Reclusive painter keeps Mao spirit alive on Tiananmen

Thu Jun 30, 2011 8:59am EDT
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By Haze Fan and Maxim Duncan

BEIJING (Reuters) - Reclusive Chinese painter Ge Xiaoguang's art has gazed over one of the world's most famous city squares for decades.

For 30 years, he has painted the portraits of former paramount leader Mao Zedong that look across Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

The giant oil paintings of the "Great Helmsman" have kept watch from the Gate of Heavenly Peace since the Communist Party won the civil war and declared a New China on October 1, 1949.

"I feel honored to have done this all these years. It is a sacred job. The sense of duty is quite strong," Ge said.

The paintings, now made of glass fibre and reinforced plastic, are six meters (20 feet) high and 4.6 meters (15 feet) wide, and weigh up to 1.5 tons.

Ge keeps a low-profile and has refused countless requests for interviews. But he gave Reuters access to his studio near the imposing Forbidden City ahead of Friday's 90th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party.

Paintbrushes in hand and standing atop a moving platform, 58-year-old Ge gently smoothes the surface of the canvas, creating an airbrushed effect that lends the chairman a benevolent glow. "The key in the portrait is to depict Chairman Mao's presence. It's really important to manage to show the charisma that he had as a great leader," he said.

Born in Beijing in 1953, Ge learned to paint the large-scale portraits from his predecessor Wang Guodong.   Continued...

<p>Ge Xiaoguang wipes off extra paint on a giant portrait of China's late Chairman Maozedong in his working studio located between the Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City in Beijing, June 29, 2011. REUTERS/Barry Huang</p>