BEIJING, May 22 (Xinhua) -- Artist Wu Jinliang's techniques are unconventional. He once raised hundreds of chickens to study how the birds stroll and leap, earning him the nickname "the king of chickens" among his neighbors.
"A few sketches make a chick, but you must show its spirit and do it in one go. No changes like you do in oil painting. That's the difficulty of Chinese painting," said the 60-year-old painter with fluttering gray hair.
Wu's chickens brought him great prestige. In April 2005, Hu Jintao, the then general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, gave one of Wu's works to Lien Chan, the KMT party chairman in Taiwan at the time.
The painting given to Lien depicted two roosters encircled by eight frisky chicks, with another lonely chick peeping from afar. Wu said it conveys the Chinese people's aspirations for national reunification.
"To be a good painter, you should have aesthetic achievements and political sensitivity as well," Wu said.
Wu's success began by fulfilling a national task through his work for the Chinese foreign ministry.
Thirty years ago, Wu was tasked with teaching Chinese painting to foreign diplomats and their families in China.
His efforts to spread Chinese culture brought him increasing international fame, since many diplomats have become leaders in their own countries.
Wu's works are given as national gifts in foreign affairs. About 100 national leaders have collected his paintings. Among them are the United States' George H. W. Bush, Germany's Helmut Kohl, New Zealand's Jenny Shipley, and Britain's Tony Blair.
The painter's works have also been hung in Zhongnanhai, the seat of the Chinese central authorities. "I put patriotic elements in my paintings. I'm proud of it," said Wu.
On April 24, Wu's prestige was strengthened even more when he grabbed the top award in the International Fine Arts Prize in Belarus.
"It's unusual for Chinese wash painting, with such different aesthetics, to gain international honors," Wu said.
"Unlike oil paintings drawn on a huge canvas, Chinese ink and wash works look smaller and less impressive at first sight," he said.
Wu altered his strategy by drawing huge snowy bamboo on a wall-sized piece of rice paper to create an awe-inspiring feel. The work blew the panel of prize judges away.
His service to the country has also brought him wealth. An average painting by Wu fetches a price of 1 million yuan, making his works some of the most expensive in Chinese contemporary painting.
One of his masterpieces depicting a riverside town fascinated a collector, who offered to buy it for a whopping 18 million yuan, or 2.88 million U.S. dollars, Wu said.
However, he refused the deal since he expected a higher price.
In the painting, banyan trees in the foreground are thick in color and balanced in shade and light, bearing similarity to oil painting, with ruined garrets behind, extending into a skyline splashed by typical Chinese ink strokes.
"Its realism comes from its subtly chosen perspective. I borrowed it from Western drawing techniques," said Wu.
Wu's early experience as an oil painter inspired him to blend multiple styles, which "breathe new vigor into the traditional art," he said.
The skewed garret roofs in his masterpiece strike a contrast to Wu's new studio and gallery in a townhouse in east suburban Beijing, where real estate agents have crafted an artful sales pitch: "You must wish to be a neighbor of Master Wu. Come and buy!"