth-century China, which just came off the past year. 
Zhao Xiuhuan’s paintings appear traditional in style, frequently showing affinities with China’s ancient masters of the Song and Yuan dynasties. She paints in the gongbi manner, using detailed meticulous brushline to depict floral images and landscapes elements with realistic accuracy and representational likeness. But what distinguishes Zhao Xiuhuan’s art from those of the ordinary gongbi artists is an indefinable ethereal and spiritual quality that characterizes her paintings of nature. In them, a surrealistic glow seems to emanate from within the foliage, heightening the feeling of mystery and creating a sense of three-dimensional effect. Her floral landscapes, depicted either in a setting of rocks and running stream of against an empty background made vibrant by layers of ink washes, are tinged with melancholy and lyricism—and always infused with an enigmatic quality. These are intensely romantic and personal images, reflecting an idealized reality of perfection, order, tranquility, and sheer beauty. She paints nature in bloom with lush and sensual colors: red, yellow, purple, pink, and white flowers, lotuses, her colors are subdued; varying tones of brown and grey colors are visible in “Cold Winter”, a magnificent example which displays a complex structural interplay of lotus forms and entangled stalks in the composition, pervaded by a sense of regrets, loss, and of times past. 
The floral Landscapes of Zhao Xiuhuan are charged with emotion, endowed with her sensibilities and an inner spirit that goes beyond objective reality. She depicts the natural world as she feels it and according to her responses, not just as she sees it. 
Nature is reconstructed, not merely recorded or documented, as evidenced also in her painting methods. Trained in both traditional Chinese and Western methods, she sketches as well as her memories and feelings. In recent years she has experimented with mixed media, occasionally adding gouache to Chinese ink and colors. It is interesting to see a few landscapes of China’s mountain villages among her new works, for example, “Spring in the Tai-hang Mountains”, showing a cluster of tiny romanticism as evinced in her flower paintings.
Zhao Xiuhuan’s paintings are enduring images — distillation of nature filtered through her personal vision and emotion. They possess an aura of antiquity and yet are imbued with unusual modernist and abstract feelings. The viewing of her paintings offers an experience of infinite pleasure and discovery. 
 Lucy Lim was an art critic well-known in the US and introduced many of the finest contemporary Chinese artists to the west. Ms. Lim received her PhD in Chinese art history from New York University's Institute of Fine Arts. She died of cancer at the age of 67 in London in August 2007.

Tel:86 10 67708966 Fax:86 10 67709366

Address:Image Base Beijing, No.1 Building, No.3 Guangqu Road,

Chaoyang District, Beijing Code:100124 Code:100124

京ICP备09000276号 京公网安备:110105001257 Copyright 2008 All Rights Reserved.