Emerging Disabled Chinese Artist Liu Shuai

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Liu Shuai, disabled artist of traditional Chinese painting, appearing in a short video online featuring his unbowed life as a young artist, attracted the eye of Chilture, a social enterprise committed to Chinese and international disabled artists and craftsmen.

With hours of train ride and bus travel from Beijing, we finally made it to Shuai's home, an even-roofed sing-storied house, which later we knew was build for the wedding of Shuai's elder brother, his only sibling, who had been the bread-earner of the family and was killed in a traffic accident in 2005 on his way to prepare things for his wedding. In a moment of deep dejection, Shuai's mother tried to take her own life but was pulled back by Shuai's imploring eyes. Shuai's father, in his 60's, hair all blanched and hunchbacked, has also been tremendously hurt by his son's death and didn't speak a single word until we left. Shuai then comforted and promised to his parents: 'Without my brother, I would sell my paintings one day to support you.'

Born in 1989, Shuai suffers from cerebral palsy and has been confined to a wheelchair since his childhood. Despite many adversities of life, Shuai has never yielded to it. Being not able to attend school, he asked his mother to borrow textbooks to teach him to read. Then he got a dictionary and started teaching himself. This well-thumbed dictionary was still seen beside him on his bed when we first arrived. Propping himself up on his elbows in bed, he was reading amongst some wasted painting slips.

At 10, Shuai started painting when one day his father picked up a crayon in the street and brought to him back home. "I soon lost myself in the pleasure of painting and found it a way to express my inner world," Shuai told us.

When Shuai paints, he has to sit in his shabby wheelchair and have his atrophied legs tied to the wheelchair with the help of his father. "I can't stretch out my fingers fully and my hands tremble when painting so I have to lay my wrist on an ink box." Shuai said, "I'm left-handed as my right hand is much worse than my left one." For all these limitations, Shuai paints three to four hours every day.

Shuai mainly employs black and colored ink and uses both the two main techniques in traditional Chinese painting-Shui Mo, freehand or watercolor or brush painting, and Gong Bi, meticulous or court-style painting.

Shuai is self taught in painting by reading theory and instruction books, copying excellent outstanding artworks in history and the present day, videos online and could occasionally receive instructions from some visiting renowned painters from his county.

Traditionally, to be a great painter of Chinese painting, the artist must be versed in literature as well as Chinese painting has long been a means to expressing thoughts of great scholars down the ages. Shuai knows this well. He reads in a wide range and keeps writing down his thoughts. Here is a short note by Shuai: "Immersed in the painting for over a decade, how many hot and cold times have gone? Fingers tremble with the cold bed in winter and in summer shirts get wet and dry. Every single dot and line are painted in heart. My brushes and ink move and flow as days extend."

Shuai has a variety of inspirations: a memory, a vision, an image, others' paintings, a villager, his mom and dad, a cat or dog, swallows nesting under the roof of his house, and even himself. Therefore, the subjects of his paintings vary significantly.

In spite of years of being obscure and the isolation of his village, Shuai successfully held a small exhibition in his county and won a second prize in an arts competition for the disabled in Hebei Province in recent years.

Today, Shuai is accepted as a member of Chilture Studio of Disabled Artists. Chilture will do its best to assist him in realizing his wishes of holding a formal exhibition, having a collection of his painting published and getting instructions from accomplished masters of Chinese painting.
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