In with the old

By Jack Aldane Source:Global Times Published: 2012-11-11 19:55:04


Painting Horse by artist Shao Fan Photo: Courtesy of Shao Fan
Painting Horse by artist Shao Fan Photo: Courtesy of Shao Fan

Painting Black Hare by artist Shao Fan Photo: Courtesy of Shao Fan
Painting Black Hare by artist Shao Fan Photo: Courtesy of Shao Fan

Shao Fan is among China's few contemporary artists to succeed in leaving a wide, lasting impression abroad. Among his list of achievements is being the first Chinese artist to have works exhibited at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

The 48-year-old artist is best known as a furniture and garden designer, whose works often reflects the clash between ornate Chinese antiquity and the demand for modern utility.

His latest exhibition in Beijing draws the art-viewing public of his birthplace and current residence to "Appreciation of Oldness: The Paintings of Shao Fan."

Having opened Saturday at Galerie Urs Meile Beijing-Lucerne Gallery, the exhibition reveals Shao the painter, one whose praxis owes its consistency to ancient Chinese thought and perception.

The exhibition features 10 of Shao's most recent paintings.

In 2008, Shao gained recognition for his traditional Chinese garden design at London's Chelsea Flower Show under Britain's Royal Horticultural Society.

The garden exhibition, entitled "I Dream, I Seek My Garden," conveyed the paradoxical emergence and submergence of ancient Chinese culture in the 21st century.

"Specializing in furniture, architecture and gardening for me has been a reaction to traditional Chinese aesthetics," Shao told Metro Beijing, insisting that painting remains his most "immediate" creative act.

Shao's work is peculiarly preoccupied with ancient themes, making him an outsider among the avant-garde pioneers of his generation.

Though skeptical about the compatibility of Western and Eastern cultures, Shao harbors no hostility towards modern audiences. Instead, he maintains he is "reveling" in what he calls "the charm of art."

Shao's paintings often depict animals, such as primates, hares and deer, poised front-on in each piece as though conscious of their portrait.

The animals' stoicism, projected through mild color and grainy texture of each painting, suggests the artist's desire to contain the viewer's energy in order to create, as Chinese art critic Feng Boyi calls it, "a tranquil refuge for the soul."

Shao's use of sober, often somber tones, he explains, is an attempt to "level the viewer's qi (energy) and force them to confront the here and now."

Shao explained in depth that each of his 10 paintings represents "a return to nature," together with "the onset of childlike innocence in the later years of life." One of Shao's paintings depicts an infant gazing at the viewer from a background similar in color to its own flesh.

In this painting, the subject neither merges nor stands out within its surroundings. It's an aspect that Shao said connects the influence of Taoism to his latest work, whereby man holds no privileged position in the world.

Along more plain-spoken lines, Shao said that with age comes wisdom, which could explain his veneration for that which is "old."

"Filial piety is present in all areas of [Chinese] society," he affirmed. "This very much includes art. In calligraphic painting it is believed that the skill of the calligrapher improves with age, with the understanding that one is born inept."

The exhibition appears to offer, somewhat ironically, a rejuvenated concept of time and change. It is one less distracted by the present and indifferent to possible futures; one that is resigned instead to the inevitable - age and antiquity - as well as the perfection discovered in the fullest innocence and experience.

When: Until January 13, 2013

Where: Galerie Urs Meile Beijing-Lucerne, 104 Caochangdi, Chaoyang district

Admission: Free

Contact: 6433-3393

Posted in: ARTS, Metro Beijing

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