Cartoon weibo highlights Western artists

Weibo by Chinese expat in Australia draws mainland fans who find it fun and educational

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 September, 2013, 4:24am

A Chinese expatriate in Australia has attracted the attention of the mainland's young and wealthy with his microblog featuring his cartoons of Western artists and their works.

Gu Mengjie, a Melbourne-based designer who emigrated from Shanghai 10 years ago, launched in July his often-hilarious cartoon blog Little Gu's Take on Western Art.

Gu has referred to the 19th-century French artist Edgar Degas as an otaku, a Japanese term that describes people often so obsessed with a hobby that they rarely leave home, and to impressionist master Vincent Van Gogh as the founder of the "lunatic style".

His blog has attracted thousands of followers, including several of the mainland's most influential artists and critics.

"I am addicted to your column," one reader commented on Sina Weibo, where "Grandpa Gu", as his fans call him, updates his cartoon blog and exchanges ideas with readers. "I find it both funny and educational."

"I am crying with laughter," another reader wrote after reading Gu's column on Andy Warhol that compared the American pop art icon to singer Lady Gaga - who is a popular celebrity on the mainland.

The size of Gu's audience may be small compared with the country's most followed bloggers, but his original style of storytelling that exploits the vocabulary and jokes of China's Web 2.0 generation has mesmerised an increasingly curious audience who are eager to learn about Western art.

Coming from a completely different culture, Chinese readers say they are especially impressed by Gu's ability to "bring back to life" long-dead Western artists whom they had found intimidating and hard to understand.

"People think they don't understand Western art - but they are missing the real point," Gu said. He argued that it was much more important for beginners to learn to appreciate a piece of work than to "understand" it.

Gu has done an admirable job keeping readers entertained. He once called French artist Gustave Courbet a "bad boy" and Jean-Leon Gerome's paintings the predecessor of the 3D-IMAX film format. His unique style has earned him a loyal audience, who keep returning to his website and begging for more posts.

"I've been reading gossip about artists but I've also learned facts and theories that I don't learn in my art class," a reader of the blog said.

Despite the praise, Gu said he was "no professional" and that his new career had been inspired by a "lucky accident".

Months ago when he went to a Claude Monet exhibition, Gu ended up commenting on and explaining the paintings to a friend throughout the tour.

"My friend seemed to be swept away by my comments, and I thought maybe others would like it too if I started a blog," Gu said.

Gu attributed the success of his blog to the attention it receives from China's rising middle class. "I guess now that the Chinese are getting more affluent, they need some interesting material to talk about in their leisure time, and my blog gives them exactly that," he said.