Born inin Guangdong, China
Guan Liang was well versed in Chinese painting and oil painting. He was also a fine arts educator, a professor at the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts in Zhejiang, China, and the director of the Shanghai branch of the Chinese Artists Association.
Guan Liang changed his chosen field from chemistry to art, while studying in Japan in 1917. His Japanese mentors, Fujishima Takeji and Nakamura Fusetsu, taught him the basics of drawing and painting, and introduced him to the works of the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists. Guan once mentioned that Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh, and Henri Matisse had left a deep impression and a lasting influence on him, that in his work he sought to merge Western techniques with Chinese themes, as evident in the work Monk and Monkey King (1978). He retreated to the Sichuan Province during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–45), where as a result of the Japanese blockade, he was unable to obtain oil paints. Therefore, he began using local materials, ink and brush, to paint the theme he is best known for — the characters from Chinese opera.
He developed a passion for Chinese opera from a young age, having grown up attending performances with his father. He was captivated by performing arts, and became deeply involved in Beijing opera by acting and learning the art of theater from an opera singer, as well as acquiring costumes and props. In his opera ink paintings, Guan captures the spirit of each character by depicting their facial expressions and the emotions in the eyes. Journey to the West, Outlaws of the Marsh, Wu Song Fights the Tiger, and the Drunken Concubine are some of Guan’s recurring themes. Guan Liang once said, “Life transmits ideas to me; I transmit spirit to life.”