Creating portraits that are startlingly lifelike, Chinese artist Leng Jun is a master of hyperrealism. The accomplished painter is particularly known for his detailed oil paintings of women, where every wisp of hair and fiber of clothing is rendered to perfection. Born in 1963, Leng came of age during a time of great economic reform known as the Opening of China. This great cultural change, and the Western influences it introduced, greatly influenced his art.
Interested in painting from a young age, he first experimented with oil paint while in middle school. Though no oil paints were readily available in China at the time, a friend gave him a few colors to experiment with. These early experiments stayed with him and so he continued his studies with a steady flow of information from the West helping to shape and mold him as a painter.
“For people like me who were born around the 1960s, we were teenagers at the time when we formed our worldview. That was a great opportunity. Looking back, reform and opening-up really saved the soul of our generation,” said Leng. “At the time, information coming from the West greatly contributed to the enlightenment of our people. It also laid a very solid foundation for my later creations.”
Though he was well respected as an artist prior, it was after his 2004 oil painting titled Mona Lisa that his work went viral. This photorealistic portrait of a woman was based on the principals of Leonardo da Vinci’s iconic painting but depicts a modern woman. This work was followed by a series of photorealistic portraits of women, each more detailed than the next. By examining the details, one can appreciate the precise brushstrokes that pull out each aspect of the sitter.
While there is some criticism that these works look too much like photographs, Leng maintains that anyone seeing the paintings in person won’t be deceived. It’s not his intent to compete with or imitate a photograph, but rather he’d like to push his art to its limits. By balancing technical skill with the ability to bring emotion to his paintings, he’s been able to touch people around the world.
“I want to push my painting skills to a higher level. What is the most difficult thing? To paint people,” Leng told CGNT. “For example, still life or rusted metals, they’re not something we see every day. People deal with people the most and people are most familiar with people. To portray people and make others believe is the hardest thing.”