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China: Around The Nation

Is it art, or just awful? Beijing granny’s portrait sketches draw a mixed response online

65-year-old ‘artist’ said she spent seven years practising before going public, critics say it wasn’t long enough

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 August, 2017, 3:26pm
UPDATED : Friday, 04 August, 2017, 3:26pm

A sketch artist from Beijing has found fame online after eagle-eyed art critics noticed that all of her portraits have an uncanny resemblance, local media reported.

The woman behind the work is a 65-year-old grandmother, identified only by her surname Zhang, who produces pencil portraits of visitors to Shichahai, a popular scenic attraction in the city, Legal Evening News reported on Wednesday.

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While Zhang admits she is still mastering her art, she felt she was ready to offer her services to the public, the report said.

“I practised drawing for seven years before I was confident enough to come out. I have painted like this for about a year now,” she was quoted as saying.

Despite the lengthy apprenticeship, when Zhang’s work went viral online, several critics suggested she go back to the drawing board. The problem, the report said, is that all of her portraits look pretty much the same. A slight variation in hairstyle or T-shirt logo is often all that distinguishes one from another.

“She never actually looks at her subject while she’s drawing,” a person wrote in the comments section of a popular news website.

“They’re just doodles,” wrote another.

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Zhang, who charges between four yuan (60 US cents) and 20 yuan for a pencil portrait that takes about 15 minutes to complete, said she admits that her technique is not yet perfect.

“I still feel that I don’t draw so well,” she said. “I need to study more [to refine my skill set].”

While some people were quick to label Zhang a fraud who cheats tourists, others defended her, saying she was just trying to make a living.

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Though the majority of online comments suggested her work was more doodle than Dali, some were more generous, describing it as “abstract but artistic”.

Several likened her to Picasso, while one went so far as to suggest that Zhang, like the great Dutch master Vincent Van Gogh, might never be truly appreciated in her lifetime.