Shi Lu (1919-1982) 石鲁
scan, paper, grayscale; original source: woodblock print
Andrews 1994: Andrews, Julia. Painters and Politics in the People’s Republic of China, 1949-1979. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994:108, fig. 43.
University of California Press Berkeley
Mao Zedong, hero, peasants, Mao portrait,
Shi Lu: Mao Zedong at the Heroes Reception (Shi Lu: Qun ying hui 石鲁: 群英会)
In this 1946 woodblock print by Shi Lu 石鲁 (1919-1982) entitled "Mao Zedong at the Heroes Reception" 群英会 Mao is sitting together at a long table with a group of peasants. Although he is the central focus of this image, the pictorial arrangement is not favourable to him: he is sitting slightly slack and awkward, the very long rectangular room does not create a feeling of intimacy and trust. Mao is obviously engaged in a friendly conversation with one of the peasants who has stood up and is gesticulating to Mao’s open smile. Some of the peasants sitting close are listening, some carry on their own conversations. In this image, then, Mao is depicted not as the unquestioned leader, the ravishing storyteller, but as an attentive audience. He sits there, slightly passive, relaxed, perhaps a bit too much at ease.
This depiction is much different from what the following decades would bring. Shi himself, who had been experimenting with more “revolutionary,” i.e. popular art forms since his Yan’an days, admits to his inexperience with the woodcut technique at this point (Shi Lu 1950:30, Hawks 2003:40, Andrews 1994:106). The Mao he portrays is not the stately, serious, and—most importantly—dominating figure we are accustomed to from Cultural Revolution depictions.