“Third Line factories” is a term largely unknown to the young generation, but it evokes strong memories to those who lived in the 1960s.
Between 1964 and 1980, the Chinese government invested more than 200 billion yuan in the development of middle and western China industry. The government ordered 2,000 companies from the coast, which it deemed vulnerable to potential foreign attacks, to move to remote areas in the mountains and deserts. In the event of an attack, these Third Line factories were going to support China’s industry.
Xie Tianzhuo, a 22-year old artist, was born in the mountains of Dazhou, Sichuan province. Growing up, he became fascinated by Third Line factories.
“It’s an interesting place with mines, factories and coal rails scattered everywhere in the mountains,” he says. “It’s just a fantastic combination of real life and industrial development. All the places related to people’s lives – bookstores, dance halls, cinemas and Soviet-style buildings are gathered around a small factory.”
After his family moved to the city, those images remained alive in Xie’s mind and eventually influenced his painting, he says.
One of his favorite works is “66th Gaojia Ba.” The “Ba” suffix is often used in the names of places in southwestern China. In the painting, an old-style green train crosses an overpass, with tall buildings looming in the background.
Xie uses traditional Chinese materials for his paintings. The colored ink and rice paper produce a mottled effect.
The artist graduated this year from the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute, where he majored in traditional Chinese painting.
“In fact, in the beginning I preferred oil painting, but I was assigned to the department of traditional Chinese painting,” Xie says. “In university, my values changed. I gradually discovered the advantages of traditional materials.”
Fogies was his first project where he tried to use Chinese painting materials. This group of paintings is inspired by some pictures from the 1911 Revolution. Afterwards, he created the series The Chamber to express the emotions of his youth. Both these series are painted with shades of gray and little color, which is how many Chinese paintings are done.
“By chance I went to Dunhuang, Gansu Province,” he says. “The enduring frescos in the grottoes, which were painted in bright colors, changed my view on color in traditional painting. With practice, I could use traditional colored ink naturally in my paintings,” he says.
“The Song in Prypiat” experiments with colored ink. Inspired by a reality show about the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station, Xie depicted an imaginary Prypiat (the residential area of the power station) after a disaster, beautiful but scary.
Xie wants to continue his education. As his painting “The Top of Truth” suggests, he never wants to give up climbing toward a higher place of knowledge.
Asked whether he’s planning to paint for a living, Xie said a professional artist should focus on his craft as long as he finds a way to live up to his responsibilities.