Born in Beijing, China, 1957
Lives and works in Beijing & Sydney
Feng Shui, 2004
acrylic on composite board
Guan Wei is a major figure in both the Australian and Chinese contemporary art scenes. For almost 30 years he has been creating work that interweaves imagery from his Chinese heritage, his life experience in Australia and his personal mythology.
In 1989, three years after graduating from the Department of Fine Arts at Beijing Capital University, he came to Australia as artist-in-residence at the Tasmanian School of Art. He migrated in 1990. Further residencies followed at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney (1992) and the Canberra School of Art, Australian National University (1993). In 2008 he set up a studio in Beijing and he now lives and works in both Beijing and Sydney.
Guan Wei’s works display a heightened socio-political awareness. Many of them incorporate European-style maps and Chinese-style landscapes as the foundation on which he addresses a range of topics: cross-cultural issues, environmental awareness, Australian politics, immigration, the plight of refugees. His distinctive style and highly personal visual vocabulary – floating clouds, map coordinates, isobars – are vehicles for statements that have a profoundly felt moral dimension. Some of his works incorporate the timeless theme of journeying, a theme prevalent in classical Chinese literature and scroll paintings, though transported by the artist to the present day when so many journeys are made to escape persecution or seek a better life.
At the same time his art is laced with whimsy and humour. Human figures depicted in his delightfully idiosyncratic manner play hide and seek in a forest or cavort on the beach, which, for Guan Wei, is the epitome of hedonism and freedom in Australia. “I try to emphasize three elements in my work”, the artist says, “wisdom, knowledge and humour. I believe people need the wisdom to choose from the many different cultural traditions that confront us every day; knowledge is the key to opening our minds to the diversity of the world, and humour is necessary to comfort our hearts”.