Xing Chengai creates purrfect artistry

Xing Chengai creates purrfect artistry

A mainland artist has devoted a collection to his love of cats, and it's meow-nificent

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One of Xing Chengai's feline artworks on display at the Meow Art Exhibition.
One of Xing Chengai's feline artworks on display at the Meow Art Exhibition.
Photo: Xing Chengai

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Xing prefers to use the realism (gongbi) approach to capture the texture of the cat's fur.
Xing prefers to use the realism (gongbi) approach to capture the texture of the cat's fur.
Photo: Xing Chengai

Just do a Google search for Maru, Nala Cat, Grumpy Cat, Henri Le Chat Noir, or Lil Bub, and you'll see why feline fervour on social media is so intense.

It's also why the Internet Cat Video Festival is in its third year. Amid all this modern interpretation of cat-lovin' is Xing Chengai, who incorporates a traditional splash in his cat art.

Born in Cangzhou , Hebei , Xing first began to paint when he was a teenager. He graduated from the Fine Art Academy of Hebei in 1978, then went to the Central Academy of Arts and Crafts in Beijing, and Luxun Academy of Fine Arts in Shenyang , Liaoning .

"I studied traditional Chinese painting, ink art, both abstract (xieyi) and realism (gongbi) at the same time," says Xing, who is also known as Fu Yuan. "There are basically four genres in Chinese paintings. I majored in animals. I painted cats, tigers, and dogs, but rarely birds and horses."

Interestingly, xieyi and gongbi are almost polar opposites.

Xieyi translates to "freehand" and was developed during the mid-Ming dynasty period. This art form is interpretive; it isn't unclear or elusive, but it isn't straightforward, either. The artwork strongly represents the subject matter without actually depicting it as it really is, and sometimes features only the subject with no background.

Gongbi, on the other hand, is explicit. It is a direct representation of the subject, rich in detail, and rooted in realism. The name of this style comes from the term that means "neat" or "tidy". This style more often incorporates a background against which the subject is part of the story.

The modern twist about Xing's Meow Art Exhibition at Gallery by the Harbour at Harbour City is that this collection is a marriage of xieyi and gongbi.

"Cats are interpreted in abstract form traditionally - rarely gongbi - but I think only gongbi can reflect the texture of the hair."

As cat lovers will attest, there are many different types of fluffy when it comes to cats. A rag doll will be different to a tabby, who will be nothing like a calico. Xing knows this because he's a feline fanatic himself.

"It's no surprise that I got my inspiration from cats," he admits. "Cat paintings are nothing more than a reflection of my life as a cat lover." His own cats appear in his works.

The cats in the Meow Exhibition are very realistic. Xing has captured the texture of a cat's soft, furry coat and the nonchalant way they drape over anything and everything. He's also captured cats' curiosity, indifference and playfulness in the way he paints their eyes and body language.

Of course, that's no easy task. Unlike dogs, cats rarely do as they're told, don't always care what you're after, and are the masters of "I do what I want". To be able to depict them so realistically required three things, according to Xing: "affection, creativity and perseverance."

Beyond that, and perhaps risking a few scratches along the way, the Meow project also demanded other sacrifices.

"I have to focus on it while giving up a lot of valuable things, including much personal time," the artist says.

He hopes that it's all worth it though, and that his paintings "will bring Hong Kong audiences a new visual impact; and a feeling of leisure and happiness".

Cat lovers have a feline that it absolutely will. 

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Purrfect artistry

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