'I thought art was quite pretentious': Art ambassador Qi Yuwu on how he uses it as inspiration for his performances now

'I thought art was quite pretentious': Art ambassador Qi Yuwu on how he uses it as inspiration for his performances now
A picture of Qi Yuwu against the Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience exhibition backdrop.
PHOTO: AsiaOne

On Feb 28, veteran local actor Qi Yuwu guided a group of 40 elderly visitors through the exhibition Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience, held at Resorts World Sentosa.

You might not have expected this if you had met Yuwu many years ago.

Speaking to AsiaOne,the 46-year-old confessed: "In the beginning, I couldn't appreciate art very well. I thought it was quite pretentious, like they were just doing things which people didn't understand. And the more people didn't understand, the 'better' artists they were considered to be.

"After I've understood artists better — of course there are some who are still pretentious — and also after hearing their stories, it's hard not to appreciate artwork better."

Emotional resonance with the artwork

Indeed, understanding the stories and motivations behind the artwork made all the difference for Yuwu.

"Usually when artists create a piece of artwork, there will be a certain motivation. If I know their story and experience their artwork, I feel a sense of emotional resonance."

He followed up with a Van Gogh example, saying: "For example, there is this painting of a tree with many blooming flowers. The one in blue. When I saw it, I just felt it was beautiful.

"I found out that Van Gogh was going through emotional turmoil at that time. Then, his brother had a child. That brought joy amid his pain, and Van Gogh painted this as a present to his nephew. Suddenly, I felt closer to the painting, and it goes beyond a mere appreciation of beauty."

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Both Yuwu and his wife, actress Joanne Peh, 39, are ambassadors of the exhibition, and Joanne will be conducting creative art workshops for children after returning from filming the drama Shero in Australia.

Before this, Yuwu had conducted guided tours for visitors at Singapore Art Museum, for the exhibitions featuring works by artists Feng Zhengjie, Zheng Fangzhi and Wu Guanzhong.

The emotional resonance he gains from art has provided him with further inspiration for his acting.

He quipped: "The emotional resonance is not technical. It is beyond words.

"When we have certain emotions to express, artists may choose to create, chefs may choose to cook, and actors choose to act. It's the mode of expression that we choose.

"Looking at art is also a search for inspiration for my acting. What art is trying to express is magical and beyond words."

Changing the experience of art for others

While the experience of art goes beyond words for Yuwu, he uses words to share artist's stories and change the experience of art for others by conducting guided art tours.

He confessed that he doesn't focus on the art techniques as he is neither an expert on art, nor does he create them. Instead, after understanding the stories behind certain paintings, he shares those stories with his audience when he does his tours. He is more interested in an artist's motivations as "artists go through different phases in life and creation, so their artworks differ in every phase."

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In response to a question about whether he will share Van Gogh's stories when he brings his children to the exhibition, he said he prefers to let them view the artworks without preconceptions first.

"Once I've told them (the stories behind the pieces), then they will view the artwork with fixed ideas. And they may not be able to see it in any other way. So I'd prefer they view the artwork first without any previous knowledge," he shared.

He recognised that they may change their minds after hearing the stories, or they may not. In fact, he is impressed that not everybody feels the same way towards the same piece of work.

"I think that's the amazing part of art," he concluded.

Different immersive experience this time

For Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience, Yuwu said he finds that the experience is different when the artwork is present through the help of technology.

"I feel that this mode of presentation is trendy and advanced. You can feel that you have entered the world of the art, it gives you a 360-degree experience. It also engages all our senses - we can even smell floral scents and hear music."

His elderly visitors seem to have been awed by the exhibition. When asked how they felt about it, most of them replied it was "spectacular", Yuwu said.

Reflecting on this chance to conduct tours for elderly visitors, Yuwu expressed: "This is an experience they didn't expect. When I saw them enjoying themselves, I felt that I have done something good. They told me that if I didn't bring them here, they would not have come on their own. It's not something they will typically do. I'm glad I did this for them."

The Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience exhibition is open all days of the week except Tuesdays at Resorts World Sentosa.

ALSO READ: 'While entertaining you, I found greater joy myself': Qi Yuwu gets nostalgic celebrating 91-year-old fan's birthday

jolynn.chia@asiaone.com

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