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« Moviegoing: "A Prairie Home Companion" | Main | YouTube Update »

June 19, 2006

Popular Artists (2): Mian Situ

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

This Popular Artists series deals with painters whose work sells well and who have the potential of being rated as artists of note, if not lasting fame. The first subject was Pino and another is Jack Vettriano, but through oversight, I failed to use "Popular Artists" as part of the title of the Vettriano post.

The present subject is Mian Situ. He has been featured on the cover of Art of the West magazine, and the biographical information below was culled from the March/April 2005 issue.

Mian Situ himself.jpg
Mian Situ.

Situ was born in a small town in southern China in 1953 and didn't get involved in art until he was a teenager. The Cultural Revolution made it hard to learn about Western art or to get training. Eventually the Guongzhou Institute of Fine Art reopened and Situ was able to take classes from some instructors who had been trained in Russia. His training was in the classical academic vein, starting with intensive drawing.

Following Chairman Mao's death, Situ was able to complete an MA in art. While working on this degree he decided that he was better at realism than abstract art, and dropped the latter. MA in hand, he continued at the school as an instructor.

Caught up in the get-outta-China fever of the time, he moved to Los Angeles and, later, Vancouver BC where he worked as a street artist, thence to Toronto and finally back to the LA area. During this period his paintings began to win prizes. Now he is well-established and, from gleanings I find in art magazines, respected by his peers.

Here are some examples of his work.


What's Next.jpg
What's Next

The Word of God 1865.jpg
The Word of God 1865

Arriving in San Francisco.jpg
The Golden Mountain: Arriving in San Francisco

John Chinamen in the Sierra.jpg
John Chinamen in the Sierra

Second Helping.jpg
Second Helping


Let me begin with my standard disclaimer that I tend to be a pushover for displays of technical (as well as artistic) skill.

Mian Situ displays skill in spades. Besides being an excellent draftsman, his brushwork and use of color are impressive.

All things considered, I believe that his color work is his strongest suit. Rather than using mostly pure colors, he often tones down much of a painting's surface by mixing in large proportions of complementary colors, this to help frame the areas of focus. And he maintains good overall color-key discipline.

So far I've only been able to examine one of his paintings in person (at a gallery in Santa Fe). What struck me was his skill in defining objects using just the right colors in the right places. Linework is essentially absent in his paintings which are built using color in a kind of Post-Impressionist manner.

As for subject matter, the Situ work I'm aware of falls mostly into three categories: (1) landscapes, (2) pictures of Chinese in rural Chinese settings, and (3) historical western American scenes wherein at least one Chinese is in view.

The paintings featuring people tend to be "illustrations" in that something is happening; his work is not simply design or decoration. Usually a psychological overtone is present, especially in the American West scenes, though that overtone tends to be muted.

Conclusion? I wish I could afford to buy a Mian Situ painting.



posted by Donald at June 19, 2006


Mian Situ is one of the best things that has happened to the Industrial Cowboy Art Cartel in the last decade! He combines the fine skills of the much-praised illustrators-turned-easel-artists like Bob Lougheed or John Clymer, with an easy ability to tell an historical story that has been submerged all this time without making it into some kind of polemic or attack.

I'm glad you wrote him up! And I'm pleased that there seem to be other Chinese artists following his example.

Prairie Mary

Posted by: Mary Scriver on June 19, 2006 11:55 AM

I have a technical question; I have often seen artists working outside with an umbrella shading them, sometimes on days when I wouldn't have thought that heat was a particular issue. Is this just a comfort thing or does the quality of light falling on the canvas affect the final outcome?
P.S. I would definitely use some of this guy's paintings to hide the cracks in the walls of my hovel, it's a long time since I've been this impressed by a contemporary painter.

Posted by: Dirk Thruster on June 19, 2006 3:33 PM

Wow, talk about talented and skillful. I'd never heard of him before -- shows you how lost I am in the NYC-centric view of things. Great to hear he's doing well, finding and audience, being busy, etc. And great to learn about him as well.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on June 20, 2006 10:28 AM

Mary -- I think Situ is miles ahead of Clymer at his best, though not that much beyond Terpning [sp?]. Plus, I think he's better than the other Chinese artists doing the Old West genre -- though some of them are quite good.

Dirk -- I've never done outdoor painting, so I'm not sure about the parasol. Aside from shading the artist (important in hot weather), there's the issue of shading the palette and canvas (I suppose they shouldn't be, for color reasons). In rainy weather, the color factor is less and there's a need to keep the artist and equipment dry. Can an experienced plein-air painter help us here?

