Liu Yijun's journey from guitar strings to painting show (China Daily) | Lao Tribune

Liu Yijun's journey from guitar strings to painting show (China Daily)

Rocker-turned-painter Liu Yijun. Photo by Zou Hong / China Daily

Liu Yijun, one of the country’s best-known guitarists with the band Tang Dynasty, is now getting much attention as a painter.

Lao Wu, as he is more popularly known, held his first solo exhibition of more than 30 paintings that he made since 1993, at a gallery in Beijing’s 798 art district earlier this month.

The 53-year-old uses pencils, ballpoint pens and ink brushes to express his thoughts on canvas.

“Painting is like a string of my guitar. That is why I name my paintings after musical notes, such as C Major and D Minor,” the lanky, long-haired Liu tells China Daily.

The feelings that he couldn’t express through music earlier were now out on paper, he adds.

He also wrote a piece of music for the show by using qing, or sounding stone, an ancient Chinese percussion instrument. When struck by wooden hammers, the qing, which is filled with water, produces melodious sounds of various notes.

“When the vibration reaches a certain frequency, the water splashes. It’s just like the energy I accumulated before I painted. Each of the piece represents the moment when the inspiration filled my head,” says Liu, who calls the exhibition, Vibration, or Zhen in Chinese. “I want the audience to see the painting and hear the music at the same time.”

Liu began painting around 1992, at the peak of the band’s popularity.

Established in 1988 as one of China’s rock pioneers, Tang Dynasty was originally founded by lead vocalist Ding Wu, Chinese-American guitarist Kaiser Kuo, bassist Zhang Ju and drummer Andrew Szabo. After Kuo and Szabo left the band, Liu and drummer Zhao Nian joined in 1989.

Rocker-turned-painter Liu Yijun. Photo by Zou Hong / China Daily

Their debut album in 1992, A Dream Return to the Tang Dynasty, sold more than 2 million copies. Liu, who wrote hits such as A Dream Return to the Tang Dynasty and The Sun, however, started to feel strongly against rock music.

“I watched a performance of Steve Via in a video before I was 30 and I was shocked. I devoted my whole life playing guitar but I think I will never play as well as Via,” says Liu, who was born in Tianjin and moved to Beijing in 1976.

He taught himself the guitar as a teenager, who, despite his parents’ disapproval of his music, practiced it 15 hours a day.

The band’s name was given out of admiration for the ancient Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907 AD), a golden period in Chinese history when art blossomed.

“But our music was too Westernized and lacked originality,” he says. “I just felt that I lost my language.”

When the band was busy making their second album, Liu stopped playing the guitar for some six months and other members thought he went crazy. Liu then began painting to fill an inner void that his music didn’t seem to cover, he says.

Although Liu can still recalls the scenes when tens of thousands of people waved their hands and sang along during Tang Dynasty concerts, he doesn’t miss that part of celebrity life. He has moved on, he adds.

Since 2012, Liu has been performing in the ensemble of Chinese singer-songwriter Liu Suola, who is known for her versatility ranging from jazz and folk to rock.

“Art is our first language and I am blessed with the ability to express myself through two different forms,” he says. “What is unchanged about me is my rebellious nature. Though I am more than 50, I still feel the desire to create something differently.”


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