Artist paints a career from grottoes
China Daily

Qin Yueyu, 27, from Anhui province, works in a classroom at Shandong College of Arts in Shandong province. She has brought stunning murals closer to the public with her meticulous reproductions. CHINA DAILY

Mural reproduction boosts online popularity and sees her fame grow, as technique and attention to detail wins many admirers, Yang Feiyue reports.

Qin Yueyu has managed to fulfill a dream that initially seemed outlandish. Simply put, it was to create a copy of a mural from the ancient past and view it at home, at leisure.

Her meticulous replica based on the stunning imagery at the Mogao Grottoes in Dunhuang, Northwest China's Gansu province, has created a sensation on the internet, making her an online celebrity.

Qin's magnum opus that was brought to public attention was initially meant to be displayed for her graduation.

"I wanted the work that concluded my school life to be magnificent and carry some nice connotations," she says, talking about her preparation of the work in June last year.

It runs 2.1 meters high and is her re-creation of part of the mural in Cave 159 of the Mogao Grottoes.

"Cave 159 is a piece from the middle of the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and is representative of the classic style," Qin says, adding that it features Samantabhadra bodhisattva riding on a six-tusked white elephant, symbolizing morality and virtuous conduct.

"Some of the images in the painting are the inspiration for the facial makeup of traditional operas."

Qin restored every vivid detail of the mural, "warts and all".

"I also made sure its size was in the same range as the original," Qin says.

The work displays the color application in the manner of the period, a sweeping style and meticulous craftsmanship. The predominance of blue and green renders an elegance and delicacy.

"From those murals, we can see the lifestyle of ancient people and their infinite imagination," she says.

Qin's work made its way to the list of trending topics on social media platform Sina Weibo at the end of May. She has also attracted more than 10,000 followers to her personal account on Xiaohongshu, another social media platform, and her work has been avidly sought after by her new fans.

"I can get by for now, being a freelancer," she says, adding that a couple of months ago, she was a bit worried about finding a job, and even had thoughts about changing her career.

For the past three years, the 27-year-old from East China's Anhui province studied cultural relic protection and restoration at the Shandong College of Arts.

Out of curiosity, Qin focused on ancient mural reproduction and protection for her postgraduate program, a highly unusual and little-known area of study. "Even some of my schoolmates might not have heard of it," she says.

It also meant relatively fewer job opportunities, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

But rave reviews from online fans boosted her confidence.

"It has reassured me that I didn't choose the wrong major," Qin says.

"It is just that not many people opted for it, and I have to work hard to deliver an end product that stands out and speaks for itself."

Qin developed an interest in painting at the age of 6 and she loved to show her perspective of the world with marker pens.

Then, the cartoon Nine-Colored Deer produced by Shanghai Animation Film Studio in 1981 predisposed her to the charm of Dunhuang.

The strong elements of Chinese painting, magical animals and stunning Dunhuang scenery in the cartoon left a big impression on her. "I became curious about Dunhuang and more interested in art," she recalls.

When most of her peers were busy preparing for college entrance examinations in senior middle school, Qin decided to take a different path. "It meant I had to leave school and take full-time art training for a year, off campus," she says, adding that her determination persuaded her parents that their worries about her future were unfounded, ultimately winning their support.

Qin proved herself a woman of her word and, for the following year, spent more than 10 hours a day learning and practicing various painting skills, including sketching and gouache.