A paralyzed Chinese artist discovers the world through painting

Zhang Junli looks at paintings during an exhibition of his works in Taiyuan, capital of north China’s Shanxi Province, July 26, 2022. [Xinhua]

TAIYUAN, July 31 (Xinhua) — “Every step I took felt like I was walking on the tip of sharp knives, which was a feeling shared by the Little Mermaid in Hans Christian Andersen’s story. I wondered if I I was also a sea princess,” laughed Zhang Junli, recalling the time when she was able to walk.

Zhang, 44, was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis when she was six and lost most of her joint function when she was eight.

With parents worried and tired of being bedridden all day, Zhang decided to take up her childhood hobby of drawing.

“I realized that the most miserable life is not being busy with endless work but spending days doing nothing,” Zhang said.

The journey to becoming an artist was not easy. Zhang’s knuckles and fingers were entirely stiff, and she could only wedge the brush between her thumb and index finger, tilting her shoulder and adjusting the pressure she applied to the canvas.

Accustomed to lying on her right side, Zhang found it difficult to reach her brush in the lower left corner of the canvas as she was unable to move the canvas at will.

She racked her brains, finally deciding to practice drawing with her left hand. As her joints and hands were largely paralyzed, she had to use her left hand to hold the brush like a sword, placing her left hand over her right, which at the same time supported the canvas.

“I was disappointed and often burst into tears when the canvas was marred by my inability to control the brush,” Zhang recalled. She still sometimes encounters difficulties when drawing long lines, even after more than 20 years of practice.

As a fan of anime films, Zhang was drawn to the characters’ stylized eyes, hairstyles and costumes and reproduced them on her canvases.

Unexpectedly, his work was published in a local science fiction magazine. Zhang’s parents were delighted, showing her work to her colleagues, neighbors and relatives.

“Since I fell ill, my mother was in a bad mood and I yearned to make her proud of me. And my wish came true,” Zhang said.

Zhang has since decided to become a professional cartoonist, hoping to change her life by drawing cartoons.

Gradually, she discovered that she was unable to paint many scenes she had envisioned because she had never received professional training. In 2004, she was deeply unhappy with a painting she had spent six months working on, which shattered her confidence and her dreams.

Over the next few years, Zhang stopped drawing comics.

In 2005, her parents, who were under financial pressure to send their other two children to college, bought her a laptop computer for 6,000 yuan (about 889 US dollars). Zhang gradually came out of her slump and started writing online. Like painting, reading books and writing worked to protect her against loneliness and illness.

Zhang writes novels using a small wooden stick to type on her keyboard.

“So many stories come to mind every day, and when I can’t draw them, I write them down,” Zhang said. She has written four online novels and an autobiography called “My Existence”.

A paralyzed Chinese artist discovers the world through painting
A visitor looks at a painting during an exhibition of works by Zhang Junli in Taiyuan, capital of north China’s Shanxi Province, July 26, 2022. [Xinhua/Chen Zhihao]

But she still couldn’t give up on her dream and decided to start her formal training with basic sketching at the age of 31. She learned online classes and drew her sketching materials on rough paper, as she couldn’t afford gypsum geometry pads and drawing paper.

After practicing drawing for five years, Zhang tried his hand at oil painting. She couldn’t go out to see nature, so she drew using her imagination and photos taken by friends and relatives.

Her favorite work is of a little girl running passionately across the Chaka Salt Lake, known as China’s “Sky Mirror”. She named it “Aspiration”.

“The little girl is me,” Zhang said.

She now runs an online store, Lili’s Easel, where her works are available for sale. She has sold over 200 paintings to date.

An exhibition of his works was recently held in Taiyuan, capital of northern China’s Shanxi Province, and received wide recognition.

She hopes that her paintings will be exhibited in different cities, and that she will be able to see the landscapes that she has painted.

“In fact, my biggest wish is to hug my parents once again, because it’s been hard for them to hold me up all my life,” Zhang said.

(Source: Xinhua)

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