Mu Xi: Portrait of a Youth

By Xing Zhao

Born and bred in Shanghai, 27-year-old Mu Xi is a young gay man who drinks green tea, practices calligraphy, and grows plants at home. He is also the artist who creates delicate, yet erotic portraits of a youth with deer horns growing out his head, and tree branches germinating out of his chest, reflecting pain and confusion.

Youth, beauty and desire, Mu Xi claims are his self-reflection as well as inspiration that stimulate him to portray the loneliness and the desire of youth.

Mu Xi 3

Where were you born and where did you attend school?

I was born in Shanghai and I went to Shanghai Arts and Crafts College, majored in art and design.

When did you first start to draw?

In 2004, I started to draw the Erotic Picture series on a notepad, simply for fun. Later I drew more and more and started to fill them in with colours by using a computer programme and also with water colour paint.

Portrait of Youth is the main motif in your drawings, is it an obsession with youth?

I read the first half of Oscar Wilde‘s The Picture of Dorian Gray, and felt the affection and admiration for the beauty and youth of Dorian Gray in the novel resonates my self-reflection and expression of emotion.

Is “beauty is greater than talent”?

I think before getting to know other qualities of a person, one’s physical beauty is the first thing that strikes and moves you, without any explanation. That’s the idea I want to express in my art. 

Mu Xi b

Why do you make deer horns, trees and flowers that germinate and grow out of the youth’s body?

The deer horns grow out of the head of the youth is a metaphor for growing pains. There is so much confusion and pain in a young man’s life when he goes through the transition of becoming a man. I also read a story written by the late Japanese novelist Yukio Mishima, who is well known for depicting violence as a form of aesthetics. In the story, when a Greek youth tied to a rock is killed by arrows, the onlookers feel thrilled. I wanted to depict that beauty and cruelty can go hand in hand. When the youth’s soul is wounded, or when it dies, a tree or a flower grows out him. It is a lot of pain, but it is also reincarnation.  

Do you use models to draw?

No. Some people say the youth in my drawings look like me, but they are not self portraits. However, he is a youth figure that I’m familiar with. He is not someone that we would consider a beautiful youth, but he is suitable for my expression.

Has the expression of homo-eroticism in your drawings caused you any troubles, especially in a rather conservative society?

Although I couldn’t upload some of the more explicit drawings online in China, the homo-eroticism is a natural outcome in my work. I think sex and desire exist in every detail of our lives. I do not particularly intend to picture that, and I do not try to avoid that either. I am happy to let viewers see what they want to see.

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Who are your artistic influences?

Oscar Wilde and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry‘s fairytales, ink and wash paintings by Bada Shanren of Qing Dynasty and calligraphy by Yan Zhenqing of Tang Dynasty all inspire me in terms of the temperament and style of my work. Gus Van Sant, Jan Svankmajer, Matthew Barney are my favorite filmmakers. Hiroshi Sugimoto’s photography and Goto Shigeo’s architectural designs also give me new, fresh ideas.

What’s a day in your life like?

I water my plants before going to work (as a graphic designer) in the morning. After work, I draw at home, and upload some of my drawings online. On the weekends I often go to second hand bookstores or flower markets. Sometimes I meet my friends for tea. But I spend a lot of time alone.

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The youth in your drawing often look sad and alone. Are you lonely?

I am. But on the other hand, I really enjoy the loneliness. I need the time to be alone and think no one should waste their time if they are own their own, even when it’s lonely, because that’s the time one can have conversations with himself.

I need to eat and sleep at the exact fixed hours. I don’t work after midnight. I live like an old man.

What’s most the important aspects of your daily life?

Health and routine. I cannot work at all if I feel under the weather. I need to eat and sleep at the exact fixed hours. I don’t work after midnight. I live like an old man.

Do you have any ambitions?

Yes. I’d like to have conversations with creative people from different areas, to have a small garden of my own, to draw and paint on a quiet island or in the mountains.

This story first appeared in the Beauty Issue of OutThere Magazine.
Xing Zhao

Xing Zhao is a Shanghai-based writer and editor specializing in travel, lifestyle, arts and culture. His writing has appeared in CNN, Time Out, OutThere Magazine, City Weekend, Zing, Metropolis, and Men’s Uno. He writes in both English and Mandarin Chinese. To contact him, please email at kapazhao@gmail.com.

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