Ming You Xu was born in Tianjin, China in April 1963 to a family of 8 – living with his parents as well as 4 brothers (including himself) and 2 sisters.
By the age of 4, Xu developed a strong passion for drawing and with the support of neighbors and his siblings, Xu was often found drawing with chalk on pavement grounds. In 1985, Xu participated in the National Youth Art Exhibition and came in third with the lithograph work “归” (Gui) which means “return” in Chinese. This winning artwork was collected by the National Art Gallery of China. During his final year at the academy, Xu made a trip to Mongolia for ideas and came back inspired by the motivation to capture the Mongolian culture, lifestyle and their traditional ways of living. This became a series of paintings which Xu became very known for. After graduation, Xu found a job as an art editor at the Tianjin Yang Liu Qing Art Press and worked there till 1995. By then he already had a one-year-old daughter.
Interview by Dominique Musorrafiti
This is a selected interview from
Planet China Vol. 03 issue
How did you discover your painter’s vocation?
I developed a strong passion for drawing at a young age and so I naturally pursued art throughout childhood. At the time, I received a lot of support from my siblings and people around me acknowledged my talent so I continued drawing till this day. Looking back, even though there were no artists in the family, my mom used to do embroidery and carried many artistic talents and traits. For example, she would create embroideries freestyle by hand without doing any rough sketch or drafts.
Xu decided to go to Singapore to advance his art career and gain experience abroad between 1995-1998. He worked at Top Fresh Art Gallery while painting commissions on the spot outside amongst tourists and residents alike. Shortly after, Xu emigrated to Canada with his family to Toronto and participated annually in the Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition.
Where did you study and develop your skills?
Aside from being self-taught, I was able to learn art through the education system and developed my skills through competitions as well. During elementary school, I started going to Shao Nian Gong (school of extracurricular art programs for youth) after school and during grade 4-5, I began participating national art competitions and exhibitions. By high school, I was able to take art classes and continued attending Shao Nian Gong. I attended Tianjin Mei Shu Xue Yuan (Tianjin Academy of Fine Arts) and graduated with a degree in lithography.
What does painting mean to you?
Painting, in essence, is a part of me, part of my life, and a means of living. It’s a way of capturing the beauty and inspiration for others to admire and see.
How long does it take to make a painting?
Depending on the medium and size of the painting, it can vary from a few hours to 3 months. For my larger and detailed oil paintings with people’s faces such as my Mongolian series, it can take around 3 months to complete. Pastel portraits usually take a week or two to complete and smaller paintings as well. Occasionally, I also enjoy painting live outdoors and usually spend a few hours on landscapes.
There is an art movement from the past or an artist that you love in particular?
One of my favorite artists is Andrew Wyeth and I also admire the impressionists such as Van Gogh. I’ve always enjoyed buying art books and studying the works of other masters that paints people figures and portraits. It’s a source of inspiration and a way to seek improvements in my own paintings.
Xu is renowned and has frequent commission requests by famous Canadian people and
businessman for portraits. Clients include the former Foreign Minister of Canada, Barbara Jean McDougall
Why did you decide to make the series dedicated to Mongolia?
For my graduation project at Tianjin Mei Shu Xue Yuan, I decided to go to Mongolia for inspiration and when I arrived, I was in awe at the vast green pastures and bright clear blue sky. More so, watching the Mongolian people attend to their daily chores and their traditional way of living inspired me to capture those images in paintings. Their culture and traditions such as their clothing are simply beautiful.
What does it mean to be a painter today in the age of social networks?
For me, it is an opportunity for recognition growth and building networks without physical boundaries. I can now be connected to art galleries not just within my territory but across countries and prior to the use of social media, artists are heavily reliant on word-of-mouth and art galleries to spread your works and name. Everything is easier from sharing my artworks to gaining more exposure, and now there’s even a lot of online exhibition.
Photos Courtesy of Ming You Xu