Visit by Chinese Emerging Artist

Brilliant contemporary painter and sculptor Jia Aili spent time at USF’s Graphicstudio and presented a recent lecture.


Jia Aili, Mr. Yang 2010


By Barbara Melendez

USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (March 12, 2012) – Recent multimillion-dollar auctions of art from China point to a growing respect for Chinese contemporary art and artists.


University of South Florida’s Graphicstudio and the  Confucius Institute at USF provided a window into this trend with last week’s presentation of “China: Making Contact.”


A packed audience included members of USF Associate Professor Elisabeth Condon’s art history class that left last week for China on a tour coordinated with the Confucius Institute.


Curator and Platform China Contemporary Art Institute Project Manager Austin Powers gave some background on the art scene in Beijing and Beijing-based contemporary artist Jia Aili talked about and showed his work, serving as an outstanding example.  


Powers translated for Aili, who will be in residence at Graphicstudio working on new projects through this week.


Illustrating his story with a slide show, Powers explained that despite the many efforts to discourage the spread of contemporary Western-influenced art in China, artistic talent was irrepressible and ultimately proved its universality.  


As post-revolutionary China worked its way through restructuring and its subsequent Cultural Revolution, artists expressed themselves in a series of movements leading to the emergence of artists like Aili. He said China’s Stars Group, one of the first organized avant garde artists’ collectives, holds particular significance for him because it shares the same birth year, 1979.


Unlike that group’s reception by authorities – being declared illegal – and having to resort to protest marches, Aili’s generation of contemporary artists is a point of pride for China. Galleries of contemporary art are gradually sprouting up not only in Beijing but other parts of China.


Aili trained at Lu Xun Academy, one of the most important in China. He’s considered one of the top emerging artists of the day. He paints, sculpts and creates large scale installations. Born in northeast China – Dandong , Liaoning Province – near the North Korean and Russian borders, he uses a great deal of his early environment in his signature coloration and imagery. 


Aili not only paints on canvas, he likes to paint on all kinds of everyday objects such as soles of shoes, gallery catalogues, even a mattress. At Graphicstudio he is working on etchings, something he has been interested in for some time.


“He has never had the chance in China to explore that process,” said Noel Smith, Graphicstudio’s curator of education and Latin American and Caribbean Art. “Our faculty members are introducing him to other processes as well, such as lithography and cyanotypes, so he will probably do several things.  He is a very fast and hard worker!”


As fast as he may be, he and Powers talked about Aili’s penchant for exhibiting his work even as he is working on it and continues adding to his painting for years at a time. Ultimately, he said, his work is a commentary on what it feels like to be an artist in China.


He had his first solo exhibition, “The Wasteland,” at Platform China. Slides of several of his works from that series were shown at the Graphicstudio talk. Gas masks, people in hazmat suits, stylized piles of industrial waste and stark landscapes repeat themselves in dramatic and powerful works. Though he said the landfill project behind his first studio did influence him, Aili claims not to be commenting on environmental concerns. 


His monumental canvases – some as large as 45 feet in length – have been shown throughout China and are beginning to find an international audience.  His work was shown in the United Kingdom and Puerto Rico in 2010.


This event wasn’t Graphicstudio’s first connection with China. Staff members were invited to attend and participate in the American Printmaking Now exhibition, organized by the National Art Museum of China in Beijing in 2010. Graphicstudio Director Margaret Miller and two printers, Tim Baker and Tom Pruitt, represented the atelier at a symposium on publishing prints at the Central Academy of Fine Arts. Baker and Pruitt also led a series of workshops on photogravure and heliorelief – two innovative techniques employed by Graphicstudio.


The university community is invited to visit Graphicstudio for ongoing exhibitions and lectures. It’s easy to get to, located at 3702 Spectrum Blvd. Suite 100, in the University Technology Center. (From Fowler Ave. turn north onto Spectrum Blvd. at Embassy Suites Hotel. Graphicstudio is the third building on the right, the first of two one-story gray buildings.)  For more information call (813) 974-4133.


And the USF Confucius Institute continues to assist the educational and business communities in Tampa Bay to develop closer ties with China through Chinese language instruction and cultural exchange. The institute also facilitates USF’s Study Abroad program. Students have received language training as well as scholarship assistance. For more information, visit


Barbara Melendez can be reached at 813-974-4563.