Michael -- Yeah, NYC is so provincial ... in certain areas, anyway, including Bar-B-Q, country music, Western art, etc.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on June 20, 2006 11:54 AM

Plein air painters use an umbrella to keep direct sunlight off their canvas and palette. Direct sunlight is far stronger than indoor light, which a painting would tend to be viewed under, and it distorts a painters perception of paint color and values (light and dark)quite a bit. Most painters don't use an umbrella, as if you attach it to the easel, your setup tends to blow over rather easily. Notice that his umbrella is not attached to his easel. Also notice how the sunlight is above and to his right. You can avoid using an umbrella if you angle your setup to the subject or paint in the shade. Basically you have three options. Obviously Mian likes the umbrella.

As far his work goes, my opinion is that he has excellent technique. I have seen a couple of his originals, and he sure knows how to paint. I'm being picky here, but his color could be a bit better. As far as subject matter goes, it still falls in line with the mythologizing of the west (or is it the east?), this time with chinese rather than cowboys and indians. I think his storytelling and characterizations rather lacking in emotion, but that's pretty common. It's rare to find good storytelling and technique together. Also, I'm not exactly sure what scenes of rural China have to do with American Southwestern Art, but if it makes a buck, I'm sure there's a place for him in that genre.

It would also be nice to see some of those people who are so effusively gushing over foreign cultures to have the same enthusiasm for their own, considering so many flee their "exotic" situations for America in droves, including Mian. There seems to be this strain of fawning over foreign cultures while our own culture is rotting on the vine. Having said that, I also wonder how much of it is due to art speculators trying to buy in low, hyping, and then selling high (pump and dump). If money changes hands, there always seems to be an angle.

As far as I'm concerned, none of today's fine art painters, popular or not, can touch the great Golden Age Illustrators for storytelling and, in many cases, technique. I look forward to the day when that happens, believe me.

Also from what I have heard, Mian is great guy. I am happy he escaped the Chinese nightmare and is here making a living doing what he does best and likes most. God bless America!

Posted by: S on June 20, 2006 2:07 PM

S -- Thank you for your help regarding outdoors painting. Very informative!

Regarding illustrators, if you've followed 2Blowhards for the last year or so, you'll know I'm a huge fan. One advantage Situ has over them is that he (probably) has more time to plan & polish his stuff, not being deadline-constrained. On the other hand, the illustrators had the advantage of having a story or dramatic situation dropped in their laps, as it were.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on June 20, 2006 3:14 PM

Donald, you should check out a new blog, There seem to be several other sites springing up. God, I love the Internet! There is also Illustration Magazine, and Flesk Publications. Please check these out if you have the time.

Also, if you are interested, there are plein air shows across the country where some of the best landscape painters in America do on-the-spot paintings during a week or weekend, and the paintings are auctioned off at the end. Usually you can see these painters at work. There's the Northwest Rendevous in Helena MT, and the Laguna Plein Air Show in Laguna Beach, CA.

Posted by: S on June 20, 2006 9:59 PM

Though the "Industrial Cowboy Art Cartel" mostly dominates the American SW scene and doesn't so much tout the same sorts of artists who work farther north, there are indeed painters in this genre clear up into Canada and Alaska. The common denominator is an aversion to industrial scenes. Though modern cowboys on horseback seem to be included, ATV's are out. Therefore, some of the painters of the West will go on painting trips to back country China or eastern Europe or Africa, etc. Some of these painters make more money from their trips to non-modern places, taking along aspiring artists and coaching their work, than they do from selling their paintings. In Western art there's also a high value on history and sometimes on gear.

The non-industrial scenes seem to be a response to the earliest enthusiasts who were often extractive industrialists but paradoxically loved scenes from before they got there and changed it all. The railroad subsidized some artists before photos were that persuasive about sublime scenery or indigenous peoples. Thomas Moran (scenery) or Winold Reiss (Indians) would be examples.

Mian Situ's work is hard to really appreciate when reduced. "The Golden Mountain" covered a whole wall at the Autry Museum of Western Art in LA, so all the small sub-plots of the picture were easy to see.

Prairie Mary

Posted by: Mary Scriver on June 21, 2006 6:47 AM

I'm glad that Mian Situ is getting the attention that he deserves. I recommend also checking out the work of Huihan Liu, who often paints Tibetan scenes. Link:

Posted by: Michael Wade on June 21, 2006 9:37 AM

I don't know what the relationship is to W. Jason Situ, but Jason has Mian beat in the plein air.
He's a little less expensive, too.,034

Posted by: james on June 23, 2006 5:13 PM

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