By staff reporter MA LI
WHEN I met Zhou Jianpeng， he had just returned to Beijing after a month-long journey in France. On April 4， the exhibition When Paris Meets Wenzhou –Wenzhou Sketches Exhibition of Chinese and French Artists was held in the City Hall of Versailles， France. Eighty paintings depicting Wenzhou landscapes by 22 Chinese and French artists were exhibited.
“The exhibition has been very successful. Through this kind of cross-border artistic exchange and interaction， mutual friendship has been enhanced and emotional distances shortened，” Zhou Jianpeng said.
Zhou is a native of Yongjia， Zhejiang Province. After graduating from the School of Fine Arts of Southwest University in 2007， he taught at the School of Fine Arts of Xinjiang Normal University. In 2011， he was admitted to the Academy of Arts & Design of Tsinghua University for Ph.D. degree study. And in 2016 he was admitted to the School of Arts of Peking University for postdoctoral research. He is now vice president of the U.K.-China Economics and Cultural Promotion Association， a special researcher of Wenzhou University， a visiting scholar of China National Academy of Painting， and a member of the China Literature and Art Critics Association. He is also the founder of Yongjia Ruoxi Art Village， Yongjia Nanxi Academy， and Beijing Hongluo Academy.
Zhou Jianpengs works not only respect tradition， but also attach great importance to the innovation of brush and ink painting techniques. “Ink painting must fit in with the times， and artistic creation should also keep pace with the times. I strive to make the pieces respect the tradition and conform to the aesthetic trends of the times.” Zhou Jianpeng said that artistic creation is a process of constant exploration， discovery， self-examination， and breakthrough. In this process， he “found his own style， as well as discovered himself.”
After his postgraduate study ended in 2007， Zhou Jianpeng intended to seek new breakthroughs in artistic creation. “At that time， there were two places that I particularly wanted to visit. One was Tibet Autonomous Region and the other was Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous region.” Finally， he chose to go to Xinjiang.
Before his departure， Zhous only knowledge of Xinjiang came from high school geography books and scenic films broadcast on TV. “I then read the Great Tang Records on the Western Regions， and listen to Wang Luobins songs. Whatever were related to Xinjiang， I would check them out on the Internet and read them.” In September 2007， Zhou Jianpeng came to Xinjiang with his dream， and worked as a teacher at the School of Fine Arts of Xinjiang Normal University.
The Gobi desert， the rocks， the sheep， and the beautiful shepherd girls were the first impressions Xinjiang left on him. “On the rich， three-dimensional， and vast land of Xinjiang， I felt a sense of suffocation that I had never had before. I believe this is where my dream began.”
Zhou said that when he started to create in the region， he found that the painting skills he had learned in school could not be applied because “the use of a single creative technique cannot reflect the plural-istic characteristics of Xinjiang at all.” So he began to try to paint the Red Mountain in ink. He painted the main part in red， the distant mountains in light black， the clouds in light ink， and the close-range scenery in dark ink， the rivers and lakes in white.
“Unexpectedly， the interlinking of red and black make the visual effect more three-dimensional， and there is a natural lighting effect in the light and shade.” When Zhou exchanged views with his colleagues on this painting titled A Beautiful Day， they were mesmerized. Zhou restored his confidence， and set on a new path in his creation.
The four years of teaching in Xinjiang gave Zhou time and space to create. “From northern Xinjiang to southern Xinjiang， from snowy mountains to valleys， from historical sites on the ancient Silk Road to deserts，” Zhou felt melted in the broad and profound attractions of Xinjiang.
In 2011， Zhou was admitted to the Academy of Arts & Design of Tsinghua University as a Ph.D. candidate. “Even during my study in Beijing， I went back to Xinjiang two or three times a year to create something.” In order to create the Pastoral Song of Tianshan Mountains， Zhou followed the herders for 300 kilometers from Burqin in Altay to Kanas Lake. The experience gave him unlimited creative source.
Zhou said that he cherishes every opportunity to return to Xinjiang， and tries to give a humanistic touch and historical connection to every work. When his creations reached a certain number， he shifted his attention to the ancient Silk Road.
“I found the relevant materials of Zhang Qians mission to the Western Regions and Great Tang Records on the Western Regions to study the ruins of the ancient Silk Road in Xinjiang， and searched for them according to the map.” Over the past few years， Zhous journey has led him not only to every historical site of the ancient Silk Road in Shaanxi， Gansu， and Xinjiang， but also across five Central Asian countries.
“How to make beauty enter the countryside and how to merge beauty into the lives of ordinary people is a difficult issue.” Zhou said that art has become part of the daily life of Europeans， but in China， art has not yet entered the lives of most urban people， let alone remote villages.
Inviting French artists to his hometown， Zhou intended to awaken the region and make art return to his native land.
In Shangrichuan， the stream passing through the village is called Ruoxi. After the visit， Zhou founded Ruoxi Art Village， and the 18 French artists became its honorary members.
In order to leverage this opportunity， Zhou persuaded more than 20 villagers to transform their homes into guest houses， which can provide more than 200 beds. Seven of them provide space for calligraphy and painting activities. The Chinese Calligraphy Museum， Ruoxi Gallery， Ruoxi Oil Gallery， Ruoxi Pub have opened one by one. “Arts boost economic development. The construction of these art villages will increase the income of the whole region. The two are mutually reinforcing，” Zhou said.
Shangrichuan has become a pilot village in Hesheng Town to promote rural revitalization with culture. The town began to adjust rural land planning， incorporate art into village construction， and support leisure and vacation projects. “The beauty of the countryside is discovered and disseminated by artists. This process is the process of guiding villagers to discover and cherish beauty，” Zhou said. Inspired by the successful attempt of Shangrichuan， Hesheng is planning to build it into a town of arts， which makes Zhou Jianpeng feel elated.
Zhou is planning the Nanxi Academy， which will cover more than 13 hectares， and include art galleries， museums， artists studios， and artists sketching bases. “The Nanxi Academy is located in Xiaao Village， Hesheng Town， and Shangrichuan Village is one of the project sites. My team and I are striving to build Hesheng into a base for the revival of traditional Chinese culture.” Zhou said that he had full confidence in the project.
The visit of French artists to Zhous hometown is the prelude to “When Paris Meets Wenzhou.”
On April 4， 2019， “When Paris Meets Wenzhou –Wenzhou Sketches Exhibition of Chinese and French Artists” opened at the City Hall of Versailles， France.“This is a very good exchange between Chinese and French artists. Through their own observation and creation， French artists truly show the development and style of todays China to the world through their works.” Zhou said that over the past 40 years of reform and opening-up， Chinas economy has developed rapidly， but many French peoples perception of China is far from keeping pace with Chinas development. Through this exhibition， many French people now have a new understanding of China.
In his speech， Fran？ois de Mazières， mayor of Versailles， said， “This kind of artistic exchange will only have a positive impact on China and France， promote mutual understanding between our two peoples and share our pursuit and desire for good things. While pursuing and exploring art， the friendship between the two countries has been enhanced.”
At When Paris Meets Wenzhou， Zhou said that he saw the hope of Chinese culture and art going out to the world. “This model will cause chain reactions such as When Paris Meets Chengdu， When Paris Meets Guangzhou， When London Meets Beijing.”Zhou said that art is a good stepping stone for the world to perceive and understand contemporary China， and he is willing to work hard for this end.