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Zhao Gang

Fishbone Painting-Chrysanthemum

Haihe River (in North China), the country's seventh largest river that has served shipping and military purposes throughout history, boasts rich water resources and commands enormous love from everyone living nearby. Zhao Gang, a fishbone artist who grew up right near the riverbank, is one of those with a strong love for the river.

Even as a little boy, Zhao was an experienced swimmer who often dove into the river to catch fish, which was his favorite dish. One day after lunch, he suddenly realized that many of the leftover fish bones had good and interesting appearances. Thus at that moment he came up with the idea of making paintings with the fish bones, before later having success.

According to Zhao, creating a fishbone picture doesn't mean simply patching up all the fish bones in a simple and random way. First, the artist has to get familiarized with the fishbone structure. When making fishbone paintings, the artist always tries to retain the bones' original shape, to keep the bones' natural beauty. In this way, the fishbone paintings not only show the naturally peculiar shapes of fish bones, but also the unique styles and designs created by the artist.

Fishbone Painting-Orchid

In all his fishbone artworks, be it of flowers, animals or insects, Zhao has adopted the low relief method, and the bones he uses usually all have good quality, with some jade-like and others agate-like, which makes it hard for others to believe they are fish bones. This is especially true with fishbone calligraphy, which resembles both a kind of seal character and a kind of regular script. Due to its fresh artistic conception, Zhao's fishbone calligraphy won the recognition of the Guiness Book of Records' headquarters in East China's Shanghai Municipality.

Zhao's life is largely centered on fish. Every morning, his most important activity is buying fish, as it is the key to making a good fishbone painting. The bones Zhao uses are of freshwater fish as well as of commonly seen sea fish. As fish bones used for making fishbone paintings should retain their original color, great attention needs to be paid to the treatment of fish bones; concerning this, Zhao has his own way.

Steaming is the only way Zhao cooks fish, as frying or stirring may badly affect the bones. For the sake of retaining the bones' original color, no colored ingredient is added. When the fish is well cooked, the whole family sits together, carefully eats the fish and afterwards collects the bones, which are then washed three or four times in warm water. Afterwards, the residues are brushed off before the bones are bleached, dried and treated with an antiseptic. After all these treatments, the bones of the fresh-water fish and sea fish become a milky white and a brownish-yellowish color respectively.

Enormous care has to be taken to the layout of fishbone paintings, with Zhao working from left to right or vice versa. "The Oriental Giant," which Zhao Gang created specially for Hong Kong's return to China in 1997, was made with over 25,000 bones of 25 kinds of fresh-water and sea fishes. With animals, flowers and calligraphy in it, the dragon-themed painting expressed the expectation of generations of Chinese people for Hong Kong's return. "Hundred Flowers", Zhao's work to celebrate Macao's return in 1999, is made with 16,000 bones, and contains depictions of the most common kinds of flowers.

Fishbone and Gourda Sculpture-Contending for Hegemony

Fish, apart form being a delicious dining dish, has been employed in a wide variety of artistic forms, as it has been seen as an auspicious symbol by Chinese people since ancient times. Gourd, an import from Southeast Asian country of India, is also regarded as a treasure and auspicious symbol, with many tales about it widespread among people. After an encounter with the gourd and with much experimentation, Zhao got the idea of using the fishbone and the gourd together to create fishbone and gourd sculptures.

"Two Elderly Men Playing Chess" is the most representative of Zhao's fishbone and gourd sculptures. Two unripe gourds sketch very well the decrepit bodies of the elderly men, whose arms are made from fish bones. Their arms' depictions show the men's competitiveness. Compared with fishbone paintings, the fishbone and gourd sculpture is more real life, partly due to the exuberance that is the greatest development from fishbone painting.

In recent years, there have been great many artists like Zhao Gang, who having got their inspiration from their life pursuit, have created a great many excellent artworks. As long as there is life, there is hope for traditional Chinese culture to prosper, with creativity being the unchanging theme.

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