Painter’s love for Vivian Leigh depicted in Stoke Newington exhibition

Chinese artist uses painting as way to heal repression of her teenage years in Communist China

Paintings by a Stoke Newington artist on show until next Sunday, depict her first love for actress Vivien Leigh – or ‘Fei Wen Li’ in her native Chinese.

Wen Wu, who lives in Evering Road, took a shine aged 12 to the actress when she saw a clip of the romantic 1930s’ movie, Gone With The Wind, in which she plays Scarlett O’Hara.

Drawing and painting the starlet became Wen’s outlet for her repressed passion and desire, during her teenage years in Communist China.

“I saw Scarlett throwing a vase at Rhett Buttler and I was shocked by her beauty and character, she said.


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“It was a kind of unexplainable love at first sight.

“I thought about Vivien a lot and painted her so much that I no longer needed to copy an image when painting her as her face was etched in my mind.

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“Up to this very day, whenever I hear those three syllables my heart is touched by love.”

Wen Wu has used the exhibition - which contains self-portraits of her hugging the actress - to analyse her teenage constriction and to help heal the repression.

“Maybe because my mother and my grandmother were very strict, in my real life I can’t do anything controversial - but in my mind I am free and in my artwork I can be a lesbian, I am sure I have lesbian tendencies,” she said.

“In China the teachers push us and parents push us, we don’t have much fun as a child.

“They forbid the young girls and the young boys to experience their young love, and I think as teenagers they have a right to experience that.”

She met her 32-year old English husband six years ago when she came to England to study for an MA in fine art, and they married five years ago.

“He supports me in my artwork, and I told him about all my thoughts and he doesn’t mind,” said Wen.

“But it won’t happen in real life, I will relieve those fantasies in my artwork.”

Her repressive childhood still shadows her life today, and makes her feel restricted in her physical body.

“This is why my artworks are very sensual, it’s very Freudian - something you don’t have can be the motivation for artwork,” she explained.

Wen Wu’s exhibition – Vivien Leigh Complex - runs until February 20 from noon until 6pm in BHVU, Leswin Place.

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