Li Shan 李山
Acclaimed artist Li Shan lives and works in New York and Shanghai. A native of Heilongjiang Provice, he studied at the Shanghai Theater Academy and taught there until his retirement.
Li Shan built his reputation in the 1980s as as a "Political Pop" artist, with portraits of Mao Zedong holding lotus flowers in his lips, the Rouge series.
He undertook Bio-Art (shengwu yishu 生物藝術) in 1993, sketching hybrid and GMO beings at first: Men soaring aloft on housefly wings, fish with feet and more. From 2012 on, Li Shan began seeding wheat, cross-breeding pumpkins with other life forms, and showing these non-vegetables, non-things in place of the paintings that earned him fame. He is a shaman among artists.
The mutant Tiger-Flies are early paintings on paper (1993) are some of his earliest forays into science-through-art, and show a benign side. These early pieces for his Bio-Art series that offer rare insight into his working and research process.
Li Shan's bio-art underscores the dignity of all living organisms. He paints and draws things that are flying, crawling, swimming, and walking—some of these creatures are mid-transformation. "Through his uncanny realistic representation of interspecies, Li Shan questions the hypocrisy and lack of equality of human values in today’s bio-scientific experiments," Lawrence notes in his catalog for SHANGArt (2006). In a world where people can bio-engineer sheep, cows, disease-resistant strains of corn, rice, and their own children, his artworks are a call for us to value human nature and the nature of each distinct being.
The hybrids of a tiger, man, and housefly in the 1993 drawings hark back to the 2nd century Classic of Mountains and Seas (Shanhai jing 山海經); the 1st century classic describes creatures who inhabit the mountains to protect civilization and to command our respect and reverence. But this series of artworks of hybrid animals are thoroughly modern in conception. The creatures have evolved from a series of works on paper of men with wings floating in mid-air, which led to a variety of swimming, floating, crawling and reading creatures in the Bio-Art series, to superrealistic houseflies. Sold at auction for record prices.
His recent solo exhibits have been at The Power Station of Art, 2018; The Pumpkin Project, Bio-Art (with Zhang Pingjie), ShanghART, 2007; Photoworks, ShanghART, 2006, New Small Works, ShanghART 2004.
For more background on contemporary Chinese art:
From the Asian Art Archive: