June 8th, 2012 by Mabel Lee
Fate played a role in ensuring that Aboriginal people would begin to populate the paintings of Chinese artist Zhou Xiaoping soon after he arrived in Australia in September 1988, and that Aboriginal people would remain the main subject of his continuing explorations in art.
In China he frequently camped to paint at various sites on Huangshan, a mountain range in southern Anhui province that is famous for its bizarre rock formations. On one occasion an Australian tourist stopped to admire his work, and engaged him in conversation. He made a gift of some of his works to the tourist, and before long he found himself invited to bring his Chinese landscapes for a solo exhibition at Artists’ Space gallery in Melbourne.
Most of his works sold, and he was keen to paint something of this foreign land to take home to China. As urban scenes failed to inspire him, friends suggested a trip to Outback Australia. In Alice Springs he encountered Aboriginals for the first time, and instantly knew he wanted to paint them. His next destination was Uluru.
He managed to hitchhike part of the journey, but as no motor vehicles appeared, he began walking. The bushland attracted him, and he wandered off to explore, but as dusk approached he found that he was hopelessly lost. Three aboriginal boys suddenly appeared, as he was on the verge of collapse. Their only words he could make out were: “Bruce Lee, Bruce Lee,” the name of the Hong Kong martial arts film and TV hero. Nonetheless, he was able to communicate his friendship, and the boys took him to their campsite where he spent the night with their families. The next day the boys took him to Uluru.