Born to a peasant from Xiangtan, Hunan, Qi became a carpenter at 14, and learned to paint by himself. After he turned 40, he travelled, visiting famous scenic spots in China. After 1917 he settled in Beijing. In his later years, he continued to make "later-year innovations."
Some of Qi's major influences include the early Qing Dynasty painter Bada Shanren (or Zhu Da) and the Ming Dynasty artist Xu Wei.
His pseudonyms include Qí Huáng (齊璜) and Qí Wèiqīng (齐渭清). The subjects of his paintings include almost everything, commonly animals, scenery, figures, toys, vegetables, and so on. He theorized that "paintings must be something between likeness and unlikeness, much like today's vulgarians, but not like to cheat popular people". In his later years, many of his works depict mice, shrimp, or birds.
He was also good at seal carving and called himself "the fortune of three hundred stone seals".
In 1953 he was elected to the president of the Association of Chinese Artists. He died in Beijing in 1957.
Qi Baishi (November 22 1863 – September 16 1957) was best known as a painter and inspiration to up-coming artists. He was born in Xiangtan, Hunan and grew up in a family of low-income. He lived with his parents, grandparents, and eight younger sisters and brothers. Baishi’s schooled for less than a year due to illness. Many poor families in China would have their children work with them on their farm, however, Baishi was too weak to do much of the work and this was when he became a carpenter. While growing up, he came upon a Chinese manual of painting, drawing in the garden of mustard seeds; this was what sparked his interest in art and painting (Boorman & Howard p. 302). In Baishi’s early twenties he had created a saying for himself to keep motivated, it read: “In speech, use language that people can understand. In painting, depict things that people have seen” (Jung Ying Tsao p.198). However, he didn’t start following this motto until much later in his life. He first studied the Jieziyuan huazhuan and used performers, mainly opera, for models to practice his work. After using opera performers as models Baishi turned to anyone he knew to pose for him (Jung Ying Tsao p. 198).
A couple years later there was a need for artists who would paint family portraits, so Baishi signed up for the job and decided to become a professional painter. Baishi started learning from other painters and from reading texts (Boorman & Howard p. 302)
Baishi was popular for his variety of works ranging from plant to animal life; because of his natural style collectors both “artistic and political” purchased his work. According to the article, “Qi Baishi [Ch’I Pai-shih; zi Huang; hao Baishi Laoren, Baishi Shanqeng] Baishi’s works were based of off his life and his character. After the fall of the Qing dynasty Qi Baishi was known for not letting all the political issues affect his work, and keeping his own values and ideas through the harsh times. According to Confucian standards, starting off as nothing and creating a name for yourself, as Baishi did, was very honorable (Xiangtan p.1).
Qi Baishi didn’t have any formal education or training in the field of art; however, he managed to master many different techniques including calligraphy and seal-carving. After establishing himself in Hunan, as a painter and artist, it wasn’t until his forties that he began traveling and looking for more inspiration. Baishi came upon the Sahanghai School, which was very popular at the time, and met Wu Changshi who then became another mentor to him and inspired a lot of Basishi’s works. Another influence of Baishi didn’t come until about fifteen years later who was Chen Shizeng who he became close to when he was living in Beijing. Baishi was becoming more and more well-known and sought after. During World War II, many traditional art works and culture were being destroyed and no longer things of value, but Baishi was still respected and was “elected to the National People’s Congress and made honorary Chairman of the National Artist’s’ Association, he represented a continuing commitment to traditional cultural values in revolutionary China” (Xiangtan, p.1). Qi Baishi is cool
“When I cut seals I do not abide by the old rules, and so I am accused of unorthodoxy. But I pity this generation’s stupidity, for they do not seem to realize that the Chin and Han artists were human and so are we, and we may have our unique qualities too… Such classical artists as Ching-teng, Hsueh-ko and Ta-ti-tzu dared to make bold strokes in their paintings, for which I admire them tremendously. My one regret is that I was not born three hundred years ago, for then I could have asked to grind ink or hold the paper for those gentleman, and if they would not have me I should have starved outside their doors rather than move away. How wonderful that would have been! I suppose future generations will admire our present artists just as much as we admire these men of old. What a pity that I will not be there to see it!” (Wang Chao-Wen p. 130-131) From this excerpt it is evident that Qi Baishi was serious about his work. Because of Baishi’s talk about wanting to be human it was clear that he was educated upon the times and the political issues that were going on while he was making his art work; which is powerful because he never had any political stance in any of his art works. This except also shows how passionate he was about other artist’s and how much he would want to be mentored by them.
What is unique about Baishi is that all of his works show no western influences which were different for an artist at this time. Other artists praised Baishi for his “freshness and spontaneity that he brought to the familiar genres of birds and flowers, insects and grasses, hermit-scholars and landscapes” (Xiangtan, p.2). Even though Baishi wasn’t the first artist to focus on small things in nature, he was recognized for his very careful and beautiful way of painting such common images.