On his return to Oxford, SYLVIA VETTA talks to Chinese artist Qu Lei lei about his work.

Last year, the Ashmolean Museum mounted its first one-man show of a living Chinese artist. Everyone’s life is an Epic by Qu Lei lei was a moving exhibition. It was strikingly contemporary without being gratuitously sensational.

I am sure I am not the only reader of The Oxford Times who returned to see his intense portraits. Calligraphy is integral to Chinese art and Leilei uses it in his work. After the end of the Cultural Revolution, he was exposed to western art. It inspired him to be one of the founders of the Stars’ Exhibition, which launched the contemporary art movement in 1979. Qu Lei lei’s art successfully combines both traditions.

His role in reporting the trial of the democracy movement leader Wei Jingsheng resulted in him having to leave China. Against the odds, he has established a successful career as an artist in this country. He has also proved to be in demand as a teacher. In 2000, he won the Millennium Tutor Award for Great Britain.

This month he launched his latest book, titled Tao of Sketching, at the Dadbrook Gallery, Cuddington, near Thame. Lei lei carries a sketch book with him everywhere, using it as a visual diary.

The book includes 100 of Lei lei’s expert tips, gathered from years of experience sketching people and places worldwide. This year’s Big Draw event has proved popular and given lots of people the confidence to have a go. For those who would like to take it further, this is an ideal manual.

It is a tranquil pursuit. I attended one of Qu Lei lei’s calligraphy sessions at the Royal Academy and, although I was pretty hopeless at it, I can understand the attraction. It is a practice that brings with it peace of mind. It is not surprising, therefore, that Lei lei is also a teacher and writer on Tai Chi.

Lao Tzu, the creator of the Taoist philosophy, is thought to be a mystical older contemporary and teacher of Confucius.

He said: “Outside we learn from nature, on the inside we learn from our soul.”

In his view, truth and beauty came directly from nature and being in tune with it leads to harmony in man.

In our urban world, we are often divorced from the natural world and society is probably worse off because of it. I asked Lei lei what lay behind this book.

He said: “I have often wondered what it is that makes a master painter. I believe the brilliance of artists like Leonardo da Vinci and Goya came from doing sketches and doing them all the time.

“Before film and photography, this was the most convenient means of recording what you saw and wanted to express. I have met people all over the world who enjoy my sketches and many have really wanted to do the same but felt daunted and so lost heart.

“Often it was something simple like feeling embarrassed, drawing in public places or simply knowing how and where to start. The aim of this book is to resolve some of these problems. I often find myself saying to people, ‘just do it’.”

Even if you are reluctant to have a go at Tao sketching, this book will be a delight to the eye as you can see from the images reproduced here.

You can meet Lei lei and get your copy signed with a personal inscription at the QI Club, Turl Street, Oxford, on Thursday from 6pm.

Clico Kingsbury, of the Dadbrook Gallery, is happy to post signed copies of The Tao of Sketching free of charge to readers.

Send a cheque for £16.99 made payable to the Dadbrook Gallery, The Dadbrook Gallery (Oxford Times offer), Dadbrook House, Cuddington, Aylesbury, Bucks HP18 0AG. Don’t forget to send your name, address, postcode and telephone and the number of copies required.

For further information call 01844 292459 or click on to www.dadbrookgallery.co.uk