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Guan WEI (b.1957)

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Sydney-based artist Guan Wei was born in Beijing, China in 1957. As a descendent of the Manchu nobility who ruled China under the Qing Dynasty from 1644 to 1911, Guan Wei is heavily influenced by his culture’s passion for the arts including poetry, painting and opera. Wei’s father was an actor with the Beijing Opera and played the role of generals. He taught Guan Wei to sing, but when his son’s voice broke, his father began teaching him to paint instead. Wei first picked up a paintbrush in 1978 before going on to study Fine Arts at Beijing Capital University, graduating in 1986.

From his early 20s, Guan Wei eschewed what he believed to be a lack of technique in the more political works of his contemporaries and decided to go his own way. Whilst making subtle references to the Beijing oppression, Guan Wei injected a sense of playfulness and a distinctive aesthetic that distinguished his works. In 1989 Wei travelled to Australia and took up a three-month artist-in-residence position at the Tasmanian School of Art. He returned to Beijing at the beginning of the protest movement in April and witnessed its violent crushing by the Chinese army on 4 June. Guan Wei’s artistic response was his highly political 48-piece series in gouache, Two Finger Exercises. His figures cavort, raising their fingers in the same V-for-victory sign used by the demonstrators. Wei was expressing the sense of boisterous innocence and excitement on the streets of Beijing before the tanks rolled in.

In 1990 the Tasmanian School of Art sponsored Guan Wei back to Australia. He completed two further residencies at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney in 1992 and in 1993 at the Canberra School of Art, Australian National University. Guan Wei became an Australian resident in 1993 under the Distinguished Talent Scheme. 2003 saw Wei obtain grants to work in the Greene Street Studio, New York, Cite International des Art Paris in 2007 and a Fellowship in 2008-2009. In 2005 Wei received an Australia China Council residence grant at the Taipei Artist Village, Taiwan and in 2006 participated in an Australia Council-funded Artists Camp at Gunbalanya (Oenpelli), in Western Arnhem Land.

Guan Wei’s work has a deeply felt, though ironic, moral element. His paintings feature complex symbolism, his subjects powerfully expressing current social and environmental quandaries. Wei’s rich symbolism merges with his knowledge of socio-political and art-historical issues and the contrasting realities of his former home, China and of Australia.

Today, Guan Wei has departed from his earlier monochromatic Beijing paintings and now draws his inspiration from the rich, natural palette of Australia. His work comes alive with sparkling blues and sea greens and the earthy colours of native flora and fauna. The idea of installation figures strongly in Guan Wei’s art. His two-dimensional works often feature such unlikely constructions fashioned from fresh eggplants to plastic flowers.

Guan Wei was one of eight Australian artists commissioned to produce limited edition prints for the Sydney 2000 Olympics, and his art has appeared on the front page of a special Australia Day edition of the Sydney Morning Herald. Guan Wei has won several awards, including the 2002 Sir John Sulman Prize, Art Gallery of New South Wales. His work has been held in major public collections and numerous university, corporate and private collections internationally.

Guan Wei has held numerous Solo Exhibitions and has been included in significant contemporary exhibitions both in Australia and across the international art stage including the Third Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art, Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane in 1999, 'Man and Space', Kwangju Biennale, South Korea in 2000, 'Face Up: Contemporary Art from Australia', Hamburger Bahnhof Museum, Berlin, 2003-2004 'In-Between Realities', Shanghai Gallery of Art, China in 2005, 'Between River and Lake', Jack Tilton Gallery, New York, 2006, 10th Havana Biennial Cuba in 2009, Shanghai Biennial 2010. Weis’ Solo Exhibitions include 'Nesting, or the Art of Idleness in 1989 - 1999', Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney in 1999 and 'other histories: Guan Wei's fable for a contemporary world', Powerhouse Museum, Sydney in 2006 and 2007. Wei has also been represented in numerous exhibitions in Mexico and the U.S.A.

In 2008 Wei set up a studio in Beijing. The artist currently lives and works in both Beijing and Sydney. China’s recent accelerated economic and urban growth has impacted on Wei. The artist was forced to relocate his studio in Beijing twice. Returning after a period of upheaval and unrest, Guan Wei speaks of Australia as “this pure land in my heart” and seeks to portray this experience through his work.


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