Paintings on Natural History

01/19/2016 - 02/17/2016

Tigers, Angels, Beauties & Other History.


The tigers have grown wings in our gallery! These are paintings on natural history that highlight how humans are speeding up history, to make the world of their dreams--or of nightmares.  Li Shan's drawings give us a rare glimpse of his thought process and evolving interest in bio-engineering. "A tiger with wings" (2003) is an early finished work in his Bio-Art project (see link below).  The tigers roam in the hills, winged creatures with human faces. They could have come out of the Classic of Mountains and Seas (Shanhai jing), where fierce beasts command fear and respect. The tiger-flies, caught at the moment of evolution, reflect his interest in the dignity of all living organisms. From fish, to flies, to humans, in an epoch where humans can bio-engineer the son or daughter of their dreams and create new genetic strains of corn, or cows, or sheep, the nature of nature is in question. 


Li Shan has been painting winged creatures since 1997. First there were men with wings, floating in the air with a serene gaze, not-exactly angels, nor humans, nor birds, gently floating or drifting in a sea of clouds.  Then tigers, and then super-realistic houseflies. 


The artworks by Wang Zhigang show his draftsmanship, elegant form, and oil-painting technique. He depicts the Tantric Buddha (愛神) who is equivalent, at heart, with the cupids sharing the same frame. These "other things" in the works in the show are part of a quest for commonalities, shared values, and humanity, even while they recognise conflicts between Western ideology and imagery and contemporary Chinese culture. The iconography of the dragonfly is characteristically Chinese, but the mudra from Indian statuary have sprouted from the insect's legs, as if they are a means to negotiate the world and to stay in flight. His artwork draws freely on the imagery of European, Chinese and Indian art, seeking to show the universality of human subjectivity.


Pei Jing has had six major solo exhibitions of oil paintings in Beijing and Shanghai since 1992 and exhibited large canvases of beauties admiring Chinese Socialist icons, such as a statue of Mao Zedong, at whose feet they lounge semi-nude, in Hong Kong in 2003. He is a skilled calligrapher and seal carver. The ink paintings in our inaugural exhibit are beauties (meiren 美人) exquisitely, delicately painted in ink and colour. We have included a dozen small, unframed ink paintings of fruits, tea, and flowers. These are perfect as seasonal gifts, and are signed with fifteen of the 300 seal stamps in his studio.


Xiao Lei's "Revision" series draws not only on traditional Chinese landscape imagery but also classic works of the European Impressionists and others.  Shapely legs in bright-coloured nylon stockings cut across picture plane and, in doing so, create a conjunction of traditional Chinese ink-painted landscapes and Western vistas. He is a brilliant colorist.  The "Revision" (Xiuzheng 修正) series is an extended reflection on China in face of ever-faster change, globalisation, and Chinese-style capitalism. The images are unsettling, challenging glimpses of East meeting West.  In face of materialism and globalism, he makes us ask, what is the role of art?  What do we see here? the new, the old, or the collision between the two?  


Xiao Lei belongs to the next generations of painters, and studied under Pei Jing. His works use collage and a marriage-of Western and Chinese iconography.  Already well established, Xiao Lei's works are in important private collections in Taiwan, Japan, China and Hong Kong. His artworks are a sound investment.  

The common concern with natural history that emerges in the artworks is no coincidence. The artists have worked in a common space, though they choose themes and styles that are distinct, they talk with each other, and their works reflect the growing awareness of the dignity of all living things.


In the 1980s, Pei Jing, Wang Zhigang, and Qu Fengguo shared a studio at the Shanghai Drama Institute, each working in a distinctive style. Li Shan and was a frequent visitor, at the time his sketches and paintings for the Rouge series were winning international acclaim.