Luo’s father, a textile factory worker and an amateur painter who often brought his children on outings to sketch landscapes initially sparked Luo’s interest in art. As a kid, Luo enjoyed drawing comics. He was keen on observing people from all walks of life and adding them to his comic strips in little notebooks.
Luo graduated from the middle school attached to the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute (SFAI) in 1964. However, his education was cut short by the Sent-down Youth Movement, which saw millions of urban educated youths sent to the countryside to work in the 1960s and 70s. Then in 1966, the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) began. All college enrollment ceased for the next decade.
In 1968, 20-year-old Luo was sent to a steel factory in the remote Daba Mountains of Sichuan Province, where he worked as a repairman for the next decade. He still sketched people – mostly workers and peasants of the Daba Mountains. However, Luo could not publish these works. Instead, he did large portraits of State leaders and illustrated children’s books.
After the Cultural Revolution ended in 1976, China resumed university student recruitment the following year. Luo, by then 29, was admitted to the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute. He was the oldest student in his class.
The school’s classes of 1977 and of 1978 spawned a series of influential artists in Chinese contemporary art, including Gao Xiaohua, He Duoling, Cheng Conglin and Zhang Xiaogang.
Luo’s Father, along with paintings by classmates Gao Xiaohua and He Duoling are representative works of Chinese Scar Art, a genre that emerged during the late 1970s that shunned political and ideological propaganda to reveal the individuality and humanity of ordinary people.
Gao Xiaohua’s oil painting Why? (1978) portrays several young Red Guards wounded after a violent fight. They sit and lie on the ground, exhausted and defeated, wearing gazes that question what they had been fighting for. He Duoling’s Spring Breeze Has Awakened (1981) depicts a bucolic spring day, where a young village girl, accompanied by a dog and an ox, sits in the grass while lost in thought.
Artist Yang Qian told NewsChina that since Luo Zhongli and He Duoling were older and more experienced, classmates called them “big bros.” Yang said He Duoling was a romantic who often shared stories from Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables and Romain Rolland’s Jean- Christophe and whistled melodies by Beethoven or Mozart.
Luo Zhongli was different. “He was wild, raw and hilarious. He was always full of jokes and laughter,” artist Qin Ming said.
Luo said his teachers appointed him as class monitor in an attempt to rein him in. “They chose the most mischievous student in class to become a monitor to better discipline me, right?” Luo joked.
But recognition for Father improved his reputation. The work not only brought Luo fame and awards but also a cash prize of 450 yuan (US$66), a sizeable sum at that time.
Luo remembers how his classmates teased him about his success. “Luo had some damn good luck. Now he has to treat the class to a bang-up meal!” Luo said with a laugh. After he received the prize money, he did exactly that.