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Painting cats like kids

By Zhu Linyong (China Daily)

09:32, July 27, 2012

Zhao Benfang paints at her home in Beijing.( China Daily/Feng Yongbin)

Zhao Benfang is a warm-hearted ink artist. She always has visitors at her small apartment in Tianzhu, near the Beijing Capital International Airport.

Among the most frequent visitors are wandering cats that come and go from a hole in the window.

When they arrive in threes and fours, Zhao prepares food and toys, then attentively watches them play or sleep in the sitting room.

"I treat them well because they are my friends, as well as models and the inspiration for my paintings," says Zhao, 63.

The retired librarian devotes most of her time and energy to birds-and-flowers ink paintings.

For Zhao, painting has never been just a hobby or pastime. "Becoming an artist was my childhood dream," Zhao says.

Born to a peasant's family in Huaiyang, Henan province, Zhao worked at a factory and a community service center after finishing her middle school education.

"All those years, I taught myself drawing in secrecy," she says.

But she did not fulfill her dream of being an artist until 1979, when she moved to Beijing with her husband, a pilot.

Here she took a fulltime job at a Beijing library, but spent all her spare time learning ink art. Thirsty for knowledge, she eagerly sought apprenticeships from master painters Sun Jusheng (born in 1913) and Lou Shibai (1918-2010).

Later, she enrolled in intensive training classes at Beijing Fine Art Academy and studied art history at the Central Academy of Fine Arts.

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