The solo exhibition, Wu Guanzhong: A Twentieth-Century Chinese Painter, organized by the British Museum in 1992 was a breakthrough from their norm of only showing archaic relics. Wu Guanzhong's debut at the British Museum, the firt by any living Chinese painter, showed that Wu's works had in the eyes of Western audiences, come to represent twentieth century Chinese art. In an article from the Herald Tribune, Wu was praised as the 'benchmark for the transformation of the art of painting' amongst of other Chinese artist of the last century. The works of the Chinese master are 'the most surprising and extraordinary discovery of modern painting over the past decades' Wu's paintings have received broad and substantial recognition from around the world, for his long-term effort to 'making ethnic oil paintings'. With industrious study and persistence, Wu uses the subjects of Chinese ethnic, regional characteristics and styles, together with the simplicity and transparency of traditional ink painting, to fuse the merits of the art of East and West and form a common language for Eastern and Western viewers.
Guilin has been a special geographical location occupied by the Han Chinese and Jiangnan ethnic minorities since ancient time. Its cultural development, originated from the convergence of Chu and Bai Yue Culture. Since Guangxi is located in Lingnan and is far from the central plains, rulers in the past saw Guilin as a remote land of cultural backwardness. Post Tang and Song dynasty, literai were sent to exile in Guilin; they left behind verses worth eternal chanting and, thereby, enhanced the sensational charm of this beautiful landscape. Li River rises in Mao'er Mountain to the north of Guilin. The scenery from Guilin to Yang Shuo is the best, which is also why Wu frequently depicted this subject in the 1970s. Seemingly possessing spectacular energy within a modest frame, The Spring at Lijiang depicts the Li River spanning from Guilin to Yang Shuo. The Li River resembles a belt of greenish black silk that coils amongst the myriad dots of mountain ranges. The use of light tone color exhibits the geographic characteristic of the south-blending the water and sky. Reeds by the Li River created in 1977 uses balanced composition in order to arrange the bamboo groves within the both sides of the banks and the meandering Li River. The light grey, emerald green and sky blue color planes compose a panoramic view. Compared with the Spring at Lijiang, Reeds by the Li River, it emphasizes the 'flowing like a greenish black silk belt' of Li River, while Wu's emphasis on life drawing can be seen in Living in A Bamboo Grove by Li River (Lot 915). In this painting, the artist strives to portray the emerald green bamboo groves. Since being on site, '[I] sense more profoundly; the aspects of capturing the sensitivity of colors or effects of use of brush were all precious and the merits of which always could not be reproduced afterwards' because it is easy to miss the 'myriad changes and transience of the fresh color sense of nature.' The layers of bamboo leaves and grassland competing in the greenery create the intimidating and unforgettable vitality of the painting.
Wu emphasizes the importance of ambience in his paintings. The beauty of landscape paintings relies not on factual imitation, but the abundant sentiments of their artist. On 'forms endowed with sentiments', formal art must use special languages to express unique ambience. When depicting representational substances, Wu naturally connects his own feelings with his techniques and uses his invented vocabulary, the interplay of dots, fluid line and planes, to express his nostalgia for his hometown. It is by using the simplest and most basic of dots, lines and planes that enables him to balance the contrary characteristics of affluence and simplicity in his paintings. Wu rarely depicts scenic spots or famous natural scenery. He has remarked that 'what I rigorously pursuit for is simply pure and ordinary substance that is extremely unnoticeable but within which is endowed with eternal life, resembling listening to the sudden thunder in a soundless space! ' In Living in A Bamboo Grove by Li River, it is the crisscrossing and overlapping light and shadow and the modest houses and emerald bamboo grove that are his most sought-after subjects. The artist has created meticulous detail and depth of view from within the plain silent space. The exquisite fluid lines-the spiral path in the foreground, surrounding bamboo fences, small trees at the side and clusters of slender bamboo stems-not only render the profiles and details but also balance the overall composition through vertical and horizontal visual alignments. Wu's diversified brushwork is probably inherited from traditional painting ways. The competent depiction, direction and strength of the large bamboo leaves are imbued with a sense of modulation. To paint the precipitous brownish cliff standing behind the bamboo grove on the right, the painter, in bold expression, utilizes wood panel, texture and oil brush to form dry strokes; leaving blank areas (feibai). Although marks of an oil brush on the dark sides of the distant mountains remain vaguely detectable, owing to Wu's remarkable skills, they are converted into dots of moss as found in ancient landscape paintings, which is an objective representation of nature as well as transformation of the artist's intrinsic personality and unique contemplation of nature.
There are existing contradictions between Chinese art and Western art nevertheless, there is room for coexistence. Wu strongly believes 'Art could only be created from an pure and selfless mind and could only germinate in one's own soil.' With his faith of 'developing a new branch from his own traditional roots,' we can see Living in A Bamboo Grove by Li River diffuses European oil painting's direct and lively depiction, and rich and meticulous coloring with traditional Chinese artistic spirit and ideal aesthetics, via basic elements like dots, lines and planes. The diffusion has successfully combined calligraphic brushwork and ink with oil painting's unique coloring characteristics, the originally representational landscape a more profound level of abstract conception and aesthetics, while exhibiting the ethnicity of substantial Chinese spirit as well as sense of time.