Many of those oil paintings that hang in hotel rooms and starter homes across America are actually come from just one Chinese village, Dafen Village in Shenzhen, it is home to an estimated 5,000 workers and 800 shops, most of which sell huge stacks of imitatiton art. You can find repicas painting of masterpieces by Picasso, Warhol, Monet, and others. And there are crisp portraits of Presidents Bush, Clinton, Elvis Presley, Princess Diana.
“American property owners and hotels are usually the biggest consumers of Dafen’s works. The more houses they built in the United States, the more paintings are needed from Dafen.” said Zhao Xiaohong, the deputy of the Art Industry Association of Dafen.
In 1989, Huang Jiang, a Hong Kong entrepreneur and master art copier, moved to Dafen with about 20 other artists, lured by the low rents and proximity to Hong Kong. The cheap housing attracted thousands of painters and apprentices. Over the years, Dafen became famous for its efficient reproduction assembly lines that made copycat masterpieces. However, there are also many high quality paintings, painted by individuals and not created on assembly lines.
As costs for labor increase, improvement of printing technology and foreign buyers look elsewhere. Hard times have fallen on Dafen, some artists are struggling to survive, and others are hanging up their brushes entirely.
“A lot of artists have given up and left, before, the international market was huge, and profits were high; we’d sell two or three paintings a day and be able to feed our families. Now we sell five or six, and we still can’t,” said Xie, an art school graduate from the southeastern province of Jiangxi.
Lin Jinghong, a shopkeeper of Hongyi Oil Paintings, said that his business is doing quite well with domestic tourists and wholesalers from Russia. “You build relationships, and people come back to you, only a few people leave – maybe they’re just bad painters. There are still opportunities here.”