Xu Hongfei is one of China’s best-loved artists. His quirky, larger than life sculptures have been exhibited widely across the country, but now, thanks to a new travelling exhibition that has already toured Australia, France and Italy, they have arrived in the UK to be seen by a new legion of audiences.
Entitled Chubby Charms- yes, really- the exhibition incorporates 15 works that are dedicated to, as the title would suggest, celebrating the fuller figure. The women are very large but this does nothing to curtail their enjoyment of life, sport, and leaping onto rather fragile-looking men to deliver kisses. The exuberant and oddly life-affirming works redefine our notion of beauty and deliver a healthy dose of fun.
We caught up with artist and current president of the Guangzhou Sculpture Academy Xu Hongfei, to find out what lies behind the works, and the grand tour that has brought them to us.
V: Why are the women chubby?
XH: We have many ways of expressing art – so we have something in common as artists. Sometimes as an artist you need to find your own ways of expressing things. I want to discover the beauty and humour in real life. I want to change people’s ideas about beauty. So we have love, happiness, sport. They make people laugh, they make people smile.
There are many kinds of beauty, and we need to discover them in real life. I have many different views about what sexy is, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be that people who are sexy have to be slim. Those chubby women, they are very sexy as well. All my works are actually expressing my view about beauty.
V: And why London?
XH: London is a very representative city in terms of art and culture, and it is a very good place for modern, contemporary art. It’s got its historical side but it’s also got its modern side. And London also has a good sense of humour, I think. London is very famous for its humour. My work is influenced by that. I don’t really speak English, but I can understand the humour, so we have a mutual language.
This part of London is very charming; you have the Thames, the Tower of London, London Bridge. So you take pictures and you don’t need to say anything more, people know it’s London. It’s a great thing. We want to bring the charm of London back to China.
V: Have the works been received very differently in different parts of the world?
XH: Yes. In Australia we were outside the Opera House. I saw the people were very happy and very excited about the exhibition. In Italy, in Sicily and Tuscany, people were very excited about it as well. In London it’s a little bit different. It’s quieter, but still it has its romantic side. I think probably people in London have a deeper understanding of what art is, so I really want to see what the reaction is of people in London. That’s the main purpose of the trip this time, I want to see how the people react to the works.
V: What’s the process of creating the works?
XH: After many works – over 200 pieces – I said that I would bring different pieces of work to different cities. I will bring something different here next time I tour. So I have brought some new works which were never shown before, and which were made specifically for this exhibition, for London. I’ve been here before, so I did some research about London and I made some new works.
V: How do you think art brings together different cultures?
XH: Art can be enriching in many, many different ways. People from different cultures with different histories and different cultures can come together with art. We have a mutual language in terms of art. Sometimes people remember a country and a culture because of a certain artist. We would like to bring our Chinese culture and history to the UK by art, by my work. This is a kind of communication.
Words by Evie Pritchard
‘Chubby Charms by the Riverside’ runs until 16th June at More London Riverside, SE1 2DB, London