(1961 - present)
Benjamin Wu was born and raised in the small coastal town of Zhanjiang, China, which is situated in China’s southern tip near Guangzhou and Hong Kong, facing the South China Sea.
He began to draw and paint at the age of 14, when he studied with Xuan Chenbang , a graduate of Guangzhou Fine Art Institute of China and one of the most reputable artists in the area at that time. At 17, he was accepted into the Preparatory School of the Guangzhou Fine Art Institute and for the next three years his rigorous and formal training in drawing and painting helped build a solid foundation. In 1981, he was accepted into the Oil Painting Department of Guangzhou Fine Art Institute, graduating in 1985.
In China Wu was taught the principals of art: how to look at objects, how to analyze and understand reality and art, rather than being taught the techniques. Each semester he was taught by a different teacher and was encouraged to develop his own style. The famous Chinese painter Qi Baishi once said: “if you learn from me, you are alive, if you imitate me, you are dead!” A true artist must walk on his own path and not sit under someone else’s shadow.
In those days in China in addition to formal class time, art students were sent out to the countryside to draw and paint once a year for about a month. In fact, before the end of the Cultural Revolution, students were even required to live and work with the villagers. During his summer and winter vacations, Wu often went to rural villages to draw live figures and paint plein air. Today he still does the same, and when he goes back to China, the countryside and rural villages are still his favorite destinations.
Wu graduated from the MFA program at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco in the early 1990s. After this he worked as an illustrator, yet he realized that he must follow his passion, which is fine art. He paints still lives and nudes, but painting people in a live environment is his favorite thing to do.
Wu loves to paint people who live in the rural countryside of China because they remind him of his childhood and some of the most beautiful moments of his life. He still clearly remembers the days of living with his grandma in the village; of going to the creek to catch fish, riding on the back of a water buffalo to graze on the fresh new greens, and running around with other kids in the crowded farmers market. Through his paintings, he shares these memories and stories with his audience.
Wu’s interest in Western subjects was sparked by the rich American history and its stories. The exciting adventures of Lewis and Clark, the Oregon Trail, the Native American culture, Western books and movies, as well as John Steinbeck’s depiction of the Dust Bowl era in his novels such as Cannery Row, are all inspirations for Wu’s western paintings.
Furthermore, living on the west coast it is difficult to ignore Western culture. Wu loves to visit the old gold mining towns and ranches of California, and the farming valleys where he stops in on old pioneer farms. He visits the Native American Reservations and makes friends with the people there and has been to the Oregon Trail. He has met a lot of people and made a lot of friends. It helps him to better understand what life in the old west was really like. Many of Wu’s friends are also willing to pose for his paintings.
Wu was trained to paint in a realistic way. He is heavily influenced by Russian artists such as Ilya Repin and Valentin Serov. In the early 1980s, when China slowly opened up to the western world, Wu was more and more fascinated by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Lepage and L’hermitte. When Wu first came to the United States he was attracted to the modern art and artist such as Picasso and Klee.
Nonetheless, after all the years of studying and painting, Wu’s favorite style continues to be realism. His current paintings predominantly focus on Western subjects, especially of the early settlers, farmers and gold miners. Composition is always the first and most important thing to work on. The figures, particularly the faces and hands, are the areas that he spends most of his time and energy. Convincing details are the keys to a realistic painting but Wu never chases them in a mechanistic way, rather he prefers to relax in a painterly style.
Wu is a Member of Oil Painters of America (OPA)