Guan Wei’s works display a heightened socio-political awareness. Many of them incorporate European-style maps and Chinese-style landscapes as the foundation on which he addresses a range of topics: cross-cultural issues, environmental awareness, Australian politics, immigration, the plight of refugees. His distinctive style and highly personal visual vocabulary – floating clouds, map coordinates, isobars – are vehicles for statements that have a profoundly felt moral dimension. Some of his works incorporate the timeless theme of journeying, a theme prevalent in classical Chinese literature and scroll paintings, though transported by the artist to the present day when so many journeys are made to escape persecution or seek a better life.
At the same time his art is laced with whimsy and humour. Human figures depicted in his delightfully idiosyncratic manner play hide and seek in a forest or cavort on the beach, which, for Guan Wei, is the epitome of hedonism and freedom in Australia. “I try to emphasize three elements in my work”, the artist says, “wisdom, knowledge and humour. I believe people need wisdom to choose from the many different cultural traditions that confront us every day; knowledge is the key to opening our minds to the diversity of the world; and humor is necessary to comfort our hearts”.
Guan Wei was born 1957, Beijing, China. Guan Wei is a major figure in both the Australian and Chinese contemporary art scenes. For almost 30 years he has been creating work that interweaves imagery from his Chinese heritage, his life experience in Australia and his personal mythology.
In 1989, three years after graduating from the Department of Fine Arts at Beijing Capital University, Guan Wei came to Australia as artist-in-residence at the Tasmanian School of Art. He migrated in 1990. Further residencies followed at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney (1992) and the Canberra School of Art, Australian National University (1993). In 2008 he set up a studio in Beijing and he now lives and works in both Beijing and Sydney.
Guan Wei has held more than 50 solo exhibitions in Australia and overseas and participated in significant group exhibitions including Face Up: Contemporary Art from Australia at the Hamburger Bahnof Museum in Berlin in 2003, the China Project at the Queensland Art Gallery in 2009, and the Shanghai Biennial in 2010. He has won several major awards, including the 2002 Sulman Prize. He has been the recipient of numerous Australia Council awards and fellowship grants and was artist in residence at the Greene St New York studio in 2003 and the Cité International des Arts in Paris 2007.