Wang Xiao Song met her husband, Jia Tian Shi, at the Lu Xun Academy of Fine Arts in China’s Liaoning Province. The two were kindred spirits who bonded over their love for painting. When they married nearly 20 years ago, the couple shared a studio and spent their days painting side by side. In 2012, Jia passed away after a tragic battle with cancer. He was only 42 years old.
Jia is survived by his wife and their young daughter. “He was a good husband and father,” says Wang. “He liked to cook and read and be with his family. As a painter, he was hard working and ambitious. He set no limits for himself and always tried to improve.”
Jia leaves behind a collection of oil paintings that have hung in galleries around the world. Tao Water Art Gallery, with showrooms in Barnstable and Provincetown, has featured Jia and Wang’s paintings for over 10 years. “Their work appeals to such a wide audience,” says Dian Tong, who owns the gallery with her husband, Bao Lede. “So many people love their paintings, Cape residents as well as tourists from out of state. We’ve even shipped some to Europe. It’s the quality. Their style and skill are amazing.”
While the artists’ styles are distinctly personal, Jia and Wang’s paintings share a sharp attention to detail. Jia’s still lifes are universes dedicated entirely to objects. These are symmetrical renderings, centered perfectly on the canvas, that exude warmth with a photographic level of detail—rust on an old instrument, or carvings etched on a wooden table.
“Jia was a happy person,” says Wang. “His life was full of sunshine.” Many of Jia’s paintings are infused with this sunshine. Some objects glisten with natural light, while others are full of shadows that evoke fond memories of the past.
Wang began her career as a watercolor painter and a background in calligraphy helped her master the delicate brushstrokes required by the medium. She notes that Jia helped her expand her horizons. “I started to paint oil paintings because of my husband,” she says. “I followed him at first, but gradually developed my own style.” She uses oil for her still lifes, which are bright and cheerful manipulations of shape and form.
For her landscapes and exteriors, Wang still prefers watercolors. The subjects of these paintings vary—a partially opened temple door, or a dock cloaked in fog—but a common thread is Wang’s acute spatial awareness. “When I’m working, I take great care to unify the whole painting with subtle details,” she says, “and I also keep in mind the initial thought that excited me about the subject.”
The past few years have been painfully hard for Wang and her family. “When Jia was sick, the doctor told us he had incurable cancer,” says Wang. “But Jia wanted to keep fighting, so we moved to Beijing for a better hospital. In the end, we lost all our money and Jia could not be cured.”
Tao Water Art Gallery is hosting a special exhibit this summer to memorialize Jia’s life and art and help the family recover from a life-altering ordeal. “My husband’s work brings happiness to everyone,” says Wang.
Although he is gone, Jia’s spirit endures through the fond memories of his loved ones and his eternally joyful paintings.