Gao Qipei was born in Jiangxi to a family of Manchu ethnicity. He was a successful official in southern China, but is best known today as a painter. He initially gained reputation painting landscapes and figures in traditional style. By age twenty, he became known as an eccentric who preferred using his fingers instead of a brush. Some earlier painters had also preferred finger painting, but Kao went further. He grew his fingernails long to make them more effect instruments, and used his entire hand in a highly individualized style.