Jia Lu has a highly animated, magnetic personality that seems at odds with her highly focused, otherworldly oil paintings. With curly hair escaping from the clutches of a comb, eyes flashing with a restless energy, Jia Lu exudes an infectious enthusiasm and curiosity. At first she talks about her work as though sharing a secret with her audience, drawing them into a private world of personal confessions and observations about growing up in China or living in America. Then she reveals a familiarity with literature and philosophy that demonstrates her approach to painting is not merely autobiographic or expressionistic, but layered and more complex.
Jia Lu was born in 1954 in Beijing, China, where she worked as a nurse, an actor, a Navy Officer, an art editor, and as a professional basketball trainee before enrolling in the Central Academy of Art and Design to begin her professional training as an artist. As the daughter of two artists, Lu came by her talents naturally and has exhibited her work in national and international exhibitions since childhood.
Jia Lu missed the trends that developed into the New Chinese Art in Mainland China when she left for Canada in 1983. While her former colleagues explored and challenged the social environment of post-Mao China, Jia Lu embarked on a more personal, even mystical journey of self-discovery in relative isolation at York University in Toronto. That isolation was partly the result of her commitment to figurative realism. As one of Canada’s leading schools of contemporary art, the visual arts department at York University was deeply suspicious of traditional painting and doubtful of its relevance to contemporary issues. Yet Jia Lu refused to abandon her dream-like imagery and polished style, representing and re-representing her own image in a variety of guises, recollected from old photographs and filled with personal symbols.
In 1995, Jia Lu switched from the more self-expressive elements in her mixed-media work to more carefully planned and thoughtful paintings in oil. Choosing a traditional mode of representation was intentional. Speaking in her native Mandarin, Jia Lu says, “So much contemporary art is created in a narrow forum of critics and curators who use unnecessarily abstruse language and condescend to the tastes and attitudes of non-academics. I’m more interested in imagery that has the same power as literature, film and music, and which retains a connection to a five-thousand year history of image-making.” Jia Lu’s paintings feature women in culturally diverse costume, often wearing ornate jewelry, posed in meditation or thought.
“I think visual artists must pay attention to other fields,” says Lu, “for me the challenge is to create beauty, to better persuade my viewers to look again at their life and the world around them.” Speaking in English, she becomes more direct. “I have a passion for art, and the human figure is at the center of it. I want to share that passion with my viewers, through my painting.”
As a result, Jia Lu’s paintings do not require weighty exegesis to make them intelligible. They belong to a tradition of narrative, realistic art that speaks for itself. Nevertheless, her work has much in common with contemporary figurative trends. Though clearly influenced by Buddhist philosophy and her Asian background as well as European symbolism, Jia Lu’s style defies simple classification.
Jia Lu’s work may be found in public and corporate collections including the Government of Canada, the State Council of the P.R.C., the Bank of China, Boeing Corporation and the George Soros-Chatterjee Foundation, and in private collections around the world.