10 questions to…our new series of interviews on the blog! Episode 1 with Haiying Xu.
The Artist Haiying Xu
We met Haiying Xu last year on the occasion of our beautiful joint exhibition “Far Worlds – Wide Dreams” at the St. Anne’s Museum. From our collection we had contributed Chinese theatre figures, from Haiying hung large-format oil paintings, and both complemented each other magnificently. We fondly remember the exhibition and wanted to introduce the painter, who has been living in Munich since last year, on our blog:
Theatre Figures Museum: Dear Haiying, you are a painter and create mainly large-format oil paintings.
What kind of puppet theatre do you deal with?
Haiying Xu: I like to occupy myself with the puppets of the Peking Opera, I already liked doing that as a
child. But a special inspiration was actually the tour through your museum, these are the most beautiful
puppets I have seen in my life, the Chinese hand puppets and stick figures. Also the small iron rod figures
with which we recreated the “Peony Pavilion” in the exhibition – I have never seen anything like that in
China! Of course the shadow figures are also a great inspiration. In the past, children’s books were also
important to me, with stories and tales from Ancient China.
TFM: When you say that these characters and the stories that are portrayed in the theatre inspire you,
how do you implement this in your work? You are a painter. So what role does puppet theatre play in
HX: At first I was inspired by the costumes of the characters and their expressions, the make-
up, masks etc. But especially the stories that are told with these figures are very close to me. When I was
young it was not possible to see these puppets very often, I grew up in a small town. But my art, my
paintings simply have this structure: it is often a landscape, an ancient landscape, which is also the land
of a child’s imagination. Often a girl is seen in my paintings, she is all alone. And this fantasy landscape is
populated by figures who look like they come from the Peking Opera or the Chinese puppet theatre, and
also from these stories. That was the connection between my paintings and your collection in our
exhibition last year.
TFM: What job did your parents have in mind for you?
HX: My parents had no idea but my mum noticed already early, that I love painting and drawing. She supported me since I was in kindergarten. Although there were only very little children´s books available with beautiful illustrations, she tried to find as many as possible. When she noticed that I tried to retrace those illustrations, she organised private drawing lessons for me. But of course she wouldn’t have thought I actually became a painter.
TFM: Which was the best decision in your career?
HX: My best decision was to come to Germany to study art. I first worked as a designer in China, which
has something to do with painting and art, but is not as free. At some point I knew that I didn’t want to do
that all my life and decided to study fine art in Germany. Studying here it is possible to be very creative,
and that promoted my own ideas and challenged my creative power. The best decision of my life!
TFM: For which three things in your life are you most grateful?
HX: My family is very important to me, and I am really very grateful for all the support I have received. I
am also very grateful for the lovers of my art, who bought my paintings at a very early age, while I was
still studying in fact and who have accompanied my development as a painter for a long time. I have to
think about the third thing again! But maybe for the friendship I am allowed to experience, the close
exchange with good friends.
TFM: If you were allowed to meet a famous person – alive or dead: Who would it be and why?
HX: I would like to meet the author of the novel “The Dream of the Red Chamber”. (one of the four classic
novels of the Chinese imperial period from the 18th century, note TFM). It is one of the most popular
novels in China, also my favourite novel, and I would like to meet its author, Cáo Xuěqín. The novel is
about a very rich aristocratic family and their decline. Politics and social life in the early 18th century is
very vivid: the house, the rooms, the garden, everything is described in great detail. What I like so much
is that the author has written the book from the perspective of a teenager. The narrator is a young man
That appeals to me a lot, because artists perhaps don’t want to grow old either, or because this view from
the perspective of youth is so important to me. But what interests me most of all is that the last 40
chapters of the novel are lost, and you don’t really know what happened to this family and the young
narrator’s love story. And that’s why I wanted to ask the author about it! And in any case, I want to make
this story the subject of my work.
TFM: If you could change one thing in the world: what would that be?
HX: I’ve been thinking about this question for a long time: I don’t know whether it’s more about
education or upbringing, but in any case I think it’s very important to get to know yourself better. I think
that many problems are caused by the fact that we do not know ourselves well enough, but neither do0
other people. Knowledge of human nature is so important. And you can’t take that for granted, you have
to learn it. But you have to take it seriously in your upbringing and education. You need it for your whole
TFM: What could you not do without in your life?
HX: I can’t do without nature, the love of nature is very important for me. And then curiosity: curiosity
about (interesting) people, about history, about the world – that is very central for me.
TFM: What do you enjoy most about your work?
HX: For my work I have to read a lot of books, looked at a lot of exhibitions, discovered the world, and
that – this phase of inspiration – is a great pleasure for me. And if I have the inspiration to express my
thoughts and feelings in my work – that’s just great. I work with myself and with the things I am
passionate about – that’s what makes my life so much fun!
TFM: What will your next project be?
HX: Last year I was in Dunhuang, an ancient city on the Silk Road in northwest China, near the Gobi
Desert. It was a very important metropolis and then it fell into disrepair and is not so well known in the
West anymore. At that time there was a great and very diverse cultural life in the city. There are very
important caves there, which for almost a thousand years without interruption were lined with beautiful
paintings by Buddhist monks (the Dunhuang Grottoes, Buddhist. Cave temple from the 4th to the 12th
century, note TFM). I find them highly interesting and I have studied the painting style and history of the
temples and the Buddhist themes in the paintings. I will definitely deal with this in my new project and
implement it in my own style.
TFM: That sounds very exciting! Dear Haiying, we thank you for the interview!
If you would like more information: here is a nice video of our common exhibition last year and this is the
personal website of Haiying.
Distant worlds, far away dream Chinese theatre figures and the painting of Haiying Xu-2019 Solo
exhibition in St. Annen Museum