Hi, Yuxi: Painting an image of the past
In Gongmeijiayuan community, Hongta district, Yuxi city, Yunnan province, wall painters adding color to their work Nezha Conquers the Dragon King. HU CHAO/Xinhua
A girl making a shirt on a sewing machine, a child using a bamboo basket to catch a sparrow are just some of the images of a group in their 30s vividly painting their childhood scenes on the walls of the old communities in Yuxi city, Southwest China's Yunnan province.
They started their work recently in Guifeng community, Eshan Yi autonomous county. The four painters have selected a wall, mixed the paint, and prepared to paint a scene of a boy buying bubble gum at a street shop.
In Guifeng community, Eshan Yi autonomous county, Wang Jie (right), Zhong Yansong (left) and Zhang Mengting working on wall paintings. HU CHAO/Xinhua
Guifeng community was built in the 1990s and has just been renovated. The roads are smooth and the streets clean. In addition to the residential buildings that still suggest the style of a bygone era, the community's supermarkets, gardens, public toilets and fitness areas are all newly built.
Since the end of 2019, Yuxi has renovated old urban communities, and the four wall painters were invited to participate. There are two men and two women in the team: 35-year-old Wang Jie has the best painting skills, and he is responsible for the most difficult facial details of the characters; Zhong Yansong and Liu Jin are the main force of the team; Zhang Mengting is the "housekeeper", responsible for business order and outreach.
The four friends were classmates at the Fine Arts Department of Yuxi Normal University, and they opened a wall painting company together after graduation. The business was still new in Yuxi in 2009. The four believed that there was a demand in the market. "When you are young, you must dare to try things out and make mistakes. It is best to turn your hobby into a career," says Wang.
They have worked together for 13 years, during which time the team has painted 20,000 square meters of walls, and nearly 2,000 works are spread over Yuxi's town streets, community squares, parks and campuses. The lifelike works are popular and orders are streaming in.
"Some people call us 'urban beauticians', 'wall painters' and 'street artists'. These titles are very pleasant, to be honest. We are perfectionists, and we strive to paint the best for each work," Wang says.
"If the renovation of an old community is described as a family renovating a house, painting on the wall is 'soft decoration'," says He Xiao, deputy director of the Housing and Urban-Rural Development Bureau of Eshan county.
In order to choose the theme of the wall painting for a settled community, the Housing and Urban-Rural Development Bureau of Yuxi City solicited the opinions of residents, and the "nostalgic style" was the first choice.
This group of post-80s artists painted the streets, pavements, gardens and residential buildings piece by piece from their childhood memories. "The chubby bloke who 'smashed the tofu block' is Zhong Yansong, and the girl who stepped on the sewing machine is me," says Zhang Mengting while pointing at the team's work and smiles.
Over the last two years, they have painted more than 1,000 square meters of wall for 700 old communities that have been renovated in Yuxi. Many residents even consider them as family members, offering them free water, umbrellas and meals. Children wanted rabbits to appear on the wall paintings, and they painted bunnies. "When people say they like our works and the wall paintings make the environment more beautiful, we really feel a sense of professional achievement," says Zhong.
What the four didn't expect was that when they painted their childhood favorite cartoon Nezha Conquers the Dragon King, they unexpectedly made this residential building an internet sensation. Yang Xue, a resident who has lived in the community for 28 years, says: "It's very gratifying to see the place where I live has changed. Every community is a piece of the urban puzzle. The more beautiful the community becomes, the more beautiful the city evolves."
Wang adds: "These wall paintings are not only the childhood of our generation, but also the memories of the residents. They also allow the next generation to learn more about that time, and we will continue to paint."