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Story of



Sophia Gao is the most exciting and astonishing artist I have ever met.


After a quick review of her decorations, I was most impressed by her honour of “The China Central Academy of Fine Arts” (中央美術學院) B.A. diploma. She graduated with several awards already under her belt, her passion is definitely, “creative paintings.”


When I first met her, she presented me with a quote - one that resonated deeply with me.


“‘Perseverance, Creativity and Tradition’ are the most sought-after qualities that make an artist intrinsically talented - along with explosive, lively, and colourful expression…”- Xu Ye Fen (Qing Dynasty [許葉芬 year 1859~unknown]) - great-great-grandfather of Sophia Gao.


《道可道,非常道。名可名,非常名。無名天地之始,有名萬物之母。》 Translation: I would say that it is almost impossible, that anyone could precisely pinpoint the origins of her original artistic existence. At least, not without looking at her long and successful family tree. She has ancestors who are in high positions of anything from grandmasters in the tradition of art to a master of calligraphy! 


The family tree is as impressive as her creative paintings. “It is something great out of nowhere,” said an astonished patron, a friend and an inspiration to her.


“Art, or paintings are lifeless without the skill to blend and enrich the colours. Only paintings that create the most beautiful harmony that exists in this form of art can lead to a state of transcendence. Transcendence is a vivid and tranquil experience of internal mindfulness.” She further clarified, “This form could be experienced consciously or subconsciously.” She recalled how her grandfather Xu Zhi Xiong 許枝雄 taught her about the fundamentals of art. 


Her mother sent her to Beijing Shi Cha Hai (什刹海), as an art student for a large part of 8 years. She trained hard and well. She studied with her grandfather Grandmaster Xu Zhi Xiong, who was a companion to many famous contemporary calligraphers and artists, including Qi Gong (启功)、Wang Xue Tao (王雪涛)、Wu Guang Yu (吴光宇)、Ren Shuai Ying (任率英)、Tian Shi Guang (田世光) and Huang Jun (黄均).


Xu Ye Fen was a great Qing scholar and his highest official ranking was ‘Inspector Curator General for Qing’s History and Art,’ a very high honour at the time for possible state officials. This degree means that he was chosen out of a large group - sometimes hundreds - who were already the best in China. That means that he was the best of the best. (光緒十五年進士、翰林院編修、國史館總纂官、國史館畫官、江蘇蘇州府知府).


Xu Lin Cun (許林邨 1913-2005) is her granduncle, a famous contemporary Chinese artist and calligrapher. He wrote the eulogy for the late “Lao She”-(老舍, a renowned author for Teahouse). His old residence in Beijing still has his very own hand-crafted wood couplets-《卜居積水,世守硯田》 I still remember that, until now, it has still attracted many tourists' attention.


“Maybe it is the (blood) in me. It did not take me more than a fraction of a second to make a decision about my path. If that’s where I was coming from, then there I will be going.”


She told me all about all of her previous and current family.

“…and my great grandfather Xu Lian Bu (Year Unknown-1945) had inherited his talent and passed it on to late Xu Zhi Xiong (許枝雄 Year1909-2014), my grandfather, who was a grandmaster of Chinese painting-calligraphy."

Xu Ye Fen(許葉芬 Year1859-? )

Xu Ye Fen(許葉芬 Year1859-? )

Xu Lin Cun (許林邨 Year1913-2005)

Xu Zhi Xiong  許枝雄 

It is a great surprise to discover that her ancestor, grandfather Gao Qin Hao (1901-1972) was an established surgeon and his father, Gao Tian You (1869-1925) was one the very first Chinese Christian Evangelist pastors in the past Qing Dynasty, a much self-reliant, closed-off kingdom mostly unknown to the Western world. “It is hard for a person with a warped perspective of the Western countries to understand Western arts. But an art is an art, regardless of whether it is in originated from the West or the East.” She said, giving her thoughts about the past.


Her paintings, created with life and soul, are not mysterious and incomprehensible.


The paintings are actually more similar to the well-known impressionist painter Monet; who once said that “No one is an artist unless he carries his picture in his head before painting it, and is sure of his method and composition.” This describes what Sophia Gao does in one sentence. Just look at her work and there will be no more need to explain.

After another glance - this time more thoroughly, through her profile and gallery, I could at once, recognize her talent with colour and composition, masterfully blending both the Western precise painting skills and techniques and the primary traditional painting styles of China, producing masterfully elegant pieces of art.


When she was asked about whatshe thought the most attractive element of a successful artist was, this is what she told me.


“Perseverance,” she replied, after thinking a while. “Perseverance.”


“Failure is the best partner of success, like a pair of chopsticks.”


So, can you do anything with just success or just failure? 


She nodded no.


Then she smiled. “I need both!”






Sophia Gao


Toronto, ON, Canada

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