An impoverished rag picker in southeastern China has been hailed as the country’s Vincent van Gogh after images of his paintings appeared on social media.
Wei Guangming, who is self-taught, only started painting in 2016. The 48-year-old migrant worker’s full-time job is riding a pedicab through streets of Shaoxing, Zhejiang province, to collect rubbish like cardboard boxes and electrical appliances, to sell to a recycling factory.
He earns about 5,000 yuan (S$1,039) a month from collecting rubbish while getting 7,000 yuan from selling his paintings, the Metropolis Express reported.
“I paint because of my hobby and also because of money,” he told the paper. “At first I painted as I was always interested in drawing. Later I found it could make money for me. So far I have sold about 400 pieces.”
Wei’s art works are created in his 15-square-metre (161-square-foot) rented flat which has no bathroom or running water.
Wei has been dubbed the “shabby room painter” and people are increasingly seeking out his paintings, but he is struggling to meet demand, despite producing up to 30 paintings a month.
“Too many orders and I can’t guarantee quality. I won’t accept many orders to avoid letting down the customers’ expectations,” he said.
Originally from a village in Anhui, Wei said he had liked drawing since childhood but had never had any training. He dropped out of high school because his family was poor and took up labouring jobs in cities across the mainland.
Wei first started producing art in the late 90s; drawing hand sketches for pedestrians on the streets of Guangzhou. But that career, from which he earned very little, did not last long.
Wei became a migrant worker again once he got married and needed to support his own family.
Five years ago, a friend asked him to paint a picture for her even though he had never painted before and his interest in art was rekindled.
He started to learn painting from textbooks he bought and from videos he found online. Some videos were in foreign languages.
“If there are subtitles, I will learn according to the subtitles. If not, I will just watch how they mix the colours,” Wei said.
His wife and his four sons all live in his wife’s hometown in Hubei. Wei sends almost all his wages to them except money for his everyday costs and rent.
He said he selected his potential customers by judging from their messages to see if they are highly educated or if they really appreciate his works.
“What to paint is virtually decided by myself,” he said. “I personally am fond of works by French naturalist and impressionist painters.”
Wei said he hoped to visit places with inspiring scenery for his art once he has more free time and money.
“Then I can have original creations instead of copying. My long term goal is to become a professional painter,” he said.
“He is a rich man in the spiritual world,” said one user on the short video platform Douyin.
“I see what great power comes from dreams,” another person wrote.
This article was first published in South China Morning Post.