The Catto Gallery in London is hosting the first exhibition in the UK of seven emerging Chinese artists from Shanghai. The exhibition is curated by Florence Dinar who has been working closely with many of the artists as well as leading Chinese galleries, art critics and colleges. The artists in the exhibition are not currently well known internationally, although they are established and well regarded in China. The artists in the show include two sculptors, Shu Yan and her husband Chen Jiansheng, and five painters, Wang Yuhong, Li Haifeng, Wang Jiawei, Li Yushi, and Guo Qingling.
While these artists have had many exhibitions in China and some in Europe, they have never been exhibited in the UK. All of them were born at the end of the Chinese Cultural Revolution and their work captures China at a moment of rapid transition where Communism exists in parallel to expanding capitalism.
The two sculptors Shu Yan and Chen Jiansheng are both openly critical of the consumerist invasion and its effect on China and its population. Shu Yan's series of 'Chinese Peonies' depict scantily clad young women in high boots, their provocative poses, with wide cold, Manga-like eyes, alluding to sexual liberation promoted by the West. Yet their subjects' dresses are decorated in a traditional manner, looking back to an older view of femininity. These pieces perfectly mirror the dichotomy of contemporary society in China.
Chen Jiansheng chooses to tackle different topical themes that people are facing today in his 'Blue Bowl Series' of sculptures, by placing a woman and a man bathing together in a tub. This overt depiction of public affection was until very recently an unacceptable concept in China, yet now lovers can walk hand in hand openly in the street. His work alludes to an old China with bathing tubs that echo the design of Ming dynasty bowls. This theme of a more liberal view of sexuality is fully explored in other examples of his 'Blue Bowl Series'.
Wang Yuhong grew up with her grandmother whose collection of antique objects fascinated her from an early age. Yuhong's atmospheric still-life studies of immense intricacy blend the 16th century Dutch still-life idiom with Chinese traditional scroll painting, as seen in 'Blue Pillow' or 'Morning in Ningxia'. Although it is her paintings that she is showing in this exhibition, she is also known for her sculptural compositions made out of charred violins.
Li Haifeng, 'Olympic Committee: Arm Wrestling'
Li Haifeng is the most established artist in the exhibition. Haifeng came back to teach art in Shanghai after his training in France. He has been working on a series of 'Mao Tse-Tung (Mao Zedong)' in humble surroundings, clad in a Hawaiian shirt, arm-wrestling his twin, works which demystify Mao and make him more human. Li Haifeng childhood's memory of pictures of Mao inspired him. Li's work has been exhibited regularly in both China and Japan and can be seen in several public collections in Shanghai.
Wang Jiawei, from his Mao series
Wang Jiawei is also inspired by images of Mao Tse-Tung. His series of well-known images of the former leader are inspired by Andy Warhol. Jiawei creates his images using an ink diffusion technique, where ink brushstrokes become flooded with water and are then painted over in oils. His works have an air of being viewed through water, with Mao's face seen as a 'decomposing' mutation.
Liu Yushi's fascination with colour and light, can be seen in his 'Spring, Summer, Autumn Winter Series'. Through his study of beauty, Liu addresses social topics as in his 'Make Up Series', with the woman at her toilette emerging from a mass of colour, offering a view of femininity that is ever changing in the China of today.
Guo Qinglin is intrigued by women as a subject, and particularly how their pleasure and pain is expressed through their faces and bodies. The series seen for the first time named 'Seafood' shows the influence of the sensuous women of German Expressionism and the brilliant colours of Shanghai-born artist Walasse Ting.
Pieces of a Broken Mirror
Until 24 April
The Catto Gallery
100 Heath Street