The art of Guan Liang can be classified into oil, ink, watercolor paintings, and drawings. His artistic education began in oil painting, which is the foundation for his later Chinese ink and paper painting of drama characters. Guan Liang's love for Beijing opera added to the breadth of subject matters in his art. Guan created a remarkably unique painting style that reflects the spirit and essence of traditional culture in his succinct compositions of simple and uncomplicated brushstrokes. Discipline (Lot 1371), Cow Herding (Lot 1373) and Scene from the Play of Red Lantern (Lot 1372) showcased here reflect his exceptional mastery of different dramatic scenes and characters.
Guan's depiction of Beijing opera figures reveals his genuine understanding of the characters' roles and costumes, as well as a study of their nuances in expressions, glances and body language. He vividly captures the fleeting dramatic tension even in the confined spaces of the picture planes in his paintings. We can undoubtedly feel the heartfelt intercession of Xue Bao the old servant in a scene from Lady San Admonishing the Son in Discipline; the amusement and pleasure of the shepherd boy and the country girl from The Little Shepherd in Cow Herding; and the gallant spirit behind the popular scene and phrase, "Flickering, the red lantern raised high; loathing no wars before jackals and wolves all die", from The Red Lantern, a model play of the Cultural Revolution. Moreover, the void spaces in the background are not merely pertaining to the traditional Chinese painting, but also a specific reference of the stage setting of "one table, two chairs" in traditional Chinese dramas. The spectators are therefore able to focus on the actors performing in the foreground, and to stretch their imagination in the plot of the plays. Hence, it is evidently clear that besides reinterpreting traditional subject and adapting techniques in Chinese brush and ink to his own purpose, Guan Liang's paintings of dramatic figures also embody the artist's thorough understanding of the Chinese aesthetic culture and its expressive spirit.