Li Xingrong, a Wood-Carving Master Who Can Converse With Wood

Feb 26, 2019

Everyone who walks into the Li Xingrong Wood-Carving Gallery wil be attracted by the Buddhist sculptures in various lively forms and postures on display there.
When people ask Li Xingrong how many artworks he has created, he always shakes his head and answers that he just cannot remember. “I have always liked sculpture,” he said. ``The village of Guangfuchong, where I am from, is the place of origin of Suzhou wood carving. I saw many masters at work in my childhood.” Li Xingrong is obsessed with his world of wood carving, which he has inhabited for more than 40 years. “I have created several hundred types of Buddhist sculptures of different sizes.” He restored religious statues and architectural woodcarvings at Magic Mountain Rock Temple, the Taoist Temple of Mystery and Subtlety and Mount Bao Temple in Suzhou; the Temple of Prosperity and Blessing in Changshu; the Temple of Yingjiang in Anqing, Anhui Province, the Temple of Brilliance on Five Lotus Mountain in Shandong Province, as well as in some temples in Taiwan Province.
Speaking of the hardships of artistic creation, Li Xingrong said, ``The completion of one wood-carving artwork takes several months at the most and several days at the least.” Sculptures are divided into the two types of relief carving and cubic carving. Cubic carving is the most difficult. “It took me five months to carve a four-face thou- sand-hands Avalokitesvara statue,” he said.
Li Xingrong’s wood-carving artworks have won various prizes and awards. Even he cannot figure out how many artistic awards he has won over the years. But he still untiringly continues his exploration and pursuit of the art of wood-carving. In his spare time he often goes to temples to take photos of Buddhist sculptures and studies them carefully after he returns.
“Sculpture is my only interest and hobby, a kind of obsession,” he said. ``What comes into my mind each day is how to improve my techniques.” He has a great preference for wood. He even uses a wooden bath tub.
Li Xingrong has over one hundred students. The oldest one is over 50 years old now. He stressed, “People need to see the magic in wood. It is like talking to wood rather than making a sculpture because all wood has a soul in an artist’s eyes.”
In the past, most of the artworks that he made were copies of Buddhist sculptures. But in recent years he has strted to turn out relief carvings as decorations. Thus he can find new uses for the carved- pattern pieces in old buildings and, more importantly, new heirs to his art so as to “leave something as a souvenir to the later generations.”
He spent seven months completing a relief-carved hanging panel featuring anecdotes from the classical novel The Romance of the Three Kingdoms. This panel illustrates the strength of the wood carvings in the Suzhou region which feature human figures. Li Xingrong, who is an expert at human figure carving, explained, “The outstanding features of human figure carving mainly lie in countenance, expression and proportions. There cannot be any bit of carelessness when you are creating a good artwork.”
The Romance of the Three King- doms panel includes human figures on the first layer, trees and animals on the second, and houses and villages in the distance on the third.

About the Column

Carving Arts in Suzhou

Carving Arts in Suzhou is a book compiled by the Information Office of Suzhou Municipal People's Government and published by Foreign Languages Press Co. Ltd. The good things in Suzhou are hidden and living freely in it without giving any hint of their existence. So you need to make extra efforts if you really want to get an eye-opening experience in Suzhou.

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