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Liu Shouxiang, champion of watercolor in China, dies at 61
The Hubei Institute of Fine Arts in Wuhan, where Liu had taught for years before retiring in 2018, announced the death. It said the cause was the coronavirus.

by Raymond Zhong

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- Liu Shouxiang, a teacher and painter of watercolor in China who spent decades championing the form, which is often overshadowed by oil painting and traditional Chinese ink painting, died Feb. 13 at Jinyintan Hospital in Wuhan. He was 61.

The Hubei Institute of Fine Arts in Wuhan, where Liu had taught for years before retiring in 2018, announced the death. It said the cause was the coronavirus.

At China’s top art schools, four disciplines traditionally dominate: oil painting, Chinese painting, printmaking and sculpture. As in the West, watercolor is more associated with hobbyist painters and scientific illustrations than with high art.

Liu helped change that. After graduating in 1981 with a teaching degree from the Hubei Art Academy, which later became the Hubei Institute of Fine Arts, he stayed on to teach. In 1987, he helped set up the watercolor major within the teachers college. And in 2009, he helped found the institute’s stand-alone watercolor department, the first among China’s major art academies. He was the department’s first dean.

“Getting this discipline up and running was entirely the work of one person,” Wang Chenghao, a close friend and fellow watercolorist, said in a phone interview. “After that, his colleagues were all his own former students and his students’ students’ students.”

Liu’s own work eschewed the delicate, barely-there quality of traditional watercolors. Borrowing techniques from oil painting, he produced pictures rich with texture. He sometimes thickened them with layers of acrylic paint, giving them saturated depths of buried color.

His work in recent years included still lifes as well as renderings of ancient cities in the Apennines and rugged landscapes in China’s Far West.

Liu was born on April 5, 1958, in Wuhan. His father was a doctor, and his mother was a laborer.

His first solo exhibition took place last year at the Wuhan Art Museum. He had long resisted displaying his work, Wang said. He never felt his pictures were good enough.

“They still had not met his own high requirements,” Wang said.

He is survived by his wife, a brother, a sister, a daughter and a granddaughter.

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