WHITTIER — This is the story of two brothers--one who dreamed of being an artist and one who became one.
Thousands of miles from their native China, the brothers' paths will cross Wednesday in a tiny art gallery at Whittier College. Wang Xin-sheng, a philosophy exchange student at Whittier, will attend an opening of a Chinese art exhibit--his brother's.
What was once Wang's dream has become his brother's pursuit. And the excitement for his brother shows in Wang's large, expressive eyes.
"I am just a teacher in China. You can find this kind of teacher anywhere," said Wang, his English rough but understandable. "(But) my brother opened a new kind of painting in China. . . . (He is) willing to go a new way, although full of dangers, risks. . . . "
The exhibit is titled "Images from the Chinese Avant Garde: The unofficial paintings of Wang Lu-yan." Officials of the small liberal arts college believe it is the first showing of its kind in this country.
Part of Splinter Group
Wang said his brother is part of a splinter group of artists in China's capital city, Peking, that is not recognized by the government. The artists have been prevented from showing their art publicly in China for six years because its abstract nature is not condoned by the government. The last public display of the group's art was in a Peking sidewalk show in 1979 which police dismantled. Thus, the Whittier exhibit has added importance for Wang's brother and the tiny band of unofficial artists.
If the Whittier exhibit is viewed as a success by Chinese leaders, "this may change the government's attitude toward my brother. . . ," Wang said. " . . . A dream of his would be to show his work in Beijing."
But for now, Wang's brother has gladly settled for a tiny gallery just a step from the president's office on the Whittier College campus. Eighteen of his paintings will hang in Mendenhall Gallery in the administration building through June 5.
Wang, 33, brought five of the paintings with him last fall when he left China to spend a year studying philosophy at Whittier as part of a student-exchange program. In the months that followed, Wang's brother attempted to send more, but the Chinese government stopped him. Eventually, an American living in Peking mailed the paintings to Wang under his name, according to Robert Marks, a history professor at Whittier College.
'Long, Long Process'
"It has been a long, long process," said Marks, who befriended Wang and his brother last year while in China doing research at Peking Teachers College. The Wang art exhibit, Marks said, is significant because it furthers the exchange of ideas between the ideological adversaries. "Good things," he said, "are worth waiting for."
The exhibit was initially Marks' idea.
Several years ago, Whittier established a student-exchange program with Peking Teachers College. Marks went there in April, 1985, to research life in 18th-Century China by sifting through murder cases from that period. At the college he met Wang, who was a philosophy instructor, and his 30-year-old artist brother. By coincidence, Wang had just received permission to attend Whittier after a six-year struggle to obtain an exit visa to study in the United States.
When Wang arrived at Whittier in September, Marks suggested staging a special exhibition of his brother's work. Wang then wrote to his brother, who agreed. "He was delighted," Wang recalled. "It was a chance to show his talent."
Wang first recognized that talent about the time he abandoned his own art career.
As a boy in Peking, Wang tinkered with paints. The older he got, the more his mother pushed him toward art. She wanted someone to follow in the footsteps of her brother, who was also an artist. At first Wang was reluctant, but he grew to like painting, and began pursuing art in earnest in the mid-1960s--about the time of China's Cultural Revolution. He was then sent to rural Mongolia. He was 16 at the time, and like thousands of others his age in cities across China, he was relocated to learn about life in the countryside as ordered by Premier Mao Tse-tung.
Revolution 'Ended My Dream'
Now he admits, "The great Cultural Revolution ended my dream to be an artist."
Wang had been in Mongolia for a year when he received a letter from his brother. There was no text, he said, just drawings--impressive drawings that convinced Wang his that brother's future was in art. "I realized he was much better than me," Wang said. "I wrote back and encouraged him to go that way."
Now a journalist with a government-run transportation newspaper, Wang Lu-yan paints only at his mother's home, where he lives, his brother said. He creates in private, Wang said, "behind locked doors. Nobody knows how he does it."