Retired taxi driver Xu Anling has acquired bachelor’s degrees in calligraphy and painting from China’s top art academy, an unreachable dream when she was young.
Though only receiving primary school education as a child, Xu, 70, a native of Zhujing Town in Shanghai’s Jinshan District, graduated from the China Academy of Art in June with the two art degrees.
“When it comes to painting, every cell in my body becomes excited,” said Xu.
Whenever talking about her studies at the academy, Xu became thrilled, as if she were returning to her early 20s.
Her deep affection for painting as well as the farmland and rural landscape in her hometown, a popular agricultural water town dating back to the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC), has inspired her to fulfill the dream.
Lost in painting
After retiring, Xu first studied at the University for elderly people for three years. In 2009, Xu was admitted to the CAA and started her 12-year academic journey.
“When I was young, I was busy with my livelihood and never had a chance,” she said.
Over the years, she held various jobs, such as a taxi and van driver, but they had nothing to do with her dream to paint.
“There has been plenty of time since retirement. I can finally do things I am wild about,” Xu said.
The walls of her studio and corridor are full of her works: flowers and birds with various gestures, beautiful landscapes, calligraphy copies and oil paintings with Chinese elements, each of them telling a story.
Sometimes she might forget herself when painting. Once, she was painting with one of her classmates in a studio. It was so late that her classmate left for home, but Xu was afraid she would lose her creative ideas if she left, so she stayed up the entire night until she finished the painting.
“Some people didn’t understand why I troubled myself with such hard work at my age,” she said. “But this is me. I just refuse to admit defeat. I want to fight and challenge myself.”
In order to complete her dissertation — a complex Chinese landscape painting — she ate and lived in the painting studio, rested only five to six hours a day, and spending the rest of the time painting. “That was enough time to sleep,” Xu said.
In the scorching summer, mosquito bites were unbearable, so she found umbrellas and gauze to make a simple tent in her painting studio. She used a hair felt as her bed.
Although there are generation gaps, she still made close friends in her class.
“The age difference is not the problem for us, because we share the same dreams,” she said.
In the future, she plans to donate some of her artworks to local art institutions and museums, because she wants to contribute to her hometown.
“I am willing to teach children who love to paint but can’t afford lessons,” she said.