The Xiao Family: Linden’s Ambassadors of Chinese Ink

Linden Gallery of Ellison Bay has had an old friend rejoin their offerings this month. Xiao Shunzhi, Professor of Fine Art in Guilin, Guangxi province, China, has sent representatives of his ink on paper work to Linden Gallery for almost 20 years.

This year he’s back. This time, though, he brought some pieces from his two children, Xiao Zhiyuan and Xiao Yadan.

All three Xiao artists paint in one medium: with ink, color and paper. As one of China’s oldest 2-D media, their practice of putting brush to page links the family of artists to a long tradition. Their work will remain on exhibit through the end of August.

“Lǎohǔ (Tiger),” by Xiao Zhiyuan.

Professor Xiao was born in 1956 and has taught fine art at the collegiate level for much of his career. He has the odd distinction of being one of the most copied artists in southern China; fakes of his pieces are found at many major tourist destinations. In addition to his widely famous landscape paintings, his mature style has become more abstract, exhibiting unparalleled skill in the craft he’s honed his whole life.

Professor Xiao’s son, Xiao Zhiyuan, is a 29-year-old graduate student in fine art landscape painting. His study emphasizes using traditional techniques to capture the natural and cultural beauty of his hometown, Guilin. Incorporating both abstract elements as well as realist detail, Xiao Zhiyuan’s work draws the eyes toward the focal points in his pieces.

Xiao Yadan, 19, has taken a different path. Labeling her work as Pop Art, she has eschewed the rigorous study of classic technique her brother and father are known for.

Speaking with the family, the philosophy behind their work quickly became a focus of conversation.

“You start off as an artist.” Xiao Yadan, contrary to her brother, does not see academic study as a prerequisite for artistic legitimacy. “As an artist, I continue to evolve and change and study. As an artist, you are free to express and create.”

“Xiang Zi Li de Mi Mi (My Secret Compartment),” by Xiao Yadan.

“I consider myself a student still.” Xiao Zhiyuan, whose technique clearly shows artistic skill, holds traditional practices as the foundation for his development.

Professor Xiao seems to have made an impact on his children’s thoughts, though each have picked up on different aspects of his philosophy.

“The tradition of art is continuous,” he said in an artist’s statement. “Tradition is like a maze. If you don’t know it intimately, once inside it, you won’t be able to find your way out…In my view, the reason substantive artists fascinate us is not only their painting skills, but also their works’ everlasting vitality. Repetition of skillful touches by themselves can be lifeless, whereas vitality is a window on the liveliness of the mind and immortality of the soul.”

Guilin, their hometown, echoes with similarities to Door County. Though it is a major metropolitan area with a population of more than 4.7 million, its natural beauty abounds and its sense of heritage remains strong. Artists there, including the Xiao men, derive much inspiration from the jutting karst mountains and pagodas that litter their peaks and trails, similar to artists who come to Door County to capture the beauty of the bluffs and fields, old barns and piers.

As the artists look forward, they plan to continue their studies – all three of them. The elder Xiao was traveling for work when the exhibit opened Aug. 6, doing research for new paintings. Both his children, though they walk a similar path to Professor Xiao, insist it is their own choice and that their father has simply encouraged them. He scattered art magazines and books around the house, bought them art supplies, and showed them a way to connect to something genuinely and proudly Chinese.


The Xiao family’s work will be on exhibit at Linden Gallery through August. The gallery is located at 12001 Mink River Road in Ellison Bay. For more information call 920.854.2487 or visit

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